Culture

Roxane Gay Writes About How “Whiteness” Has Protected The Stanford Rapist For Lenny Letter

"The white boy next door cannot possibly be a criminal, and so he isn’t."

Note: this post contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Feminist theorist and author of Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay, has written a frank piece for Lenny Letter about the impact of race in the Stanford rape case. The article entitled ‘White Crime’ discusses the ways in which Brock Turner’s whiteness has protected him from public scrutiny and the full impact of the law.

“This is how whiteness works,” she writes. “Turner is seen as human, as a victim in the crime he committed. He is a ‘good young man’. He is allowed to have both a past and a future and this past and future are worthy of consideration. His crime is a mistake, not a scarlet letter, not a reflection of his character.”

Gay argues that the “Brock Turner treatment” (clean-cut images used in lieu of mugshots, countless letters attesting to the fact that he is an accomplished young man who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which focus on his suffering instead of his victim’s) reveals a stark difference in how black men are treated by the law and media. Aside from public opinion and representation of guilt, she also mentions that black men receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than white men, for the same crime.

In case you had any doubt that Brock Turner is being given special treatment and allowances for his abhorrent behaviour, look no further than the Brock Turner Family Support Facebook page!

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Yep.

“When black men commit crimes or are alleged to have committed crimes, we immediately learn of their every misdeed from the womb forward,” Gay says. “We see their mug shots. We are treated to a recitation of statistics on race, criminality, and incarceration rates. Rarely are these men seen as human, treated as human. They are not sons, fathers, brothers, or friends.”

“Black boys in particular are never allowed to be boys. Manhood is ascribed to black boys because we are part of a culture where innocence and blackness are seen as antithetical. Look at Trayvon Martin. Look at Tamir Rice.”

She explains how Brock Turner’s whiteness has served as a protective shell, providing shelter and making it easier for his supporters to overlook the fact that he has been convicted of raping an unconscious person. Even a letter by the victim of the crime was “not enough to overcome the power of Brock Turner’s whiteness”. Gay also briefly discusses her own sexual assault, perpetrated by boys from “good families” who were willing to dismiss their crimes as indiscretions.

Of course, because Racist Twitter is like a horror movie plague that is determined to infect the entire planet, this piece has attracted a lot of backlash. Roxane Gay has spent most of this morning defending herself against #NotAllWhites tirades. Fortunately, at the moment there are just as many people praising the piece as criticising it.

It’ll be up on the Lenny website later today, but if you’ve already got the newsletter in your inbox, I urge you to read the full piece. When it comes to dissecting privilege and the ingrained attitudes we may take for granted, it doesn’t get much better than Gay.

“Brock Turner’s whiteness allows his family, his friends, and far too many people who are following news about his crime to see Brock Turner as the boy next door. The white boy next door cannot possibly be a criminal, and so he isn’t,” she says.

“Were it that black men received such indulgence. Everyone lives next door to someone.”