Freedom Rider: Pornography of Suffering

congoby BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
The American mentality seems hopelessly rooted in the gutter, keenly attuned to tales of rape and bestiality but supremely indifferent to the elementary facts of life and history. The current genocide in Congo is as little known as that country’s previous holocaust, at the hands of the Belgians, more than a century ago.
Freedom Rider: Pornography of Suffering
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
The reports of rape in the Congo have received more media attention than any other aspect of that country’s sad history.”
Nothing excites the imaginations of Americans like lurid tales of sexual perversion among black people. The corporate media leap upon any and every report of sexual assault committed among black people with a peculiar delight. The scene of the crime may be Darfur, the Congo or Haiti, but the stories always create a narrative of animalistic Africans and give the impression that entire groups of people should not be considered human beings.
An Associated Press report headline screamed that two-year-olds were being raped in Haitian tent cities populated by earth quake survivors. The article brought back memories of what turned out to be apocryphal tales of child rape in the New Orleans Super Dome after Hurricane Katrina.
It goes without saying that sexual assaults are among the worst acts of violence that can be committed by one person against another. It should also go without saying that it is a crime committed all over the world. Two-year-olds are raped in the United States as well. A quick glance at any newspaper police blotter will often tell that horrible tale. Perpetrators of violence against helpless women and children are not confined to any particular place or to any racial group.
The reports of rape in the Congo have received more media attention than any other aspect of that country’s sad history. The Belgian genocide of 8 million Congolese one hundred years ago is one of history’s best kept secrets. Only one major work, “King Leopold’s Ghost,” has ever been published in English. It documents the killings, torture, amputations and untold number of sexual assaults perpetrated against the peoples of the Congo. The continued western exploitation of that country and the blood on the hands of rich Americans and Europeans rarely receives any mention.
The article brought back memories of what turned out to be apocryphal tales of child rape in the New Orleans Super Dome after Hurricane Katrina.”
There is also insufficient media coverage of sexual assaults committed against women enlisted in the United States military. One in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military, compared to one in six women in the civilian world. Just as this country continues an unrelenting worship of its military prowess, it is silent about the risks women face when they choose to serve in the ranks.
Sexual assaults are endemic among incarcerated people, and the United States has a greater percentage of such persons within its borders than any other nation on earth. If the media are truly interested in increasing public awareness of this horror, they don’t have to go to Haiti or Congo to do it.
Even as the outpouring of private generosity was evident in response to the Haitian earthquake, the most negative, dehumanizing statements were asserted about the people of that nation. Pat Robertson’s outrageous remark that Haitians made deals with the devil was mocked, but wasn’t greatly removed from popular assumptions about Haitians or anyone else black for that matter.
The same people who will donate to a celebrity telethon to help Haiti will also be the first to believe the worst about its people. Some reader responses in the liberal leaning Huffington Post called all Haitians “animals,” advocated for the death penalty or for continued American occupation. Few readers made an attempt to acknowledge that the same evil is perpetrated right here or bothered to make connections between crime in Haiti and America’s continued subversion of democracy and its support of the most violent elements in that society.
Pat Robertson’s outrageous remark that Haitians made deals with the devil was mocked, but wasn’t greatly removed from popular assumptions about Haitians.”
By all means, the full story of Haiti should be told. The full story means that not only should rape be reported, but also the one hundred year looting of Haiti’s treasury by France. The account of America’s continuing support of the predatory classes should be told too. In the absence of accurate reporting, the awful headline only leads to the belief in white superiority, black inferiority and ultimately to black self-hatred.
The “If it bleeds it leads” mentality so beloved by the media becomes a strange pornography which permits a sick fascination about tragic events to take hold. If black people bleed at the hands of other black people, the suffering pornography becomes a means of perpetuating stereotypes and nothing more.
It is easy and natural to become outraged when hearing about violent acts. It is harder to make the transition to asking hard questions about those news stories, about the role the media play and about our government actions which makes this suffering possible and even inevitable.
When the next story about Haitian atrocities appears in print, fight the urge for the sick turn-on. Instead resolve to stop telling or laughing at prison rape jokes, and start asking hard questions when the media feed into the worst, most racist stereotypes of all.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.