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raceAhead: Brett Kavanaugh’s Accuser Comes Forward

September 17, 2018, 8:15 PM UTC

When Kerry Washington announced that she was executive producing and starring in HBO’s Confirmation, a 2016 dramatic reenactment of the Clarence Thomas’s 1991 Supreme Court nomination hearings, I confess, I wasn’t sure we needed it.

Having watched it last night, in emotional preparation for the next phase of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation drama, I got it.

“Anita Hill was a very reluctant hero,” Washington told The Hollywood Reporter,” a woman who didn’t want to come forward, and yet rose to the occasion when her story was leaked. “But when I think about how it inspired other people to have their voices — that’s moving,” she said.

I hope the same is true for Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto-based professor who has alleged that current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school. Her version of events is bolstered by notes from a therapist during a session in 2012, and a subsequent lie detector administered by the FBI last month. Like Hill, she decided to come forward after some details of her story became public.

You can read the details of her account here.

For what it’s worth, alumnae of Holton-Arms, the private all-girls school Blasey Ford attended in Bethesda, Maryland, have published a letter of support. “Dr. Blasey Ford’s experience is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton,” it says. “Many of us are survivors ourselves.”

“Survivor” is the right term. This was an era where all manner of assault was common, joked about, planned, even expected. Girls and young women would have been unlikely to tell anyone what happened, and if they had, they’d be equally unlikely to frame it as anything other than a shameful lapse of judgment on their own part.

Don’t believe me? Consider that one of the most popular movies of the era was the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles, which involves a scene where a drunk and unconscious teenaged girl is handed over by her boyfriend to a teen boy to be raped. But that’s not what it seemed like at the time.

Molly Ringwald, then the tenth-grade star of the film, says, “I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took even longer for me to fully comprehend the scene late in Sixteen Candles, when the dreamboat, Jake, essentially trades his drunk girlfriend, Caroline, to the Geek [character], to satisfy the latter’s sexual urges…” The scene, along with Hughes’s legacy, goes downhill from there.

Ringwald’s must-read essay about how Hughes’s work both mirrored and informed the culture of the 1980’s is a powerful reminder of how sexual violence against women has long been regarded as both an entitlement and a form of entertainment. Shenanigans, if you will. But through a modern #MeToo lens, these old stories have a new power to shock. “If I sound overly critical, it’s only with hindsight,” she says. “Back then, I was only vaguely aware of how inappropriate much of John’s writing was, given my limited experience and what was considered normal at the time.”

The Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill confrontation had an extra element of race, which further divided the public: A black man accused, facing down a panel of all-white, male interrogators; a black woman defiled, fighting for the dignity of women in the workplace. Washington’s film was an excellent reminder of just how fraught that dynamic was. Now it’s Blasey Ford’s turn to justify a different twist: Why she wants to keep a powerful man from his dream job because of some teenage “shenanigans” that may or may not have happened.

Regardless of the outcome, her life will be different now.

While Hill has continued to teach, write, and contribute to the broader conversation of race, gender and power in the #MeToo era, she will always be a hero and a target. She still gets a lot of mail and has a team of retired librarian-volunteers who categorize the letters. She’s received thousands since 1991. While much of it is supportive, some of it is vile.

Hill recently offered advice to other outspoken women who are targeted with messages of hate, abuse or threats. Read them, she says. It’s about them, not you. “It’s revealing of a certain kind of anger towards women, and it’s revealing of a fear of equality—a misunderstanding, a myth of what gender equality means, as some sort of unwarranted threat to men,” she told Broadly in 2016. “I do have them, and I do read them. I keep them for a purpose, to learn something.”

I, too, am a survivor of the 1980s. This weekend, I thought long and hard about what those last few minutes of anonymity were like for Blasey Ford, knowing that by coming forward she was agreeing to step directly into the line of a very specific type of fire. (As a reminder, the preternaturally serious Hill was the target of a then-conservative operative named David Brock, a writer who published “virtually every derogatory and often contradictory allegation,” designed to make Hill appear “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”)

“These are all the ills that I was trying to avoid,” Blasey Ford told The Washington Post about why she’d waited to come forward. “Now I feel like my civic responsibility is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.”

On Point

Time Magazine has a new ownerLynne Benioff, along with her husband Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, have bought Time magazine, Fortune’s soon-to-be former sister publication. "The power of Time is its unique story telling of the people and issues that affect us all and connect us all," she told The Wall Street Journal.  The are both busy philanthropists and Marc Benioff has been a transformational CEO, dedicated to progressive causes. They are buying the publication as individuals and have no plans to influence day-to-day operations. “We’re investing in a company with tremendous impact on the world, one that is also an incredibly strong business,” said Mr. Benioff in the same interview. “That’s what we’re looking for when we invest as a family.”Wall Street Journal

What does it mean to be a girl or boy these days?
Not altogether different than the 1980s, in some respect. A new (and fairly inclusive) survey of 1,000 representative cisgender students aged 10-19 show that the vision of the future that girls have for themselves has improved, while boys remain stuck in gender-specific stereotypes. For one, girls are now slightly more than boys to say that “being a leader” is an important life goal, a significant shift. But while girls feel that they have more options, they still feel judged for their looks, and report hearing other boys, and in some cases, the men in their lives, make sexual comments or jokes about girls daily. And boys still feel pressure to be strong, tough, and play sports. Click through for more analysis and comparisons with similar surveys (spoiler: Gender divides are the same around the world) but it turns out, that black and Latino adolescents are more likely to have progressive attitudes about gender equality, but they’re also more likely to hear sexual comments from the other kids around them.
New York Times

The good news: A Harriet Tubman biopic is moving forward
The more difficult news: Not everyone is happy about who has been cast in the leading role. Cynthia Ervio, best known for her Tony Award-winning turn as Celie in the Broadway production of A Color Purple, is British of Nigerian descent. Her casting has revived a longstanding conversation about who is best able to play iconic African American roles. Click through for all the drama, even Samuel L. Jackson has complained in the past of the mini British invasion in American entertainment, but Ervio herself has been gracious. "I guess there is a bigger conversation to be had about heritage and experience, also about who Harriet really was,” she said in an Instagram post. “[W]hat I will say is that my journey to this woman has been long and detailed and one I have not taken lightly."

Justice denied
Every state in the U.S. has a fund set aside to help crime victims or their families recover the financial costs that often hit when terrible things happen—things like medical and burial expenses, and post-trauma counseling are often covered. But in one of seven states, if the victim or a survivor has been convicted of certain types of felonies, they’re not eligible—even if their transgression was minor or in the distant past. A new report from The Marshall Project shows how this rule inordinately impacts black families, the very people who could most benefit from the support.
The Marshall Project


The Woke Leader

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month
Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off on Saturday, this year’s theme is “One Endless Voice to Enhance our Traditions.” While it’s an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary diversity that exists within the Hispanic and Latinx community in the U.S., this year’s celebration comes at a particularly fraught time. I’ll start you off with this tribute from the National Holocaust Museum. Anthony Acevedo was born in California in 1924, but was deported to Mexico with his family in 1937 as part of a massive federal program that targeted and removed over a million Mexican Americans, more than half of whom were citizens. He returned for college, then military service in World War II. His company, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was captured by the Germans; Acevedo, along with Jewish soldiers and other “undesirables” were singled out and sent to a work camp. Acevedo secretly documented the horrific abuse and recorded the many deaths of his fellow POWs.  
Holocaust Memorial Museum

An easily understandable video that explains why suburbs are so white!
Adam Ruins Everything, a zippy TruTV show that uses real information to dispel common misconceptions about the world – like Mythbusters for life, but with comedy – has taken on the history of segregation and the federal loan policies that supported them. It never ended! It begins with a board game called “Settlers of the Suburbs” and the New Deal-era loan programs that discriminated against borrowers of color. Jim Crow, yay! Host Adam Conover does a fine job explaining how those favorable loans advantaged white families, small businesses and neighborhoods, and how it explains segregated neighborhoods today. And segregated schools! New York Times investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones even makes an appearance on school segregation. Imminently shareable.
Adam Ruins Everything

How to be in your own body after sexual trauma
Code 2040 CEO Karla L. Monterroso has published a deeply personal essay that links her desire to live at a healthier weight for her — “I woke up one day having hit sadness rock bottom and decided the suffocation was too much. For me, it was nothing short of lust for the ability to do more” – and the multiple assaults which robbed her of the ability to feel her body was truly her own. After a year of training and dedication, she’s shed some 71 pounds and has regained a glorious degree of mobility. But this isn’t really a story about discipline. “The thing about surviving assault multiple times is that you never really understand what it’s like to feel like your body is yours,” she writes. The work she did on healing herself is also a newly found privilege. “I am a Latina from a low-income community and while it’s been many moons since I was in the economic situation I grew up in, skills about self-care were never passed down,” she writes. “Our oral tradition was survival and that’s what I did.”


This editor from Newsweek—I had called her to talk to her about Anita Hill, because I'd been asked to give a speech about what had happened in popular culture during the year after the Anita Hill hearings—she said it was a very stormy year that kind of began with Anita Hill and ended with the Republican convention, where white males in power were really displayed as unattractive. Starting with Anita Hill and going all the way through, through the L.A. uprising and so forth. And when I started to think about the year that whole way, which I thought was a very interesting idea, Anita Hill being the beginning of this watershed which was going to lead institutions—and it did, inevitably—to suddenly put women and people of color in powerful positions, whereas they had not before; they were beginning to see the need to hear from more than white men, since white men behave so poorly, you know. 
Anna Deavere Smith