Content note: This article contains references to rape.
When I pick my son up at the library, he is standing in front of a blonde girl. As I move closer, I hear them talking, laughing, flirting in that awkward early-teen way. I stop, catch my son’s eye, and give them their space. She clearly likes my son, and I can see him basking in the attention.
I admit to some motherly pride that someone besides his grandmothers and me recognizes his attractiveness. But, at the same time, I start to watch the door. I’m suddenly anxious.
“Why?” I ask myself.
I realize I’m looking for the girl’s parents. My son is not white. From Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants being “drug dealers” and “rapists” to Dylann Roof’s comments about Black men raping white women, the old idea that men of color are sexually dangerous continues to circulate. And as I watch my son with a pretty white girl, I realize it’s not just white supremacists who help keep this idea in circulation.
I remember a time when I easily fell for the story that Latino men liked big women. For a fat girl like me, it was a comforting story. But as other white women shared these stories with me, I started to get itchy. There was something to the narrative that kept bothering me. Something that whispered, “This is dangerous.”
Yes, my partner has a leaning towards fat girls like me, but to suggest that everyone in an entire ethnic group has the same preference, I realize now, is clearly wrong.
When my son underwent his teenage sexual awakening, I started to pay even more attention to these stories from my past. After all, these women were talking about men like my son.
Girls in my classroom had warned each other about Mexican men. The men leered at them, they claimed. These stories did more than shove people into stereotypes. They perpetuated the idea of the hypersexual brown man. And, of course, I’ve heard these same stories about Black men.
When we as white women emphasize these stories of being checked out and catcalled by men of color in particular, we are contributing to a culture in which these men are easily seen as sexual predators. I am as guilty as my friends, which is why I committed to stopping this line of thinking. Nobody deserves to be unfairly cast into any role. When we do so, how big of a leap is it to imagine men of color as unable to control their sexual impulses?
More Radical Reads: Conversations on Racial Injustice and Whiteness: 4 Ways Not to Police People of Color and Be A Better Ally
A quick look at the arrest records for rape in 2013 reveals that men of all ethnicities are accused. Rape arrests based on race show white men being arrested far more than men of color (with the caveat that there is no listing for Hispanic men, who are usually considered white in statistics). White men are more likely to be arrested for rape because there are simply more of them.
My own experience with sexual assault bears out the truth that brown and Black men are far from the only ones who rape. As a young teen, I was raped twice — both times by local white boys. Nothing ever came of the rape charges because no one believed me; I had a low social status, and I was drunk during the assaults. I spent many years after these incidents being afraid of white men.
More Radical Reads: 25 Ways I Was Granted White Male Privilege After I Transitioned — and Why ALL Men Must Speak Up Against Sexism
When I finally left Maine and began to hang out with a more diverse group of people, I found myself less afraid of men of color than of white men. In fact, the one time I got drunk with a new group of friends, I was turned down by a Black male friend, who opted instead to just hold me. He told me the next day he worried I’d regret my actions, and he was too good a friend to allow that to happen. For me, the “Black and brown men are dangerous” myth didn’t hold weight. I am a lot more uncomfortable around the white frat boys who frequent my local grocery store than the young Black men who do the same.
As a white feminist, I want a feminism that is intersectional. Anything less is unacceptable.
When Donald Trump accuses Mexican men of being rapists, he obscures the stories of horrific sexual abuse inflicted on women crossing the US/Mexico border. And when Roof used my white womanhood to justify his act of slaughtering mostly Black women, he justified the slaughter of those who are victims of sexual assault.
While all women live with the danger of sexual assault, it’s by far a bigger concern for women of color. As such, the desire to protect white female bodies from Black men is even more absurd.
An intersectional feminism must root out all racist stereotypes, including those leveled at men of color. If we continue to see these men as hypersexual, we give power to white men like Roof and Trump.
[Headline image: The photograph features a young man of color outdoors with short dark hair and a blue, green, and white plaid shirt. He is smiling at the camera. Behind him is a blurred building with trees.]