I Believe You, Despite It Being Costly: Sexual Abuse & Racial History

By: Kyle J. Howard Topic: Practical Theology, Abuse, Race Relations, Sexual Abuse

(Original Publish date 11/14/17)

As I reflect on the past several days, and ultimately my life and ministry in regards to sex abuse claims; I am left with a few thoughts I have decided to share.

I know several black men who were falsely charged w/ rape by white women, some who did jail time before the truth came out. All of them lost their friends, careers, & reputations before the truth, that the claims against them were fabricated, came out. This reality leads to a great deal of frustration as I watch events unfold regarding Roy Moore, and others. History has clearly shown that Black men are almost always considered guilty of sex crimes (legally and in public opinion) whenever charges are brought by white women regardless of the degree of evidence. Yet, when a white male Senator has had a multitude of women come forward to testify against him; we see public officials and Republican party affiliates defend him vehemently. Some have even done so by seeking to use the Bible. Others, have not defended him but have simply stated that they must withhold any opinion of guilt until evidence proves otherwise. Of course, they say this knowing that such evidence will never exist since the statute of limitations has long passed.

I’ll be honest; it’s all a little awkward for me as an African American. On the one hand, I know & have counseled a multitude of women who have been sexually abused/assaulted and so I am extremely passionate about this issue, and I have always believed women who have told me they were abused. On a personal level, I have very close relationships with women who have been raped and/or assaulted at some point in their lives.

On the other hand, I am a black man and like most black men post-Emmitt Till; we know of his cautionary tale, and we all enter adulthood having a healthy fear of white women voices as we know that they have the power to end our freedom and reputation. They know it, and we know, and so we live in a perpetual state of caution when we are around them. We know that a false move, a wrong tone, or a misinterpreted look could end our lives if they choose to accuse us. Most of the black men I know share this cautionary fear. Strange fruit has hung from trees and a dead disfigured 14-year-old boy named Emmitt (whose accuser earlier this year admitted to making up the whole narrative) warn us to tread lightly.

As a black theologian and Christian counselor, I have expectations placed on me. I live and move in predominately white spaces, and I am around a lot of white women who often demand that I back their claims 100% when they speak on issues of sexual abuse. They do this despite the history of it all in relation to men who look like me. I understand their desire for unwavering support on this issue, and I provide it; but it’s not as simple as many of them assume. They never have to think about the yoke of fear that is placed on my shoulders just in simply having such conversations with them. They don’t have to think about the level of risk I am consciously placing myself under just by simply engaging with them on the issue as a black man. I’ve had rightfully passionate women misunderstand me in their zeal and misrepresent me publicly on social media. Often, they are completely oblivious of the power their words wield towards the life and reputation of a black man. All it takes is for them to say I spoke to them inappropriately and my life and ministry is over. Sometimes, I don’t want to engage at all because I know that white women have the power to turn the slightest disagreement into a credible accusation with a single word. If they do, I will become another statistic to the system, and my reputation will be forever marred. As a black man, I don’t have the privilege of a white US Senator.

But here’s the thing, despite the history of false sex crime claims against black men by white women, I still have no problem believing women when they tell me they’ve been sexually assaulted. Despite living in constant fear of offending a white woman, I still have no reservations supporting them and engaging with them on these issues when they come to me. So here is my question for white Christian brothers:

If I can believe all women, despite the history of deception regarding black men and sex crimes, what excuse do you have not to believe women when they come to you with such a claim?

If I am willing to engage with these issues despite the potential risks to me and my family as a man of color, what excuse do you have to sit on the side-lines?

When I hear Christian ministers say they can’t just believe women without facts, it makes me angry because many black men have hung from trees just based on rumors. It’s clear to me that the real issue is one of white male supremacy, even at the expense of white women. The issue is one of power, and the simple fact is white men are at the top of the ladder when it comes to privilege. You have to be a very privileged individual to have the power to take a posture of neutrality when it comes to sexual abuse claims and not fear ramifications.

My simple point is that there is a cost at play when black men stand and support white women regarding sexual abuse claims; especially when they take on the principle that they will always strive to believe women when they claim to have been assaulted. Dear white woman, many of us black men have an historically informed fear of you, and yet we still believe and support you. When we stand with you, it really is out of deep costly love. We stand with you when many white men won’t. I honestly just wanted to bring this perspective to the table because I think understanding it serves love and unity. I think when white women understand the weight of this they will see a deep example of Gospel love in the voices & support of their black brothers. I think white men need to understand this, and come to terms with this reality so that they can come to terms with the fact that their excuses for neutrality are ridiculous. Dear women, I am here, I am standing with you, and I will do so despite internal conflict because that’s what love does. Faithful Love will love despite the cost of doing so.

You can follow me on Twitter @KyleJamesHoward. Also, check out my podcast “Coram Deo Podcast” which focuses on issues concerning Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology. You can search for podcast on any major podcast catcher, listen on the web here, follow updates @CoramDeoPodcast, or just click the artwork below.

Kyle J. Howard currently serves the church as a trauma informed soul care provider. Though his Soul Care ministry is comprehensive, he his primarily focused on counseling, teaching, and raising awareness about Spiritual abuse/trauma as well as racial trauma. Kyle holds an Associates in Biblical & Theological studies, a Bachelors in Christian Counseling, and is receiving his M.A in Historical Theology in a few weeks.