Who Look at Me?

Aug 21st, 1970

When asked to write a piece that would explore male victimization I immediately thought of a book I received as a child entitled, Who Look at Me?, a collection of poems and artwork authored by June Jordan, one of our country’s pre-eminent poets and indeed one of my favorites. The book was based on her poem of the same title that explored the condition, feelings, and ideas of blacks, particularly black men, in a white society. It may be odd to some, well actually even to me, that I would think to this book but it isn’t the book per se but rather the title that captures me and compels me to ask…Who does look at them, the young black and Latino boys?  Looks at them as people who can be - are victimized - both inside and outside of their communities?  Certainly their faces are not the ones that immediately come to mind when we hear offenses such as that which happened at Penn State or the many cases associated with certain priests in the Catholic Church or incidents that have rippled through the Boy Scouts.  Maybe it’s my internal oppression which makes me think that the vast majority of observers to the story don’t ascribe the rich colors of eggnog, bronze, mocha, mahogany, or black coffee to the appearance of the victimized unless descriptors of inner city, underprivileged, and disadvantaged are attached. I think the collective pre-set is the assumption that victims of sexual assault are white. Now, before I go any further, let me state that it shouldn’t and doesn’t matter what the ethnicity, creed, or color of the victimized is in the grand scheme of things.  Any assault is wrong, and we all shed a tear for the victimized regardless of race, class, gender, etc.  However, I think what is concerning is the fact that we live in a society which has done little to address the victimization of boys and men of color but rather has systematically taught and developed a social construct that teaches and reinforces us to fear them and to view our brothers of browner hues as hypersexual, animalistic individuals who will rape America’s (code: America = white) daughters, or at the very least steal their purses. We have a culture that has spent so much time vilifying men of color as possible criminals of all sorts that we rarely stop to recognize their humanity and the possibility that many are more likely to experience a victimization than to commit a crime and are more likely to commit a crime if in fact they have experienced a victimization.  In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, men who have been abused are more commonly seen in the criminal justice system than in clinical mental health settings. As service professionals we should be keenly aware of the sexual assaults that are happening in prisons, the foster care system, group homes, juvenile camps, and detention facilities, as well as those which occur across human trafficking networks -- all areas in which boys and men of color are disproportionately represented -- all areas that require increased outreach from rape crisis centers. Indeed, a part of what puts black and Latino youth at increased risk for sexual abuse lay in the fact that many struggle with poverty, oppression, and discrimination which contributes to marginalized and vulnerable communities.  Communities that are isolated have less resources and subsequently less opportunity to develop better defense mechanisms.  Might this explain the high rates of sexual abuse in communities of color? I think it certainly explains why predators masked in the guise of “helping programs” specifically target and are readily welcomed by those very communities…think wolves in a sheep’s clothing. Robin D. Stone, author of No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse estimates that as many as 1.9 million African American men have been sexually abused.  Some speak in percentages with estimates of 14% of black men overall, but regardless of the stats or as in the case of Latino men, the lack thereof, as professionals we have to know that we must fully recognize that boys and men of color are also affected by sexual assault, and are in need of servicing too.  So it begs an important question –one in which boys and men of color ask and are left waiting for the answer to “Who look at me?”  Well…do you? - Kathy Ferguson MCASA Program Manager Download the PDF version of this article here.

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