Race, celebrity, gender, and rape culture: What we refuse to see
Last year, this incident occurred, we’ve recently heard of Alec Baldwin being stalked by a woman, and most people are familiar with Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder by a stalker-fan, or Paula Abdul’s stalker committing suicide.
Last week, Wil Smith was physically accosted by a journalist while promoting MiBIII, and he pushed the reporter away and objected vehemently to the fact that the reporter tried to kiss him on the mouth.
Some people are painting this as an incident of violent homophobia. They’re full of it.
The reporter (who allegedly does this as part of his schtick with people he interviews) committed sexual assault.
Yes, you heard me correctly. If you touch someone without their permission, as Wil Wheaton experienced last year, that’s assault. If you touch someone in a sexual manner without their permission, that’s sexual assault. It could be misdemeanor level, but it is still assault.
Celebrity is possibly the closest analogue that blurs the lines of race and gender, and approximates the level of entitlement society feels about women’s choices, bodies, and sexuality, all the time. The invasive glare of the spotlight and the way people demand access to those who are famous, is comparable to the objectification women are subjected to on a daily basis.
A few years back, Adrian Brody won the Oscar for The Pianist. Before he made his speech, he sexually assaulted Halle Berry, who was presenting the award, by grabbing her and aggressively kissing her. I do not think this was intentional, but objectively speaking: it’s what happened. Google it and watch the video. Look at HER face, listen to what he said directly after. There is a further entitlement when it comes to race. So that incident was brushed off, (and no, I don’t think Brody is necessarily a horrible person, just displaying behavior symptomatic of our cultural problems) and when the same type of thing happens to Will Smith, he’s made out to be the villain.
If Denzel Washington did that to, say… Julia Roberts, or if Zachary Quinto did it to Bruce Willis… can you imagine the way all hell would break loose?
But because these two particular incidents were against actors of color, they are not being described as what they are: assault.
If someone grabbed someone on the street and kissed them, no preamble, we would clearly understand the events as assault, but when you bring fame into it, there is a sense of entitlement. Bring race and gender into it for extra helpings of cultural entitlement, and when someone reacts in a perfectly normal way, i.e., objecting loudly, calling out the person on their behavior, and physically moving the perpetrator out of their physical space, well: Will Smith is suddenly a violent homophobe.
Nobody has the right to touch another person without their permission, kiss another person without their permission (implicit or explicit) have sex with them without their permission, or to invade their privacy.
We have to stop acting like anyone’s body is public property, regardless of gender, race, orientation, color, or fame.
We are entitled to nothing from another person, except what they choose to give. Just because someone is gracious enough not to press charges, doesn’t mean an assault didn’t happen.
Here endeth the lesson.