Sign to add your name to this open letter demanding the New York Post retract and apologize for victim-blaming coverage of Nafissatou Diallo, who has accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn of rape:
To the NY Post Editors:
We understand that the press will cover court cases as it sees fit: journalists, because they are human, bring their perspectives to the stories they cover. There is, however, a chasm of difference between perspectives and helping shape public biases. The inflammatory headline “DSK Maid a Hooker”—and the story itself--does nothing more than cast aspersions on a woman who stepped forth to tell her story of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulting to her intimates, her union, and to the press in an ugly attempt to turn the public--from whom the jury members for the trial would be picked--against her.
Regardless of the current state of the case, this is not the time—or any other time, for that matter--for NY Post to try Ms. Diallo in the court of public opinion, especially using the standard victim-blaming rhetoric of saying she is “a hooker.” Not only is this abhorrently sexist, but it takes on a grossly racist tone. Black women have been historically cast as “Jezebels”—a synonym for “hooker”—which has been used as the reason why Black women could not possibly be “good” (meaning “sympathetic” or “relatable”) rape victims. As the historic document, “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves,” stated in the New York Times on November 17, 1991, as a response to the media’s and congressmen’s denigration of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings:
“This country, which has a long legacy of racism and sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of black women seriously. Throughout U.S. history black women have been sexually stereotyped as immoral, insatiable, perverse, the initiators in all sexual contacts--abusive or otherwise. The common assumption in legal proceedings as well as in the larger society has been that black women cannot be raped or otherwise sexually abused. As Anita Hill's experience demonstrates, Black women who speak of these matters are not likely to be believed.”
Past and present journalists, historians, and cultural critics such as Ida B. Wells, Henry Louis Gates, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Angela Davis and Paula Giddings have documented antebellum America’s sexual structure, which still influences today’s events. They have written on how many white men, be they slavemasters or not, forced many enslaved Black women--many of whom did domestic work—into having sex with them. These chroniclers also document how these white men used the “Jezebel” stereotype to justify their continued raping of Black women well into the 20th century. These sexual assailants rarely—if ever--faced court dates because the lawyers found the victim’s credibility “questionable” due to these ugly images about Black women circulating in the media then and now. Considering Ms. Diallo's and the alleged perpetrator’s races in the Strauss-Kahn sexual-assault case, the Post’s headline and story play too neatly into the perpetuating this bigotry that has been around since the days of US slavery.
Even if the Post supports Strauss-Kahn, there are far more civil ways to express this perspective without besmirching the victim and helping in perpetuating sexual violence. (Two examples of this are the tireless efforts of New York Hotel Workers Union in supporting their co-worker and the upcoming SlutWalk in New York City, whose members support the union and the victim in this case and who are organizing, in part, to counter the racism and sexism that have warped this case from the start.) Ms. Diallo has gone through enough without the Post adding to her pain by smearing her reputation with age-old remarks about her sexuality, her profession, and, by extension, her credibility.
We, the undersigned--quite a few of us who are Black and sexual-assault survivors and/or who call Black women our kin, our friends, our co-workers and bosses, our colleagues, and our partners--demand that the Post:
• Retract the story.
• Take out a full-page ad in the Post apologizing to the victim for both the headline and the story.
The reality is that whatever Ms. Diallo’s past, however she needed or still needs to support herself to survive, whatever she wears, whatever her race is, whatever religion she professes, wherever she lives, whomever she partners with for momentary pleasure and/or for lifetime companionship (regardless of that person’s/people’s gender, race, occupation, physical disabilities, body size, class standing, etc.), no one has the right to put their hands on her—not physically, not legally, and not journalistically!
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Women's Media Center
Mary Alice Miller
Bianca I. Laureano