There’s a direct connection between white male secret societies and group violence that roots gendered racism and raced sexism into our nation’s core. As the campus rape crisis, the Senate's CIA torture report, #blacklivesmatter movement and mainstream political acceptance of white supremacist ideology highlight, we should be deeply concerned. Consider:
- U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and the House majority whip, admitted to addressing a community organization with genealogical ties to the Ku Klux Klan, a secret white, male fraternal society founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, on Christmas Eve 1865 that would become one of the most destructive terrorist organizations the United States has ever known.
- In the wake of the University of Virginia (UVA) rape scandal, we discovered fraternity members are responsible for 28 percent of sexual assaults in which the victim is incapacitated. Fraternity men are three times more likely to commit sexual assault.
- We also learned of the scandalous, habitual actions of two other predominately white male “fraternities”: the Fraternal Order of Police and the CIA. #Blacklivesmatter protesters reminded us of the documented relationship between police use of excessive force and the systematic killing of unarmed black people across this nation.
- The U.S. Senate’s CIA torture report revealed our government had been explicitly involved in the torture of detainees in CIA custody between 2002 and 2008—a torture that, incidentally, included rape. We also learned this torture had been consciously covered up by the secretive government organization, despite the many warning signs that the CIA sustained the program.
Scalise’s scandal simply rounds out a series of headlines that remind us of the dangerous yet secretive and precarious relationship between gendered group violence, our nation’s moral boundaries and white supremacy. The lesson? We can no longer continue to ignore the intersectional, compounding politics of race, gender and sexuality violence that rip our society apart and expect to maintain the façade of our moral standards.
For many of us, it is unsettling to think our nation’s leaders could be directly tied to the KKK. It should be similarly unsettling to recognize there are ghosts of heteropatriachal white supremacy and traces of raced misogyny peppered throughout our nation in unexpected places. Instead of staring aghast and feigning disbelief, we should take stock of how we talk about and analyze racism and sexism. This means taking care to identify it where it exists, no matter how much it hurts or offends.
Our definitions of white supremacy flatten the term into the clichéd white power politics of the KKK and neo-Nazis, and this oversimplification fails us repeatedly. As George Lipsitz reminded us in 1995, “Whiteness is everywhere in American culture, but it is very hard to see.” So are the twin phenomena of heteropatriarchy and white supremacy, which the black feminist Combahee River Collective reminded us, go hand in hand.
So, while it is definitely a big deal Scalise addressed some offshoot of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) in 2002, it is a bigger deal that this is a pattern in our nation, not an exception. This most recent scandal is not an isolated issue about the extent to which Scalise is racist. It is a broader societal question about the extent to which there social patterns of white supremacy among our nation’s current and future leaders that we can tie to a propensity for gendered, raced, group violence—from torture to rape.
The connections between the Scalise scandal, rape on college campuses, anti-black police violence and the CIA torture scandal seem almost hazy and disparate until we begin to connect the historical dots. For example, just after the Abu-Ghraib torture photo scandal broke in 2004, Hazel Carby, a Yale University African-American studies professor, reminded us that CIA practices of torture, the history of anti-black police violence in the United States and the legacy of lynching go hand in hand.
“There is a direct, but hidden, line connecting Abu Ghraib, the Rodney King video, and the photographs and “postcards” of lynchings which circulated widely in the early 20th century,” Carby said.
Today, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal gives way to the CIA torture report. Rodney King’s video is supplanted by Eric Garner’s. And Scalise’s speaking record reminded us of the eerie shadows of the lynching and white supremacy that continue to haunt our national government, not only its interrogation practices but also in its social relationships.
And while the UVA rape scandal may seem unrelated, we need only recall the key role that rape played in the CIA’s torture tactics or the gut-wrenching stories of police violence punctuated by rape (like Abner Louima), to remember that race, gender and sexuality violence go hand in hand.