One of the many horrors of American racism has been the persistent effort to criminalize black men and the convenient utilization of this racial narrative by some white women to cover up their personal failings or to incite white male rage. The story out of Texas is the latest example of a white woman inexcusably putting black men’s lives at risk for violent retribution, incarceration or death.
The Dallas Morning News first reported on March 10th, 2017 that an 18 year old white woman by the name of Breana Harmon Talbott was reported missing by her fiancé. The woman surfaced when she walked into a church in Denison, Texas disheveled, wearing only a shirt, bra and underwear and alleged that she had been gang raped by 2 masked black men while a 3rd black man held her down. Talbott claimed they pulled her into the woods, sexually assaulted her and then told her to run. A search ensued in the area, her mom pleaded for assistance on Facebook and a community was rattled by the allegations.
Thankfully, Talbott’s story quickly began to unravel as Denison’s police chief Jay Burch reported: "it is our understanding that medical personnel who examined Talbott were unable to corroborate that Talbott had been sexually assaulted." Days later after the police investigation became more suspicious of her claims, Talbott admitted it was a hoax; that she had made up the assault because she was upset that her boyfriend was going to leave her. After a year of court delay and negotiation, Talbott agreed to plead guilty to four felony charges of tampering with physical evidence and government documents with the expectation that she will avoid jail time. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 20th, 2018.
As this young woman dismissively attempted to put black boys and men in danger, I immediately thought of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who lied on a 14 year old African American boy named Emmett Till in 1955 by saying he sexually assaulted her near a store. Soon thereafter, the white woman’s husband and her brother made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river. This heinous act of violence helped spearhead the Civil Rights Movement.
I also couldn’t help but think of Dylann Roof, the young white man who reportedly told churchgoers: “You rape our women, taking over the country, you have to go” before he murdered 9 black people in cold blood. And I wondered how many black men are in prison today on false accusations made by white women across the country that we’ll never hear or know about.
Breana Harmon Talbott wasn’t naïve. She had a good understanding of America’s racist legacy and attempted to use it to her advantage. Talbott wasn’t thinking about the millions of black men who never committed a crime or sexually assaulted any woman. She wasn’t thinking about the humanity of the hundreds of black men in her community that could have been harassed, rounded up by police or on the receiving end of retaliation by a white man in the community. Talbott only thought of herself and attempted to exploit black stereotypes and images in its most brutish form in an effort to conceal the guilt behind her self inflicted wounds.
Luckily, and to the credit of Denison, Texas – there weren’t any reports of reactive violence reported and the police chief Jay Burch came out with this strong statement of condemnation: "Breana Harmon Talbott's hoax was also insulting to our community and especially offensive to the African-American community due to her description of the so-called suspects in her hoax. The anger and hurts caused from such a hoax are difficult and so unnecessary."
This white woman’s momentary act of desperation and false accusation of rape is a Black Man’s nightmare because it reminds us of our ongoing vulnerability in a racist society. That our lives can change in an instant for something we did not do. Damn I’m mad. No human being should feel this way.
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