Trigger Warning: Rape. Suicide. Victim Blaming
Darnell* is an amalgamation of wonderful things: a program director at a thriving non-profit for the disadvantaged, a board member of his block association, volunteer at his local soup kitchen, and an eccentric party host at night.
You can find him connecting palms with young brothers, telling them that they can be anything they want to be if they’re true to themselves, giving speeches about honesty and intentionality, and spinning love songs.
Most people that know him will tell you that he’s an anomaly, a sliver of genuineness amongst New York City’s mask.
Cassie* will tell you that he’s a rapist.
Cassie and Darnell worked together, five years ago. After a work happy hour, they went back to Darnell’s apartment because it was 15 minutes away from the bar. Cassie’s apartment was an hour away. She planned to sleep off the drinks on his couch and make her way home, early in the morning. She remembers being introduced to his roommate, she remembers lying down, and everything is dark after that.
Cassie woke up, bereft of her underwear, and with Darnell’s roommate asleep on the floor next to her.
She tells me this story during a recent happy hour, only minutes after one of Darnell’s accomplishments has been strewn across her Facebook timeline via a friend’s activity and unfortunate algorithms.
She uses her finger to push the salt around her shot glass, “If they only knew what type of person he was.”
She’s tipsy, just as she was that night. As an adult and an individual, this is her business. She’s allowed to partake in libations, sleepovers and the like, and it plays no factor in anything else.
She doesn’t believe this, “I feel like I set myself up. I feel like I deserved it. I shouldn’t have had that many drinks. I should have gone home.”
I try to tell her that anything but an affirmative yes is rape. She bites the lime to keep from crying and reiterates her previous statement.
She pulls out her phone to show me the texts and emails. Darnell sends her one every few months. I scroll up, reading them backward.
“I’m a different man now. I have a daughter. I was going through a lot back then. Hit me up. I want to talk to you.”
“How are you?”
“I hope all is well.”
“Why won’t you hit me back? How’ve you been?”
“I don’t appreciate your voicemail. Listen; what happened tonight was consensual. You got drunk with me and came over. What did you think was going to happen? You were all up on my roommate too. You don’t remember it, but we do. Get over it. You made a mistake. Live with it.”
I asked her why she didn’t report the crime or change her phone number. She explained that she didn’t believe anyone would consider it rape.
“I also don’t think that I could survive not knowing his every step. I need to know where he is. I feel safe when I think I know his next move. It might sound crazy to you, but it’s true.”
I understood her rationale. I sometimes researched my own rapist, to make sure he was far away from me. I never wanted to be in the same place with him. I was paranoid about the same thing, for many years.
I told her she needed to see a therapist, but I validated her hurt. It’s real, tangible, small fingertip-size puddles on the bar.
On my way home, I thought of the text messages she showed me. They were familiar, definitely deja vu. I forgot to descend the staircases at the closest train station because I could not remember where I’d heard similar words. It wasn’t until I’d walked through half of Harlem that I realized that they correlated with Nate Parker’s barrage of excuses.
I get it. You’ve been under medals and athletics this week and if you missed it, here goes:
According to Variety, in 1999, as a student and wrestler at Penn State University, Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin — who went on to co-write the story for The Birth of a Nation— were charged with raping an 18-year-old female student in their apartment after a night of drinking.
Celestin served time for the rape, but Parker was exonerated due to prior consensual sex with the young woman.
Another man present, at the time of the rape, excused himself from the scene:
At trial, a third man, according to the Daily Beast:
Tamerlane Kangas, testified that Parker waved him and Celestin to join him when they spied Parker and the woman having sex in the bedroom. While Celestin accepted the invitation, Kangas declined and left the apartment. He was not charged with any crime. “I didn’t believe that four people at one time was — you know, it didn’t seem right,” he testified.
Here’s a portion of Nate’s interview, via Variety:
“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is” — he took a long silence — “I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.
(A/N: Please read transcripts in full. They’re quite horrific.)
Brock Turner. Bill Cosby. R. Kelly.
I cannot dispute facts.
Yes, he was acquitted.
Yes, it’s been 17 years.
Yes, he has a wife and daughters.
Yes, he’s been through poverty and lost his father.
Yes, his friend was in the same room at the same time and convicted of the crime.
Yes, there was a phone conversation in which Nate tries to convince a girl she was coherent.
Yes, she is grasping to shards, metaphorical bleeding hands on what she has left.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not guilty.
Acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean “not guilty.”
I’m no psychologist, but here’s what I’ve ascertained in Cassie’s case: Darnell appears to be looking for closure. As he ascends, he is wary of his past. He wants to make sure that it stays quiet. He realizes that Cassie’s utterance can destroy his dreams and aspirations.
I wonder if he ponders the young woman’s.
I wonder if he’s recognized that he’s done the same to her own yearnings.
I know what reoccurrence looks like.
I’ve watched it happen in my own eyes, as I dissect my body in a mirror.
I know what it’s like to have your body parts serve as memories, as forget-me-nots.
I pluck each memory off of my skin, with a positive affirmation, only to have it resurface through the soil of my dreams.
Cologne, street signs, touches, stories, heavy breathing, the clinking of a belt buckle, it’s all a trigger.
I cannot run away from it.
I see this in Cassie’s eyes as she recounts her story.
“People don’t change that quickly. You know?”
I do know.
“I just... I just want him to acknowledge that he was wrong. I just want him to admit it. I want him to get help.”
This is the quote that replays itself, as I walk down 125th.
Confession and/or acceptance of wrongdoing are the first step to rehabilitation. Nate Parker’s words, or Darnell’s, don’t have a hint of remorse, to me. They are careful words of men who’re afraid of their pasts coming to hinder their progression. They include a ton of incidents—unrelated to the rape—that they believe somehow excuse or remove attention from their previous behavior.
While writing this article, a few things happened: I was on break, and a co-worker asked me, “Why can’t his judgment be left up to God? Why is it that whenever a black man does something good, he’s brought down?”
A friend who claimed to be close to him claimed that we didn’t know the full story and the girl was a liar, “She didn’t want to lose her tuition. She couldn’t admit. She apologized.”
But all I hear is wind. A lack of an apology. There are whistles and gaps between what he isn’t saying.
I concur that we’re oppressed and are given rare opportunities to redeem ourselves. Yes, there are moments that our men are brought to their knees, due to things that have happened in the past or not at all. However, this is not one of those moments. There is a screaming woman in between Nate Parker’s words, in the middle of his bullshit, in the crevices of his half-ass answer, in the depths of his breezing past the actuality.
A lot of men, on my social media timelines, are chalking this up to conspiracy theory. They’re convinced that Nate Parker’s recent accomplishments, selling his film for $17.5 million, is the cause for the sudden ruckus. However, it’s not. The rape case was brought to light, during his Beyond the Lights (the irony) premiere and it’s been on his Wikipedia page for years. The attention, becoming an A-List celebrity, has brought this further out into the open, as it should. It comes with the territory. It’s now common knowledge.
Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing or giving concrete wording, he’s succumbed to dry vindications, a reworded plea to be left alone, as I’m sure this young woman felt.
There is a residual that we don’t speak of:
It’s a ghost that hovers over all your current lovers.
Your new significant other’s touch sparks a recollection.
He is a bone, in a grave you dug long ago, but keeps resurfacing.
His touch is much like the coffins resurfacing during the Louisiana flood.
It’s hoping that he can’t see your broken, until you’re ready to show your shards.
Can he tell that you’ve been tarnished?
Is there a scar on your rhythm?
Are you a semblance of who you could’ve been?
Your violation is a footstep: a sudden rush, in a boardroom or basement.
A stutter on a first date conversation.
A train ride thought.
Ink stains in numerous journals.
A prayer on a wedding day.
This is residual: Everywhere, poignant, a constant musk of regret.
Confirmation that this has happened to you doesn’t change it.
It doesn’t erase the nightmares.
But it soothes slightly.
You deem yourself visible again.
You know you are real.
You know something terrible happened to you.
You did not make it up.
You did not craft it, with paper mache hands, and blind eyes.
There is residual.
Somehow, there are people who wholeheartedly are able to confine this remaining. They speak as if they’ve been there, as if they are able to define the constant reiteration of hurt that dances through our minds, and relay it in the form of disgusting statuses.
“Maybe he’s changed.”
“They’re always trying to bring the black man down.”
“It’s been 17 whole years.”
“Morality is subjective.”
Convicted rapists are supposed to be rehabilitated.
They’re often required to face the music, via the same claustrophobic space that women dealing with the residual are. This space isn’t in their mind or a hindrance of their progression; it’s in a concrete cell, behind bars. Some are required to undergo therapy that forces them to confront actions.
This has not been Nate Parker’s story.
He hasn’t faced any music, except that of movie soundtracks.
In 2012, Nate Parker walked red carpets for Red Tails, Red Hook Summer, and Arbitrage premieres.
He was preparing for numerous upcoming roles.
He was immersed in the laughter of his children.
He was falling in love, again, with his wife.
I’m sure, like Darnell, he thought of the young woman and the past allegations. I’m sure he, too, wanted vindication that his truth would not rise to the surface. I am sure that he prayed that he’d be able to progress without being asked about his college “indiscretions.”
What I am sure of is, in 2012, the young woman took her life. She was tormented post-rape, via Parker and his friends, and attempted to end her journey several times before.
I am sure that he “just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago” and he is “filled with profound sorrow.”
Question: How do you just hear news, several years ago?
What I’m not sure of is if he exhaled at the news, if the message brought solidity to his ascent, if he thought it would somehow evaporate into thin air.
I am surrounded by people that speak subjectivity, that are sudden legal experts, that lack empathy within their tone, that have not walked in the shoes of a rape victim, but choose to speak for her. Right now, this is a Nate Parker issue, but this has been an issue for as long as I can remember.
The statue of limitations is over.
The world will point his or her fingers at someone new, tomorrow.
We are so much more than dollars at the movie theaters.
We are walking moments.
We are residual.
We are a living call to action.
I’m swaying perspective with Cassie’s story.
I’m pressing my own against it.
Cassie takes another sip of her drink, “He gets to live his life, and I’m…I’m....”
She cannot finish her sentence, but I understand. I don’t try to finish it for her. I am not assuming her feelings, but I know what sticks. Knowing that, understanding that, living it, considering it, acknowledging it is enough.
*Names have been changed.
Erica B. is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published three books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). You can find more of her work at IfNoOneHasToldYou.com.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.