As the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case continues to unfold, his accuser Nafissatou Diallo is caught in an old, deplorable game of demonizing the woman — and Black women in particular — as sexual aggressors and prostitutes. The media’s continued assault on her character practically forced her to come forward, defend her character and profess her truth.
Traditional media continues to play a crucial role in the way the world perceives Black women. For years Black women have been portrayed as the hypersexual jezebel, money-hungry gold digger, welfare queen, or loud-mouthed-liar. In recent years, some Black media outlets and their viewers have also joined their mainstream counterparts recasting the Black female victim as villain.
Here are just a few examples in recent history:
Nafissatou Diallo is the 32-year-old refugee from Guinea who has accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault at the Sofitel hotel where she worked as a maid. Originally depicted as an innocent-poor-African woman who assaulted by a rich and powerful man, she has quickly become the villain. According to media she is a greedy, lying, “AIDS predator” in cahoots with her incarcerated boyfriend. She has been reduced to a “cheap trick” who voluntarily performed oral sex on DSK, and only got upset after he refused to pay her.
In 2009, Rihanna, a chart-topping singer known for her strength, beauty, and voice was severely beaten by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. Despite photographic proof of her bloody and beaten body, Rihanna was put under social media’s microscope and picked apart – her every move was painfully and publicly scrutinized. By some writers and fans, she was no longer regarded as a victim of domestic violence, but instead a provocateur with a bad attitude. She was cast as a hot-tempered Caribbean woman who made a living gyrating before a camera, scantily clad in her music videos. She was the epitome of “bad girl.”
In 1989, Robin Givens went from a star on the small screen to being called “the most hated woman in America” after her marriage to Mike Tyson ended with a reported $10 million settlement. Givens went public on a number of occasions alleging that she was the victim of repeated domestic violence at the hands of the world’s former heavyweight champion. Despite her claims of being abused by Tyson, she was portrayed as a lying, violent, gold-digger who was out to sabotage her husband.
Anita Hill alleged that Clarence Thomas, her then-supervisor at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had sexually harassed her. At Thomas’ 1991 U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing she testified that he subjected her to vulgar descriptions of pornography he had watched and continuously bragged in graphic detail about his sex life. Despite her brave stance to come forward when sexual harassment cases were uncommon, she was boldly painted as a “nutty” and “slutty” woman who had a “perverse desire for male attention.”