Backlash Over White Hip-Hop Curator At National Museum Of African American History

Sep 29, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally, today, we want to head into the Barbershop to talk a bit more about the remarkable events of this past week around Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court and all that led up to it. And that's because the Barbershop is just a place that we can dig a little deeper into the news and what's on people's minds. And we want to do that because it's obvious now that these events are having an impact way beyond the politics, although, of course, we can't forget the politics. One of the reasons we say that is that RAINN, an organization to address sexual violence, reported calls to their hotline were three times higher than usual on the day that Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified.

You may have read any number of deeply personal blog posts and think pieces about these events. Clearly, people are feeling the need to share their stories, so we wanted to talk to a couple of people about their perspectives. To that end, we called Paul Butler. He's professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Joining us from New York is Deborah Copaken, a photographer and author of "The Red Book" and "Shutterbabe." And in Dallas, we have Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the pro-life group called New Wave Feminists.

And before we start, I just wanted to say that nobody has been called here to represent anybody in particular but just to share their own reactions and thoughts about these proceedings this weekend. I'm going to start with Deborah because last week - and welcome, by the way. Thank you all so much for being here with us. Deborah, you published an article in The Atlantic titled "My Rapist Apologized." Can you just briefly tell us why you wrote this piece which was very deeply personal?

DEBORAH COPAKEN: Thanks, Michel. I wrote it in response to President Trump's tweet about how if Christine Blasey Ford had actually - if things had been as bad as she said, she would have gone to the police and told her parents. And having been acquaintance-raped myself back in 1988, I knew that this was not the case. In fact, I knew that this was not the case because I was raped on the eve of my graduation. And obviously, my parents were there the next day. But I did go and report this rape. And I reported to the university health services. And back then, there were two choices - stick around for a year and have to deal with a trial where your sex life would be on trial, not your rapist, or say nothing.

MARTIN: But the other thing I found fascinating and moving about your piece, as did so many others, is that you confronted the person who did this years later, and he apologized.

COPAKEN: Well, actually - he did. And I confronted him, oddly, two days before President Trump's tweet, which was, you know, Tuesday or Wednesday before that. And I had just - I had read Kavanaugh's yearbook entry. And it so enraged me reading that that I just thought, enough of this bro culture. I'm about to have my 30th reunion for my college. I am - I had found this guy's email address a while back. And I said, I'm just going to write this letter. And I literally sat down, wrote a letter to my rapist, told him what he had done, explained to him what - how it had affected my life and had no idea what would happen in the interim. I just sent it out into the ether and, you know, shook as I pressed send.

And literally 20 minutes later, he called and said, I'm so sorry, I had no idea. And he was a blackout drunk, just like Kavanaugh. And he did get sober a year later, which is interesting because he said, I remember being at the party. And I remember waking up in your bed, but I do not remember anything else. And I said, well, you passed out in that bed. And I tried to move you, and you were dead weight. And I could not get you off that bed. And that has - that event has affected the rest of my life. And he just let me speak.

MARTIN: Wow. That's very powerful and intense. And I do need to say that Mr. Kavanaugh denies that he was a blackout drunk or - does not acknowledge that. So I will just say that in the interest of fairness. And Destiny, similarily, you posted about your experience with sexual assault on Facebook. And we don't have time to get into all the nuances of the point that you wanted to make, but as briefly as you can, talk about - it's a complicated story, but talk about what message you were hoping to impart by sharing your story.

DESTINY HERNDON-DE LA ROSA: Yeah. I felt like it was just really important. You know, we are having a national discussion. And it's something that, so often as a feminist, I want people to be talking about. What does consent look like? What is rape culture? You know, how do we dismantle this? And so because there is this national conversation going on, I decided to add my voice by telling this very personal, real, raw story about an assault that happened to me at 16 years old. And in the same way, something that changed the course of my life afterwards. And it was welcomed by so much support from so many people. It was overwhelming, and that part of it was wonderful.

But then I also noticed a few days later, it was being shared by people with this political lean to it. So whether they believed in Judge Kavanaugh's innocence or his guilt, you know, they would add their own little comment and then share this very raw part of me. And it caused me to question whether or not it was the right time to put this out. And it also made me wonder how many other women might be experiencing that same thing, you know, exposing this very vulnerable part of themselves and then seeing it kind of used and almost weaponized for political means.

MARTIN: So, Paul Butler, we called you for a number of reasons. You're a former prosecutor. You teach at a law school. You teach criminal law. You're very aware and sensitive around these issues. What did this bring up for you? What would you like us to be thinking about when we talk about this?

PAUL BUTLER: So, first off, mad respect to these two women for sharing their stories. Full disclosure, I'm a black man. So concern about false accusations is in my DNA. So yeah, there needs to be due process and a presumption of innocence. But Dr. Ford was very credible. And Judge Kavanaugh lost me in two ways. First, with his obvious lies about things like the yearbook where he had all these misogynist comments about women at the hearing, said they didn't have anything to do with sex - please. And that beyond that was his belligerent, disrespectful attitude. He yelled at the Democrats, asked them questions back, sulked in silence. You're right. I used to be a prosecutor. If there was a witness who tried that in D.C. criminal court, he would be held in contempt and locked up. Judge Kavanaugh does not possess a judicial temperament, and neither does he respect the Senate's duty to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominations.

MARTIN: But one of the reasons we also called you is that in a different context, we were talking about - admittedly, athletes and their - some foul things that they've said on social media when they were this age. And you said, you know what? I wouldn't want to be judged by things that I did when I was a teenager. Is that the same thing here?

BUTLER: We were talking earlier about a young man who made some vile, racist comments when he was 15 or 16. This is about a crime - attempted rape, assault - that Judge Kavanaugh is alleged to have committed. It's entirely proper for us to know whether someone is going to sit on the Supreme Court for 30 years with this kind of criminal background.

MARTIN: So, Destiny, let me go back to you because you identify as a pro-life feminist. And you've also written - and again, your piece was very nuanced. But you also talked about this kind of - that you feel like both head and heart should guide our reactions to this. What do you think should happen now based on your experience and the fact that you do identify as pro-life? And one would assume you'd have some interest in seeing a person with your views on the court.

HERNDON DE-LA ROSA: So I would say, as a pro-life feminist, it kind of puts me in this very unique position because I'm an independent. I don't belong to either political party. And I think even that alone has kind of set me apart from a lot of what we're seeing kind of online and in social media, where the day these allegations came out in The Washington Post, so many people assumed guilt or innocence right there and have not really been able to step back from it and look at this critically. And throughout the hearings, you know, listening to Dr. Ford, she was incredibly believable.

And then listening to Judge Kavanaugh, there was so much in his testimony that I thought, if I was wrongfully accused, I would be equally as hysterical to some degree. And so I think that, yes, you know, I do understand the need for having a pro-life Supreme Court justice. But I would also argue that Dr. Ford said multiple times that's why she was trying to get these allegations out before it was narrowed down to Brett Kavanaugh because there are other justices out there. And I think that's when it convinced me, at least personally, that this was not politically motivated for her.

Now, I do believe it was very much politically motivated and is being politically weaponized, you know, by many of the other senators that we saw at the hearing. They, you know, made a point to grandstand. And one of the people who really stood out to me was Senator Flake and the fact that, you know, to a lot of people, he seemed very wishy washy. But I think he was one of the only ones who gave a human response and not a politician response. And he called for humility. And he saw, you know, people as they were, and that this was a horrible instance that everyone wishes could have been avoided and could have been dealt with confidentially.

MARTIN: So, Deb, what about you? What do you hope happens now as we think about this and as we think about how this whole situation here has affected us?

COPAKEN: Well, I was very moved by the women yelling into the elevator. And I was moved by Flake's response to that, whether or not that was his response to those women yelling in the elevator or not. But I am heartened by the fact that we're going to actually have an FBI investigation, albeit a foreshortened one. But I do think we need to hear from Mark Judge. And I do think we need to hear from the other women. And I do think we need to find out just a little bit more than we did in those hearings.

You know, listening to Dr. Ford, I believed her a hundred percent. Listening to Kavanaugh, I believe that he didn't think that he had done anything wrong. Now, those two things can hold true at the same time. So we need to get to a much deeper understanding of what happened. And in fact, one of the things I think we keep forgetting here is that, whether or not this thing happened back in the day, this man is being judged on his character as well. And Fox did a really interesting chart of all the times that he obfuscated every time he was asked a question. And I think that is one of the more pertinent questions we need to be asking is, how much has he lied?

MARTIN: All right, Deb. We have to leave it there for now. There's obviously so much more to talk about. I'm sorry we don't have a chance to only - just scratched the surface here. That's Deb Copaken, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Paul Butler. And thank you all so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.