Redemption or Victimization?

By Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 29, 1995 | Go to article overview

Redemption or Victimization?


Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Why is the Rev. Al Sharpton, who came to fame by accusing white police officers of raping Tawana Brawley despite a severe absence of evidence, now standing with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson against Desiree Washington, whose rape claims proved to be much better grounded?

Could it be the color of the accused?

Sharpton along with Tyson's other defenders organized a Harlem rally to "welcome" Tyson "home" after serving three years in prison for the rape. But, a week before the event, a group of Harlem residents and other African-American leaders rained on Tyson's parade. They denounced the idea of making a hero out of the convicted rapist. Suddenly embarrassed, prominent participants scaled back a planned street festival and concert to a more sober-sounding "Day of Redemption."

Organizers said they were interested only in the good old-fashioned themes of justice, forgiveness, redemption and black solidarity.

But several other themes also ring out in this story, dueling themes of victimization, each with its own deep historical roots and deep-seated resentments. Each collides with the other and creates a mess of contradictions and mixed signals sent to the young people for whom sports heroes are supposed to represent so much as role models.

These victim themes include:

Black men vs. the system: A history of false charges against embattled black male heroes like Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey or Muhammad Ali has taught many African-Americans to presume innocence even after a black male hero is proved guilty.

"If he had been white, he would have never served a day on this crime," said the Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, pastor of Harlem's Canaan Baptist Church and a member of a welcoming committee.

Black women vs. the system: A history of black women having been slandered as oversexed Jezebels has prompted many African-American women to rise up in recent years to defend their sisters. The night before Tyson's Harlem rally, women and girls who have been victims of violence held a candlelight vigil to protest the celebration for Tyson, who has maintained his innocence.

Yet, when Tyson was asked the next day about his history of violence to women, his manager, John Horne, yelled back, "Mike Tyson is not going to sit up here and answer silly questions. …

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