As I was browsing through Youtube, a typical 10:30 pm worknight activity, I came across a link of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CybGo6hALVo . It was the comic Patrice O’neal on the well-known, and hilarious, Opie and Anthony Show.
Patrice, on this radio show, tells a story which not only entertains – but also provides insight into many issues swirling around the collective consciousness of North American popular culture.
At onset of this video, I actually cringed a little. Patrice was, in polite terms, being a rape apologist. The bare-bones of this argument was basically that rape is a very clear cut thing, and that once any sexual intercourse has started, the ownness is on the women to prove clear wrong doing- essentially he was arguing that there is no gray area when it comes to rape. The first few minutes of this video would have any feminist crying with outrage at his apparently flippant attitude towards sexual assault. But then, he elaborates. His backstory is tragic and informative. As I have written before CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.
He goes on to tell about a sexual encounter, and the various forces of prejudice and inequality serving to oppress racailized minorities in the American criminal legal system. (his) Long story short is as follows: he was, after not committing any type of rape what-so ever (in my opinion), sentenced, as a 16 year old, to two months in a maximum security prison. Not only a maximum security prison, but one of the most deadly in the entire United States.
What I love about this story is its complexity. On one hand, Patrice has a complacent attitude towards sexual assault. On the other, can we really blame him?
My point here is two-fold. First, America is still a really messed up place. Secondly, you can’t really dismiss a person until you understand their context. Someone who is a champion of women’s rights – aka – a feminist may be tempted to write-off Patrice as a person. Simply by listening to the first few minutes of this video, it would be easy for someone to make up their mind about what kind of person Partrice O’neal is. However, if you take the time to understand the rich complexity of his history, you might understand where Patrice is coming from in terms of his perspectives on gender and sexual assault. While I do not agree with his language towards women, I understand where he comes from.
In Patrice’s history, he has largely been defined by his racailized identity and gender: a black male. He was pegged into a category, defined solely by that category, and then persecuted unjustly and unfairly.
Patrice is trying to understand this world- a world that has persecuted him unfairly for arbitrary demographic characteristics. I think a lot of his off-the-cuff jokes and perspectives are an attempt to understand this world so inherent with injustice.
To bring it home- I would stress to anyone listing to Patrice out there, to appreciate the full context of his story, before you make judgements about his merit or inherent sense of goodness. For without understanding context, you have very little chance in changing people’s opinions that are different from your own.