Will America ever have a #MeToo-style reckoning for racism?
#MeToo is a tough social movement to define, but several overarching themes emerge: Perpetrators of sexual harassment are being called out for specific bad behavior, ranging from very explicit to more subtle forms. People are losing their jobs because of it. There is a cultural conversation happening that involves identifying this behavior, once acceptable (or ignored), as unacceptable. And there is a broader conversation happening about the underlying systems that enable this kind of behavior.
What would a similar movement centered on race look like? What consequences would they suffer? What would it take to make this broader conversation about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior happen? Vox politics and policy writer Jane Coaston, identities editor Michelle Garcia, and identities writers P.R. Lockhart and German Lopez got together to discuss the challenges of a similar reckoning for acts of racism in America. Here’s their conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
Racists are all too often able to defend themselves by simply claiming that their racism doesn’t count as racism. I think that our history puts the “what counts as racism” bar so high that many believe to fit underneath it renders them “not racist.” “I’ve never burned a cross! I’ve never called anyone a ni**er! I just think that interracial relationships are bad!”
You see that kind of thing with the opposition to taking microaggressions seriously. People really, really don’t like the idea that just making a certain group of people uncomfortable might get them in trouble. They want to be able to get away with it.
Yeah, that’s what worries me about this “politically correct/incorrect” business. For so long people were able to say things, unchecked, that were incredibly racist, or at the very least unkind to other human beings — but being held accountable for those actions is suddenly oh so stifling? Give me a break! Be a human being.
Survey finds 42 percent of women report discrimination at work
Amid a wave of sexual harassment allegations against high-profile men, a reckoning would seem to be coming to the workplace, as women speak out about unwanted advances or inappropriate behavior, employers respond with more training and policies and prominent men are shown the door after misconduct complaints.
Yet a new analysis by the Pew Research Center serves as a reminder that the inequities women face at work are driven not only by such obvious forms of harassment, but by so many other forms of discrimination: from lower pay to being treated as less competent to repeated, small slights in office conversations.
In a survey of 4,702 adults employed at least part time, 42 percent of working women said they have faced one of eight types of discrimination on the job because of their gender. The biggest gap had to do with money: 25 percent of women said they have earned less than a man doing the same job, while just 5 percent of men said they have experienced that. Twenty-three percent of women said they were treated as if they were not competent, compared to just 6 percent of men.
The survey was conducted this summer, before the Harvey Weinstein news broke and the #MeToo movement catapulted into the public conversation.
“What’s important about these findings is that while there’s been a lot of talk about sexual harassment at work, that is tied to a broader conversation Americans are having about equity in the workplace,” said Cary Funk, one of the report’s co-authors and the director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center. “And they remind us that discrimination at work can encompass a wide array of behaviors.”
The writer Rebecca Traister addressed the issue in a recent article. Regarding the deluge of headlines and stories about sexual harassment, she wrote that it’s important to remember that while sexual harassment is a crime, it is also a form of discrimination, and the broader inequality issue is what still needs to be reckoned with.
Bill O’Reilly Files #MeToo Defamation Lawsuit Against Former Politician
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has filed a $5 million dollar defamation lawsuit against a former New Jersey politician that accuses him of “making defamatory and false” statements about him in a #MeToo Facebook post. According to the suit, Michael Panter falsely posted on Facebook that O’Reilly had sexually harassed an ex-partner and then attempted to ask her for help in digging up dirt on one of his multiple accusers. In response to the accusation, O’Reilly stated, “Panter’s post is completely contrived, false and defamatory, aimed at hurting Bill O’Reilly and his family. Mr. O’Reilly will be commencing legal action against Mr. Panter, and the ex-partner he quotes, for all damages he and his family have suffered from this improper conduct.”
According to the Facebook post, O’Reilly not only hit on Panter’s ex-girlfriend, but repeatedly subjected her to late-night phone calls and asked her for help in uncovering personal information about a new woman accusing O’Reilly of sexual harassment in an attempt to discredit her, asking Panter’s ex-partner if she knew anything about possible drug use or the new accuser’s financial situation.
O’Reilly filed the suit in New York in a response to Panter’s purportedly “intentional, malicious, and bad faith actions in making defamatory and false statements in a publicly-available social post.” In response to O’Reilly’s claims of defamation, Panter issued a follow-up statement that defended his claims against O’Reilly and raised the possibility of bringing counter defamation claims against him in the future.
Social media is a relatively uncharted legal territory, and the question of what constitutes defamation over platforms like Facebook and Twitter remains murky. In American defamation law, any communication, even through social media, can be considered libelous if it is found to be false and damaging to an individual or corporation. The success of a defamation claim can also hinge on whether the subject is a public figure. In order to be found liable for defamation against a person who is famous or well known, a person must have acted with “actual malice,” meaning that he or she was aware that the statement in question was false, or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Sexual harassment: More stars facing accusations
Two Oscar-winning actors, a Hollywood filmmaker and a senior US news editor are the latest high-profile figures to be accused of sexual harassment.
The actors Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman have been accused of sexual misconduct and have issued apologies.
Meanwhile, six women have accused Brett Ratner, director of the Rush Hour film series and X-Men: The Last Stand, of sexual harassment or misconduct.
Ratner’s lawyer “categorically” denied all of the accusations on his behalf.
A representative for Spacey released a short statement to the US media, saying the actor “is taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment. No other information is available at this time”.
A growing number of allegations have been made against public figures in recent weeks.
The allegations have been sparked by multiple women speaking out against the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a subsequent campaign encouraging victims to share their stories of sexual harassment under the #metoo hashtag.
So who has been accused of misconduct?
New allegations have emerged from a number of men accusing Kevin Spacey of sexual misconduct.
US filmmaker Tony Montana claims he was groped by the actor in a Los Angeles bar in 2003. He says he was left with PTSD for six months after Spacey “forcefully” grabbed his crotch.
Mr Montana told Radar Online that he was in his thirties when the incident took place at the Coronet Bar in LA.
It follows an allegation made by Anthony Rapp that the House of Cards actor tried to “seduce” him when he was 14 years old.
Kevin Spacey says he has no recollection of that encounter, and was “beyond horrified”.
Incidents regarding Spacey are also alleged to have taken place in the UK while the two-time Oscar winner was the artistic director at the Old Vic in London between 2004 and 2015.
Mexican actor Roberto Cavazos, who acted in several plays at the theatre, claims Spacey “routinely preyed” on young male actors.
Me too: I was sexually harassed at 11
Following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, women have been sharing their stories of sexual harassment online using the hashtag #metoo. Here, Shaimaa Khalil writes about her first experience of harassment as a child growing up in Egypt.
There’s one particular day – soon after I turned 11 – that I can’t forget.
I was at my grandparents’ house and for the first time I’d been allowed to go out with a cousin and her friend, without any adults – three girls on our own, out on our first adventure.
“Be careful. Don’t go too far and don’t spend your money on stupid things,” my grandma warned us. She meant ice cream – and yes, we were planning to spend our money on that.
I was excited, but nervous. This needed to go well if I was to stand a chance of ever going out on my own!
“OK Shaimaa,” I remember thinking. “No falling, no fighting, no losing your money.” I should have added: “No getting sexually harassed by teenage boys.” But how could I know?
In the busy summer streets of Alexandria, we hadn’t realised we were being followed. But three boys walking behind started bumping into us. Then one of them groped me.
All I could do to escape our tormentors was walk ahead as fast as I could, with my cousin and her friend trying to catch up.
But they kept following us.
The three of us held hands and rushed back toward my grandparents’ house.
The boys were right behind. Now verbally harassing us.
I was frightened, but also angry. These boys had ruined my big day. I turned around and yelled: “Kifaya! Enough!”
“Kifaya!” one of them echoed, mocking me.
Later on, my mother chastised me. “You talked to them?” she fumed. “You don’t talk to someone who’s harassing you … you just keep going. That’s what they want – if you engage and make a scene, they win.”
My grandma chimed in. “Were you loud? Were you laughing and being silly for no reason? I know how you can get, Shaimaa.”