Did black people offer blind support for Kobe Bryant during his 2004 sexual assault case just because he was black?
It is an interesting question, which has been brought up many times on social media, on blogs, and in comment sections thanks in part to a portion of a recent New Yorker interview with Bryant. In it, he speaks on Miami Heat players taking a photo wearing hoodies in solidarity with the movement for justice for Trayvon Martin in 2013, which was posted on social media. For those who might have been out of the country at the time and have no idea about what Bryant said, here are his comments:
I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American. That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.
The comments made for some real interesting dialogue this past weekend. The most vocal voices were those who thought Bryant was suffering from a bit of Uncle Tom’s Cabin-fever with his grossly simplistic reading of the outcry for justice in the Martin case. I somewhat lean in that group of people. But what has me particularly perplexed about his comments is his unwillingness to “assert” himself to speak on the Martin case under the guise of resisting some so-called pseudo-racial allegiance in the black community when he has had no problem evoking race to his benefit before, particularly when those sexual assault charges were levied against him.
It is true that Bryant had a groundswell of support within the black community during the investigation into those allegations against him. I remember vividly, black folks, of all genders and ages, going on about how Bryant was being railroaded in Colorado. This archived article on something called Black News Weekly, blatantly titled, “Kobe’s accuser may have set him up,” pretty much sums up what the sentiment was throughout the network of folks I had encountered, particularly these lines in it:
…it appears the alleged rape victim is a sleeper-arounder in that it was said in court that her bruises may have been the result of having sex with three different men in three days. Is she easy or what?
It was clear even back then that some of our folks were going above and beyond the call of duty to discredit the alleged victim, even without having all the facts at their disposal. In some ways, that sort of blind support of him given by many in the community kind of reinforces his overall point about the dangers of identity politics. However, much of the “race” support around Bryant didn’t originate in the community, but from Bryant’s legal team.
In fact, it was actually Bryant’s own defense team that introduced race into the case, particularly raising the concern about Bryant’s likelihood of receiving a fair trial considering, “black men have long been falsely accused of rape by white women” during one of the preliminary hearings. That legal maneuvering not only was an attempt to discredit the alleged victim in the case, but it also served as a dog whistle, blown off of real life history in America, which struck a cord with black men in particular, who have been the subject of lynchings and wrongful conviction for crimes against white women in the past. Therefore, the mass sympathy, empathy and even mobilization Bryant would receive from many in the black community had more to do with personal and shared experience and understanding of how racism affects, halts and deprives justice and equality in such circumstances than it did with just supporting Bryant because he was #TeamBlack.
It is also important to note that we were not alone, as Bryant received support from both within and outside of the black community. There was a lot of bashing of the alleged victim in the case on talk radio and in other publications of the male-centered sports media during the investigation. A lot of this likely had to do with Bryant being a top baller in the league, who was not only electric to watch, but also happened to be making lots of people, lots of money. Also, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that we live in a victim-blaming society, where too often women are implicated in sexual assaults done against them.
If you’ll recall, it was the Eagle, Colorado district attorney’s office, which decided to drop charges after a year-long investigation, after the alleged victim in the case refused to testify. Although the prosecutor said that he was willing to pursue the charges, the decision by the judge in the case superseded Colorado’s “rape shield” law and allowed evidence of the accuser’s sexual activity in the days surrounding the alleged assault to be made public at trial. That, along with the public outing of her name in the media due to a court mistake likely swayed her decision to not pursue the case any further.
Of course, none of that implies guilt. Perhaps being on the accuser’s side of the table and seeing how Bryant’s own legal team manipulated racial emotion for his personal benefit could have an effect on why he would be cautious. I can somewhat understand that. But it is no excuse for Bryant to echo some longstanding and quite frankly racist ideas about black folks behaving as some sort of Borg-like figure, incapable of reasoning and logic outside of the scope of race. This is the furthest thing from the truth.
Personally, I had my suspicions of Bryant’s guilt and I know I was not alone. That’s because, for some of us, principles, ideas and overall agenda also come into play, and likely matter more than our shared hue. And if race and race alone was a factor, folks like Clarence Thomas and Allen West would be much more revered in the community than they actually are. Or maybe we might have some black unity that Malcolm, Martin and Marcus were always going on about. And, perhaps, George Zimmerman would be in prison (because who isn’t scared of upsetting The Borg?). Likewise, Kobe wouldn’t have gotten as many benefits of the doubt – just ask any poor non-hoop shooting black man in prison or on trial for sexual assault.