Sex and Race Collide Again in the Fairfax Case


By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

How many times have we seen this act? A woman claims that a prominent African-American celebrity or politician has engaged in sexual misconduct with her. I mean, the names of the men who have been hit with the charge can fill up a small telephone book. Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax is just the latest in the long list.

When the charge is made, three things happen. First, the press jumps all over it with a furious back and forth, he said/she said reporting of the charges and denials. In Fairfax’s case the accuser, university professor Vanessa Tyson, penned her claim in a lengthy recount picked up by newspapers. Fairfax denied all.

Second, some women’s groups and the accuser’s supporters call for action against the alleged offender, action which includes everything from investigation to prosecution. However, it’s the third thing in the sexual misconduct battle that’s become almost a ritual when the accused offender is an African-American. The lines are instantly and rigidly drawn. Many African-Americans loudly see conspiracies and a hidden hand behind the charge. That is, it is just another ploy to damage and bring down a prominent black man.

They cry: double standard, asserting that black men draw fury, scorn and condemnation from the media and the public that white men accused of sexual misconduct don’t get. Women’s groups counter that sexual misconduct is sexual misconduct no matter who the perpetrator is, and the penalty must be harsh.

Fairfax is a near textbook example of the clash of race and sex engulfing a prominent black politician. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and nearly every other black politician around instantly called for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam when an alleged medical yearbook picture of him in a Klan outfit or in Blackface was plastered in the press after the leak from a murky, muckraking “investigative” outfit, Big League Politics.

Though the organization claims to be non-partisan and says its mission is to expose wrongdoing and misdeeds by politicians of whatever political stripe, it the ones it spends the most dirt-digging ink on are Democrats such as Northam. This is the case with Fairfax. It outed him with Tyson’s charge of sexual misconduct. When it did, though, there were no calls from black politicians for Fairfax to step down.

This is in sharp contrast to the reaction to Northam. It’s also in contrast to the demand by them that Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh be rescinded. This is an all too familiar pattern.

There are countless numbers of blacks who still doggedly defend convicted sexual assailant Bill Cosby and the likes of R. Kelly. The same argument that there are sinister forces out to tar and tarnish prominent black men, and nothing like that happens to white men who commit sexual abuse.

There is both truth and fiction in this. Black men are under an intense glare when it comes to the charge of sexual misconduct. This is no surprise given the horrific, vicious and relentless stereotyping of black men as sexual predators. The fiction is that some black men don’t do exactly what their women accusers say that they do, up to and including rape. They do.

The charge against Fairfax is a serious one. But the problem is how to prove it? There were only two people in the room when the alleged victimization happened, Fairfax and Tyson. It is his denial versus her accusation.  So it comes back to the issue of a black man being accused fairly or unfairly. This insures that the lines of support for, or condemnation of, a man such as Fairfax will be tightly drawn.

The issue is also deeply colored by politics with much at stake. If Northam were to eventually step down, Fairfax is in line to be Virginia governor. That would be yet another important racial milestone for black elected officials. Since Virginia is a crucial swing state politically, this would instantly make Fairfax as governor a major political player on the national scene.

Therefore, many blacks are mum on his plight and why many blacks are deeply suspicious of the timing of the charge against him The fact that Big League Politics targeted Fairfax doesn’t help matters. That is going after yet another Democrat to tar. Though Tyson insists that she tried to go public with this much earlier, it won’t convince many blacks that this isn’t a trumped-up charge to smear Fairfax at a moment when he stands poised to possibly take the reins of executive power in the state.

As the Fairfax fiasco shows once more, sexual harassment is a vile, dirty, and disgusting business. But it’s also the business more times than not that’s earmarked by he said, she said accusations and allegations that are rarely witnessed and verified, has little hard proof, and subject to a wide world of interpretation and innuendo. Fairfax is yet another example of this, with race and sex colliding on sexual misconduct.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of  Why Black Lives Do Matter  (Middle Passage Press) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.