On Friday, Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine), the last undecided Republican vote on embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, revealed that she’d vote in favor of his eventual confirmation.
During her historic 40-minute monologue on the Senate floor, she outlined her reasoning for doing so, citing her comprehensive review of his 12-year tenure as a federal judge, her belief that his election wouldn’t imperil the Affordable Care Act, as well as her decision to meet with the thousands of proponents and detractors of Kavanaugh within her constituency.
But as the world watched with bated breath, the coup de grâce came when she addressed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations directly: "I do not believe these charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from fairly serving on the court," she said. “It is when passions are most inflamed, when fairness is most in jeopardy. I worry that departing from this presumption could lead to a lack of public faith in the judiciary and would be hugely damaging to the confirmation process moving forward."
It was in that exact moment that Judge Brett Kavanaugh became the latest bastion of blindingly white male privilege and hypocrisy. Otherwise known as a long-standing precept in which black men are married to our pasts, even if unrelated to our own victimhood, while our white counterparts are routinely afforded the luxury of dissociating themselves from their own, despite their role as a perpetrator. This is best exemplified in the deluge of prominent support that Kavanaugh received prior to his confirmation, in which his behavior was either minimized or outright dismissed as youthful folly.
45Committee, a political action committee linked to the Ricketts family – majority owners of the Chicago Cubs – funded a TV ad campaign lauding Kavanaugh’s “honor, integrity, and strong moral character.” And in its attempt to paint Kavanaugh as incapable of such reprehensible behavior, every participant in the $650,000 ad is a woman. Each of whom takes turns extolling his “compassion” and “moral compass” despite accusations to the contrary.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, herself a victim of sexual assault, unsurprisingly echoed a similar sentiment. She asserted on CBS This Morning that "This may be the first time we've heard allegations against someone as a teenager who did not prey upon women thusly as he became powerful." A blatant insinuation that Kavanaugh’s sins of the past should remain in the dark and have no bearing on his integrity as a Supreme Court justice.
Minnesota Senator Scott Newman further proved the “boys will be boys” train is never late, tweeting: “Even if true, teenagers!” While New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss came under fire for her own remarks: “Let’s say he did this exactly as she said. Should the fact that a 17-year-old, presumably very drunk kid did this, should this be disqualifying?”
Also of note, evangelist Franklin Graham openly challenged the relevancy of Ford’s allegations. “It's just a shame that […] somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That's not relevant,” he told CBN News. “We've got to look at a person's life and what they've done as an adult and are they qualified for this position, so this is just an attempt to smear him.”
But while many sought to divorce Kavanaugh from his past, it was our Commander-in-Chief who tapped into uncharted depths of hypocrisy. President Donald Trump, the same man who once spent $85,000 on full-page ads advocating for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, weaponized male victimhood in his latest “woe is men” spiel: "My whole life, I've heard you're innocent until proven guilty. But now you're guilty until proven innocent. […] I say that it's a very scary time for young men in America.”
As is typical of hypocrisy, it’s ironic to hear Trump contradict himself in touting due process. An irony that isn’t lost on Raymond Santana – more commonly known as one of the Central Park Five – who was falsely implicated of rape and assault in one of the most heavily publicized crimes of the 1980’s. “When I saw what he said, the first thing that came to my mind was he didn’t have that same energy for us,” Santana told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We didn’t get that type of benefit. We 14-15-year old kids and you calling for the death penalty?”
But Trump has always proven himself to be preoccupied with his own agenda than that of the American people. “Think of your husband,” he pled later at a campaign rally in Mississippi. “Think of your sons.”
In his crusade to make America great again, how soon we forget that doing so often comes at the expense of black lives. And while the sons Trump has in mind likely resemble his own, others bear the brunt of police brutality and systemic oppression, as well as incurring the carnivorous wrath of a prison industrial complex that feeds off the flesh of black bodies.
However, it’s in the immediate aftermath of police shootings and other tragedies in which it’s unveiled just how closely Black men are conjoined to their pasts are. Regardless of how remote or irrelevant this information is to the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
On September 6th, 2018, off-duty Dallas patrol officer Amber Guyger entered the unlocked apartment of Botham Jean and gunned him down. In the immediate aftermath of Jean’s murder, despite his obvious standing as the victim, his reputation was deliberately tarnished on the day of his funeral. As the discovery of marijuana and related paraphernalia within his apartment was publicized by the media.
“I think it’s unfortunate that law enforcement begins to immediately criminalize the victim — in this case, someone who clearly was the victim that has absolutely no bearing on the fact that he was shot in his home,” said attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Jean’s family. “For it to be on this day, the day that we remember and celebrate him. […] to see the common assassination attempt on the victim that we often see in law enforcement involved shootings.”
Eric Garner suffered a similar in fate. After losing his life to an illegal chokehold at the hands of New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, former New York Post editor Bob McManus attributed Garner’s death to a culmination of criminal activity: “Eric Garner was a career petty criminal who’d experienced dozens of arrests, but had learned nothing from them. He was on the street July 17, selling untaxed cigarettes one at a time — which, as inconsequential as it seems, happens to be a crime.”
In the case of 66-year-old Timothy Caughman, according to police reports he was stabbed repeatedly in the chest with a 26-inch katana. The culprit, white supremacist James Harris Jackson, drove to New York City with the explicit intent of murdering black men. However, in the wake of Caughman’s murder, a shadow was cast on his character after his unrelated past was dredged up by multiple media outlets.
After describing his executioner as “dapper”, the New York Daily News reported: “[Caughman] has 11 prior arrests, including for marijuana, assault, resisting arrest and menacing.” The New York Post deployed a similar strategy in its reporting: “Caughman, who has 11 prior arrests, walked for about a block after the stabbing and staggered into the Midtown South Precinct, looking for help. Police sources said the career criminal was refusing to talk to police about the incident and acting combative before his death."
In each instance, censure takes precedence over humanity. Which reinforces – and is a direct byproduct of – an environment in which black men are routinely pigeonholed as “thugs” despite our inclinations to the contrary. No matter how high we climb, our accomplishments and agency are immediately rendered obsolete should we ever falter or fall victim to a bullet or a badge. And while the Brett Kavanaugh of today is radically different from the Brett Kavanaugh of yesteryear, his ability to compartmentalize the two in the face of sexual assault allegations is a super power reserved for white men and the privilege they wield.
For every Brett Kavanaugh there’s a Trayvon Martin, whose attire and school suspensions become international news instead of the circumstances surrounding their deaths. It’s also a double standard that allows unscrupulous individuals to contaminate our highest offices. “The right wants Brett Kavanaugh to get another chance because, hey, he was just a teenager, but they also believe teenagers like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown got what they deserved,” journalist Touré tweeted.
So while Kavanaugh’s confirmation might come as a shock to some, for many of us it was a foregone conclusion. Because in a world in which a mass shooter is eulogized as an introvert who “enjoyed gambling and country music”, a would-be domestic terrorist is celebrated as a “straight-A student”, and a convicted rapist is humanized as an “all-American swimmer”, privilege comes at the expense of parity. And black lives will always be charged the remaining balance.