Monday, April 9, 2018

Stubblefield in black and white

Daniel Engber follows up on his earlier comprehensive coverage of the Stubblefield case, talking with DJ's mother and brother after the hearing in which Stubblefield pleaded guilty:
“Look at him, he can’t consent,” D.J.’s mother told me when last week’s hearing ended. D.J., who was present with his brother and his brother’s pregnant wife, is roughly five feet tall, and he is mostly quiet but for grunts and chirps. “You call that justice?” she continued. “Print this in The New York Times. Tell them what the mother said: A white woman did this to my son.”
She didn’t have to spell it out; the racial context for the plea was clear enough. If the roles had been reversed — if the victim had been a small, white woman in a diaper who could not speak or dress herself, and if the defendant had been a black man in a position of authority — would things have ended this way? I thought back to D.J.’s brother’s testimony from the original trial. He said that when Anna introduced the family to facilitated communication, he noticed that the folks who used this method were almost always white. (I observed this fact as well, when I visited a facilitated-communication conference in Syracuse.) He was proud, he said, that his brother “was the Jackie Robinson of F.C.”
Later, he would suggest that Anna, in taking ownership of D.J.’s voice, had tried to strip him of his black identity — to supplant “a life steeped in the history and culture of his God-fearing, Southern-rooted, African-American family with some version of life she thought was better.”
“On behalf of my brother, who is nonverbal, I want to say, ‘Me, too,’ ” D.J.’s brother told me in the courthouse hallway. “This was not merely touching for ‘mutual pleasure.’ This was rape. She raped him two times. She did godawful things with him, and I believe the punishment is woefully inadequate.” People with disabilities are at much greater risk than able-bodied people of being sexually abused, he added, and the fact that Anna should receive the “gift” of this plea deal was “a slap in the face” to that community as well.
Engber characterizes Stubblefield's admission in court as a 'sorry-not-that-sorry plea':
At the prompting of her lawyer, Anna told the judge that she had intentionally touched the victim’s “intimate parts for the purposes of mutual sexual gratification.” Her guilty plea acknowledged little that was substantive about the case: It did not stipulate, for example, that Anna’s adulterous affair with “D.J.,” a nonverbal man who has been diagnosed with profound physical and mental disabilities, might have been founded on a suspect premise: that he was able to communicate by using a keyboard with her help. It did not concede that D.J. lacks the mental powers of a normal, 37-year-old adult, or that Anna could have been the unwitting author of his typed-out messages, through a sort of Ouija-board effect. It did not walk back the implication that D.J. had in some way played the part of the seducer. Rather, Anna copped only to a narrow, legalistic proposition: that she “should have known that the victim had been determined to be ‘mentally defective’ to the point of being incapable of providing consent.”
In other words, she found a way to cut her losses in the courtroom without denying D.J.’s competence or admitting any doubts about the realness of their love. This was to be expected, I suppose. From my position in the gallery, reporting on the trial, it always seemed to me that Anna was entrapped by the grandiosity of her good intentions. As an academic, she devoted much of her career to social-justice activism and the philosophy of race and disability, warning in her published work that men like D.J. (who is black) were like “the canary’s canary” in the coal mine — “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable” — and subject to both white supremacist and ableist oppression. In teaching D.J. how to type, using a widely disavowed method known as “facilitated communication,” she believed she was restoring his right of self-determination: empowering him to take college classes, present papers at conferences and eventually express his longing for the older, married, white woman who had been his savior.
As he did in his earlier coverage, Engber gets things so right (though I am not sure I agree with characterizing the episode as an adulterous affair---can sex imposed on a non-consenting partner be fairly characterized that way?.) I am grateful to Engber for nailing down a neglected point: race. Being a white savior was part of Stubblefield's self-delusional narrative and as DJ's brother contends, the 'voice' she foisted on him---her voice wrapped up in his identity as she reconstituted it---erased his black identity. And I am grateful that he has been able to switch the focus, at least a little bit, from Stubblefield to DJ, printing in the NY Times what his mother said: " A white woman did this to my son.”

No comments:

Post a Comment