Race and Class at Core of Penn State Scandal

Race and Class at Core of Penn State Scandal

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Two of the biggest headlines this month: the Occupy Wall Street Movement and Penn State sexual abuse expose. Both have awakened the nation to the extreme racial and economic inequalities that still exist in America.  And while a lot of people are probably a bit confused as to how the latter event has anything to do with race or class, since it is highlighted in the firing of a beloved coach, it is very much about power in America – or rather how little many Americans actually have.

There isn’t much information known about the identity of the eight alleged victims that have come forward thus far, but initial leaks depict mostly disenfranchised Americans-young, poor, “at risk,” some inner-city, kids of color who were enrolled in Sandusky’s non-profit Second Mile which was started in 1977 to help disadvantaged youth.

When we heard the non-profit described as an organization for “at risk” youth, the writing was on the wall.

For many it was the only explanation of how Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was able to elude years of alleged child abuse — some which was even seen by employees of the University.

It was also the reason many others say that the head football coach, Joe Paterno, turned a virtual blind eye to the allegations even after an assistant told him he witnessed the crime.

While many, like commentator Maureen Dowd, lambasted the university for what they say was a cover-up to protect the Penn State “brand,” others say the issue is deeper than that. Because the men involved at the top of this case were White and the victims allegedly Black, poor, and men – or all of the above – issues of race, class and gender have been raised.

Some in the media have refused to comment on the matter since the boys’ race and socioeconomic status have yet to be officially revealed. But, as a plethora of similar stories regarding Black boys and sexual abuse have begun to emerge – last year it was Bishop Eddie Long and in Penn State’s wake there is Boston clubhouse manager Donald Fitzpatrick – there are signs that race, power, and vulnerability may be at play.

Studies show that race, sexual preference, and religion don’t necessarily matter when it comes to sexual abuse (reports on class haven’t been as clear), but differences emerge in reporting of incidents of assaults and prosecution of offenders, with a minimal number of Black men reporting abuse or winning cases, leaving them as the perfect group for predators to take advantage of.

Dr. Carl C. Bell, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and President of the Community Mental Health Council says that poor Black boys may be victimized more because of “their inability to pay for a lawyer, suspicions on telling police of the crime, and cultural stigmas surrounding sexual abuse in the black community.” Mainly, he says, they lack protection by parents and other community members that even middle class Black kids may have access to.

In a conversation with Politic365, he argues the Penn State situation exposes how disenfranchised and powerless these children are. “You got a guy in power whose loved by everyone. A lot of people are weak. They don’t have any integrity, so they turn a blind eye to this.” Without resources young black children in poverty have less of a chance to be protected from incidents like this. “You’re scared of the police, so you don’t go to them… Worse stuff happens to poor people of color. We’re the lepers. We’re the throwaways.”

He says that even though statistics are slim on exactly how many Black boys are sexually abused [A report by the organization Black Survivors put the number at 1.9 million African American men that have been abused. Overall the national figure is about 1 in 6 nationally], he believes the issue of Black child molestation is rampant.

Professor C. Sean McGuffey of Boston College, who studies race, abuse, and trauma, says both institutional and psychological issues were most likely at play in the Penn State case.

“We have very powerful men doing very bad things to people without power. Whenever men behave badly in high power we tend to protect them, particularly affluent White men.  That’s what institutions do. We cover them up,” notes McGuffey talking to Politic365.

And while he says that it may have been economically beneficial for the men and the University to keep the matter under wraps as well, he also wants to stress psychological trauma that people go through when trying to deal with an issues like child molestation.

“It’s hard for people to witness. It destroys your well-being. Once your schemata is shattered on how the world works and you’re unable to respond…sometimes people’s response is not going to the police, it’s often going into PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. The larger issue is macro, is institutionalized, but micro is, I don’t know how to deal with it.”

Reading the works of scholar bell hooks, a third theory may be available: people just don’t know how to deal with Black male sexuality. In her 2004 book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Sexuality, she observes: “Because this society has deemed black males hypersexual, the sexual abuse of black boys is simply not acknowledged. Or when it is acknowledged the presumption is that it has not been traumatic.”

27 COMMENTS

    • Apparently there's no shortage of "Black" opinion makers who demogogue Gender at every opportunity. Was that a slam at Reniqua's gender? Talk about pot calling the kettle Black!

          • Yes, when people bring up obvious racial aspects concerning some subject, that occurs in a nation that has had serious issues with race and ethnic inequality since its inception, they are obviously "playing the race card", as opposed to ignoring these aspects, or history of this nation, which would be somehow better?

            This is the same idiotic conservative logic that follows : "If I call you a n*gger and you call me out on it…then you are the one who is racist!!!"

            Please stop being an idiot and report to your nearest community college and register for logic 101. Idiot.

  1. What an outrageous and stupid attempt to bring race into this story. On what basis are you concluding the victims are black? Because some of them participate in programs for troubled youth? As if White, Hispanic or Asian kids can't have tough childhoods? And what journalism school did you go to that taught you to make conclusions without any basis in fact? Per "Fail"'s research, clearly you are wrong about the victims' race.

    I'm sorry, this is perhaps the worst piece of garbage writing I have ever seen. This writer and the editor who allowed it in should be fired.

  2. The author of this article should strive to learn the facts surrounding the case before she introduces race into it. There has NEVER been any mention of black kids being involved.

  3. "inner city" kids – – – in State College. Really!? The only 'kids' in the 'inner/center' of State College are attending PSU and at least, 18 years old. Check the demographics, please.

  4. however pedaphiles use very deliberate strategies to 'pick' their victims and any group in a society that is disenfranchised within that society remains 'at risk'. Hence race class gender is always important but we also have to consider what sort of society inadvertantly provides both the support and legitmation for a man to do this over many years!

  5. I'm from Harrisburg, PA and have been following in the Patriot News which has broken this whole mess. Have NEVER seen race mentioned anywhere so NO idea where race enters into this. LOL, that part of PA is pretty rural and white anyway so any assumption in race would be white anyway.

  6. Wow. What a racist opinion……at risk = black.

    As for the victims, I know that Victim 4 is white because I saw Sandusky and the victim together at the Alamo Bowl.

    Based on the population of the town where Central Mountain HS is located, Victim 1 is also white, as that town has zero black people.

    As for Central Pennsylvania, where Sandusky's victims were from, the population is 99.9% white and the largest city is State College a city of 150K, with only 4500 black people. Slice that population even thinner, to 10-14 year old boys and the premise that the majority of the remaining victims were black becomes highly unlikely.

    Finally, the ABSENCE OF AL SHARPTON AND JESSE JACKSON pretty much clinches it — these crimes were not against black youths.

  7. Missing from this article is mention of PSU's football graduation rate – among the top college programs in the the U.S. including black and white players. This has also been under Patterno's guidance and leadership. Balance is needed here.

  8. First,
    The victims are human beings, and I would assert that either black or white children would be adversely affected by being a victim of this heinous crime.

    Second, does the author have any evidence, or is she making assumptions in order to get an article in print?

    Third, what type of backlash would a white author receive if he or she assumed that 'at-risk'='black'?

    This article could be the single most unprofessional piece that I've ever seen.

  9. Perhaps before you go on another racist screed again, you should actually do a little bit of reading, or gasp, even research the case before you blindly paint this as a race issue, especially considering that this article is filled with errors and the wrong information. It's just another agenda-driven article written by an uninformed "journalist" (using that term very lightly here) who clearly had her own opinion before writing and slanted the article to reflect it and as if that isn't bad enough, the majority of the reporting is incorrect.

  10. Oh my Lord, would you all calm down.. It's just a theory in an article. . . it is a free country and anyone can write whatever they please. We will see soon who the victims where. Either way, this whole this is a tragedy. Stop overreacting…

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