Allies of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are working overtime to discredit the seven women who have come forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. The new line: It’s dangerous for white women to make accusations against Cuomo because... something something... Emmett Till.
On Monday, New York politics blog PoliticsNY published an exclusive titled “Black Female Ex-Cuomo Employee Questions Sexual Harassment Allegations.” In it, an anonymous Black woman attorney who worked in Cuomo’s executive chamber for several years and a Harlem assemblywoman, Inez Dickens, claim that the accusations against Cuomo are suspicious and politically motivated.
The unnamed woman warned that unsubstantiated allegations in the “age of cancel culture” is dangerous, telling PoliticsNY, “If we keep going and believe immediately all this stuff and then it gets recanted then we go back to the space where no one believes women.”
Ironically, this woman has already chosen not to believe women without the help of so-called cancel culture. Both she and Dickens also suggested that accusations by Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo staffer who says Cuomo sexually harassed her on several occasions, stem from bitterness.
“I suspect she is angry for him not backing her candidacy, failing to fund her campaign and/or she is trying to get the women’s sympathy vote,” Dickens said.
But this pales in comparison to their insinuation that race is the prevailing factor in this controversy.
From PoliticsNY (emphasis ours):
“It’s really unfortunate that the death of thousands of New Yorkers [in the nursing home scandal] had to take a back seat of allegations from white women. That the history of white women allegations is still given number one preference over anything,” said the source.
Allies were already making excuses for Cuomo underreporting covid-19 nursing home deaths regardless of how bad it looked. But more importantly, this is a cynical interpretation of America’s relationship with white women and sexual assault. Though sexual harassment and assault allegations by white women are undeniably regarded with more gravity than that of their non-white counterparts, they still aren’t taken seriously by default because sexual violence isn’t taken seriously enough in general. But the United States is racist, so the rare moments in which sexual violence against white women gets the splashy headline and pitchfork-wielding mob treatment is when the alleged perpetrator is Black or brown. Cuomo is neither; he’s white, no matter how much his brother might play the anti-Italian discrimination card.
But this didn’t prevent PoliticsNY’s Stephen Witt from attempting to validate the source’s flawed logic in his piece. The article originally included the following sentence, which has since been removed: “Historically, white women’s unsubstantiated claims that Black males were propositioning, whistled at or ‘recklessly eyeballing’ them led to hundreds, if not thousands of Black males being brutally lynched and murdered — most notably 14-year-old Emmett Till.”
Using the murder of Emmett Till to contextualize skepticism towards Cuomo’s accusers is absurd, but perhaps unsurprising: Witt published an op-ed three days prior titled “Cuomo has Right to Stand his Ground,” in which he opined, “Having been to many political events myself, I can attest to the fact that these affairs are often an orgy of public physical affection. District leaders kiss electeds. Electeds hug district leaders. Men hug and kiss women. Women hug and kiss men. Men hug and kiss men. Women hug and kiss women.”
Implicit, here, is the idea that people—namely, the women who have accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct—don’t know how to interpret a friendly touch from a suggestive one. But this rumination on touch is mild compared to what Dickens had to say about it (emphasis ours):
Dickens noted the second allegation was of something Cuomo said and that he didn’t touch her and it could be interpreted several ways.
“The third woman wasn’t a Government employee. They were at a wedding with 500 people. No in the corner, in the dark of night but in broad daylight at a party of massive people and she says he touched her back. Well so what. Turn around ask him excuse me are you trying to get my attention because I don’t know you. That’s what a Black woman would have done – handled her business knowing that often sexiness is used to secure favor,” wrote Dickens on Facebook.
“The latest said, ‘he didn’t touch me but he said I dressed like a lumberjack with a red plaid button-down shirt.’ Quite inappropriate office attire particularly in government. I’ve asked staff inappropriately dressed are they the hoochee mama on the corner. And in Albany male staff cannot enter the chambers without a tie and jacket on,” she wrote.
There’s nothing appropriate about calling your employees “hoochee mamas” either, but even more galling than that is Dickens’s suggestion that Black women know how to handle unwanted touch better than white women. Black women aren’t born with a preternatural ability to brush off every unpleasant encounter with a clever comeback; they, too, stiffen when they feel a hand unnecessarily brush the small of their back, laugh off discomfort to keep the peace, and swallow the dread. Knowing that “sexiness” is used to secure favors doesn’t negate this; if anything, the idea that Black women simply know how the play the game is tantamount to endorsing a culture of silence. If this kind of attitude is endorsed by Dickens, a Black woman in local politics, imagine how dire the situation is for women working in lower-wage industries, where sexual harassment against Black women and other women of color is prevalent and resources are scarce.
This attempt from Black women allies of Cuomo to water down this controversy to resentful white women makes a little more sense, however, after reading a statement released on Monday by Debra Katz, the lawyer of Charlotte Bennett, one of Cuomo’s accusers.
In it, Katz notes that Bennett has, “provided detailed information about the sexually hostile work environment the Governor fostered in both his Manhattan and Albany offices and his deliberate effort to create rivalries and tension among female staffers on whom he bestowed attention.”
It looks as if these rivalries are now spilling outside of the workplace, and Cuomo supporters are desperate to twist the simple narrative of a bully accused of sexual misconduct into a tale of white women weaponizing their identities to get back at Cuomo. Here are the facts: Governor Cuomo is a well-documented bully who has spent much of his tenure pissing off fellow Democrats and supporting regressive policies lauded by Republicans. On top of that, in the last month alone, and his administration is accused of obscuring grisly covid-19 statistics and seven women have accused him of sexual misconduct. It’s not a conspiracy that elected officials all across the state of New York are ready to say good riddance—it’s common sense.