Mimesis Law
16 July 2019

Roxane Gay Killed My Puppy

August 22, 2016 (Fault Lines) — No, she didn’t. I’ve never even owned a puppy. Had I written the title of this post in earnest instead of satirically, Roxane Gay could have sued for me libel and won. But that doesn’t matter, you see, because I made the accusation. And as Chris Seaton pointed out (also satirically, though it seems to have gone over some readers’ heads), we must always believe the accuser, regardless of circumstances. Even if they’re quite literally plagiarizing a sex novel.

Gay wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that detailed her disapproval of Nate Parker, the director of Birth of a Nation, which apparently took Sundance by storm. Parker and his co-writer, Jean Celestin, were teammates on the Penn State wrestling team in 1999 when they were accused of rape by another student.  It was pretty standard stuff, in that they both had sex with another student who had been drinking. She accused them rape, and both were tried for the offense in 2001. Parker was acquitted. Celestin was convicted but had his conviction overturned; and the prosecutor declined to proceed with a new trial. Both Parker and Celestin contended that the sex was consensual. In 2012, the complainant committed suicide.

Gay’s editorial is prime example of the muddle-headed thinking that results from a flawed premise.

It is my gut instinct to believe the victim because there is nothing at all to be gained by going public with a rape accusation except the humiliations of the justice system and public scorn. Only an estimated 2 to 10 percent of rape accusations are false.

Gay has missed the fact that going public with a rape accusation could also result in, you know, the conviction and imprisonment of the rapist.  As for the “2-10%” statistic, another way of summarizing the same data is that “only 1-8% of rape accusations are true.”[1] Which still isn’t the point. Gay has no way of knowing on her own whether the accusation is true or false. What about the jury, you ask? She don’t need no stinking jury!

[T]o have sex with a woman who said she was blackout drunk, to do so with a friend — that is a crime, whether the justice system agrees or not.

Parse that sentence carefully. It’s not having sex with a woman was blackout drunk that’s a crime…it’s having sex with a woman who said she was blackout drunk. And it’s a crime, “whether or not the justice system agrees.” In reality, something is only a crime if the justice system, a/k/a “the law,” says it is. Reduced to essentials, Gay is replacing the jury’s judgment with her own omniscience, and that extends to reading Parker’s mind:

On Aug. 16, Mr. Parker posted a statement on Facebook, an inadequate act of contrition. […]On the surface, the statement seems heartfelt enough, but it also feels hollow, like a parroting of what Nate Parker thinks he is supposed to say to redeem himself.

What would be an “adequate” act of contrition for Gay? And as for the statement, Parker maintains that he did not rape her but that he was saddened by her death, and regrets not behaving more responsibly. Is Parker sincere or not? I don’t know, and neither do you. No one does, except Parker. And apparently, Roxanne Gay.

He would have us believe that he made bad decisions at 19, and has learned from them. We have all made our fair share of bad decisions. There is a canyon of difference, however, between bad decisions and allegations of rape.

Again, the canyon is not between ordinary stupidity and rape, it’s between ordinary stupidity and the allegation of rape. Gay goes on to detail other ways that someone who was acquitted by a jury has failed to measure up to her standards:

I also wonder how much Mr. Parker has really changed when he continues to befriend the man with whom he shared what he terms one of the most painful moments in his life. Mr. Celestin shares a story credit on “The Birth of a Nation,” a detail that continues to stun me.

Well, Celestin did write the story the movie was based on. But if Parker had simply cut ties with his friend and screwed Celestin out of whatever compensation he was owed, apparently that would demonstrate “contrition.”

To be fair, Gay’s op-ed isn’t about the legal aspects of Parker’s case, but rather about her inability to separate Parker’s movie from what Parker is accused of doing. Which is fine, the presumption of innocence which Gay so cavalierly discards only applies in criminal court. Gay has gone even further than that, though, leaving “innocent till proven guilty” in the dust and ending up at “guilty no matter what was proven.” But when stuff like this makes it on the docket of the New York Times editorial page, the most prominent division of the court of public opinion, maybe it’s time to switch to The Economist.

[1] If you have some time, I highly recommend reading the linked articles. The tl;dr version is that the study that came with the 2-10% number only counts an accusation as “false” if the complainant actually confessed to a false accusation and the falsity was confirmed by independent investigation. But one could just as plausibly argue that the only “true” accusations are ones that result in a conviction. As the article points out, though, both interpretations are “horseshit,” and about the only thing one can state with certainty on the topic is “in reality, no one knows—and in fact no one can possibly know—exactly how many sexual assault reports are false.”

11 Comments on this post.

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  • William the Stout
    22 August 2016 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    I share your distaste for Ms. Gay, but there is other coverage of the issue out there that is more balanced and factual, including the trial transcript. There was a third (4th?) party present that testified at trial – a friend of Parker and Celestin. He and Celestin were invited to participate in the act by Parker (not the woman) and he declined because he said it wasn’t right.

    Celestin appears to actually have committed rape. His conviction was reversed due to ineffective assistance of council, and he was not retried not because “the prosecutor declined to proceed with a new trial” but because the victim decided she couldn’t go through the stress of the trial again – in part because Parker and Celestin engaged in a well-documented campaign of harassment directed toward the victim.

    So you’re right, in a legal sense neither Celestin nor Parker committed rape. Of course, in a legal sense O.J. Simpson never killed anybody, either. But in terms of events that actually occurred, Celestin is a rapist. And it’s arguable as to Parker, although it appears beyond dispute that he’s not a person worthy of admiration.

    • dm
      23 August 2016 at 12:11 am - Reply

      The third man present in Parker’s apartment that night, Tamerlane Kangas, testified that “I didn’t believe that four people at one time was – you know, it didn’t seem right.” So, he wasn’t interested in having a foursome in which there were three dudes with one woman.

      • William the Stout
        23 August 2016 at 9:38 am - Reply

        Uh,no.

        “Kangas told the Daily Beast he fled from the apartment that evening.

        “I made a decision not to stay” he said. “The whole situation in general, whatever was going on, was just not me. It’s just not who I am.”

        “I just felt like it was a bad place to be and I didn’t want to be there,” Kangas added. “I took myself out of the situation.”

        That’s not “I don’t do foursomes” – it’s “I don’t think this is right”.

        • shg
          23 August 2016 at 9:55 am - Reply

          “I read a story about it and now I know what really happened.” You’re too funny.

          • William the Stout
            23 August 2016 at 10:06 am -

            As are you, because you seem to believe that rape never happens in this situation.

            And frequently I agree with you. But not in this case.

            Here, there are several stories out there that include the perspective of people who were involved. Not to mention a trial transcript.

            So it’s your position that none of us are ever in a position to judge what happened in a situation that we didn’t observe with our own eyes?

            Do I know with certainty what happened? No. But I don’t know with certainty that, say, Michael Morton didn’t murder his wife. Or that Anthony Graves didn’t participate in the murders for which he was cleared. Or that Max Soffar never shot anybody in a bowling alley. The publicly known facts scream that all of those guys were innocent and screwed by prosecutors, but I guess I just don’t know because I wasn’t there.

          • shg
            23 August 2016 at 12:17 pm -

            I don’t “seem to believe” anything. I have no idea what happened. But I do know what the verdict was, and I do understand how the presumption of innocence works.

            I wasn’t there for the sex. I wasn’t there for the trial. And I surely wouldn’t tell anyone else as if I was an eyewitness to anything. You can believe whatever you want, but you can’t tell someone else that they’re belief, just as valid as yours, is wrong as if you know “the truth.” That’s where you’ve gone astray.

          • william the stout
            23 August 2016 at 6:57 pm -

            As Ken White has repeatedly lectured, the 1st Amendment exists to keep the government from sanctioning anyone due their exercise of free speech. It doesn’t stop your neighbor from calling you an idiot for what you said. Likewise, the presumption of innocence keeps the government from punishing Mr. Parker unless they can convince a jury that he should be punished, which they failed to do. So Mr. Parker got (and forever has) his presumption of innocence and does not have to worry about state punishment. But that presumption of innocence doesn’t and shouldn’t prevent anybody from concluding that he’s a bad guy.

            As to Celestin, I didn’t say that anything was certain, I said he “appears” to have committed rape. FWIW, the only jury that heard the facts of the situation agreed with my conclusion. Regardless, Mr. Celestin is also safe from government sanction but not public judgement.

            If you sort through all of Ms. Gay’s victimhood/sisterhood stuff (admittedly a painful task) she actually appears to have stumbled onto a reasonable conclusion – basically “I don’t want these assholes to acquire any of my money because I don’t like what they did”. That’s probably a rarity for Ms. Gay but somehow she seems to have done it in this case.

          • shg
            23 August 2016 at 7:34 pm -

            That’s fascinating in its pathetically simplistic way, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I’ve said. I do, however, thank you for explaining Ken White’s lecture of why the 1st Amendment exists. However would I have known that without you?

          • william the stout
            23 August 2016 at 8:49 pm -

            Yeah, I know you didn’t need a Bill of Rights explanation. No need to feel an insult where none was intended.

            Not sure why you invite comments on this blog and on your own when you are generally so dismissive of those that come from people who aren’t your friends.

            Whatever. Legal niceties aside, Parker and Celestin have a massive PR problem. One that they’ve created for themselves.

            Go ahead and have the last word because it sure as hell seems that it matters a lot more to you than it does to me. Regards.

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