Beyond “the DSK maid”: Nafissatou Diallo breaks her silence in Newsweek

In the context of the range of misogynistic, xenophobic, and classist coverage that has been associated with the high-profile rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and presidential hopeful in France, the Newsweek scoop detailing Nafissatou Diallo’s story is an improvement in some ways (which is, mind you, not saying much).

The two authors, Christopher Dickey and John Solomon, quote her directly quite often (it is such a relief to hear her voice after all this pundit blathering!) and give due credence to some of the, till now, muffled facts: Diallo’s account of the alleged attack are mirrored in the hospital records, the DNA evidence in the suite confirms a sexual encounter took place, DSK has a history of nefarious and possibly even criminal sexual behavior. (Bonus gross out: DSK called his daughter nine minutes after Diallo left the room and had lunch with her before heading to the airport…one would like to ask him, “Is the kind of world your behavior creates the same one you want your daughter to live in?”)

Dickey and Solomon, however, can’t mask their own worldview when it comes to editorializing about the still undetermined veracity of Diallo’s account:

It’s possible that Diallo is a woman who has lived for the last few years on the margins of quasi-illegal immigrant society in the Bronx, associating with petty con artists and dubious types trying to get a foothold in this country. But that does not preclude her having been the victim of a predatory and powerful man. Nor does it mean she will rule out an attempt to make some money from the situation.

Anyone who has been up close to the underground economies that develop for the most marginalized in our society understand the diversity, survivalist spirit, and entrepreneurship of those who constitute these worlds–whether they are immigrants who can’t get formal employment for fear of being deported, or aspiring business owners with criminal records who have trouble getting hired, or even just low-skilled workers who don’t have much of a resume to go off of but some novel ideas about how to make a living. “Quasi-illegal immigrant society” includes guys who sell books about politics on the streets of Harlem, women who give astrology readings in storefronts in Crown Heights, caretakers, clothes makers, and food preparers.

Sure, some of their activities are technically illegal, just as some of Wall Street’s are; the same could accurately be said of DSK–“associating with petty con artists and dubious types”–but, of course, it wasn’t, because his friends wear suits while they’re being shady. His character is in question because he attacks women; hers is in question because she’s hooked up with some guys without gainful employment.

I found this line, early on in the piece, particularly irritating: “‘Nafi’ Diallo is not glamorous.” Uh huh. And what if she was? Why are you even using “glamorous” as the standard by which you are judging this woman? Because if she was glamorous (aka too pretty or too together) than she would more likely be swindling DSK rather than playing the appropriate victim?

Ultimately, Diallo comes off as a hard working woman who has been through hell and back, a woman who just wants a fair trial in order to prove that money can’t buy everything. A woman who knows that love is the most redemptive power. Nothing touched me more than this exchange between Diallo and her daughter the day after the attack:

The girl tried to reassure her mother. “She says, ‘Please, Mom, don’t hurt yourself. I know one day the truth will come out.’ I was so happy when she said that.”

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