The public condemnation of Harvey Weinstein has been swift and unified. It’s resulted in numerous women speaking candidly about sexual predators in Hollywood. It even led men like Terry Crews to come forward with their own experiences.
While it’s refreshing to see such a powerful, multiracial response to Weinstein’s extensive record of sexual misconduct, I can’t help but compare that universal denunciation to our community’s very divided reaction to the dozens of allegations against Bill Cosby.
While Black people have been speaking out in support of Weinstein’s victims, Cosby’s years of alleged sexual violence remain polarizing. Couple that with the fact that R. Kelly still has fiercely loyal fans within the Black community, and I’ve got some serious questions about accountability for gender and sexual violence.
I am a proud and unabashed Black feminist. As a Black feminist, I am acutely aware of the unique ways multiple forms of oppression affect the lives of Black women. I know that white supremacy/anti-blackness and sexism/patriarchy/misogyny are deeply embedded in our society. I also know better than to rank oppression. Yet I find myself doing it time and time again.
I’m a hypocrite, and my hypocrisy is weighing on me.
I ignore or diminish sexism and misogyny in my community far too often because I don’t believe anyone in my community is disposable. I repeat the refrain: “people can be trash, but no one is disposable,” over and over again. The repetition of this phrase, however, may not be helpful to freedom work if I’m unable to be fully honest about the lived experiences of Black women. We must be fully committed to not cancelling folks and to not silencing the unique struggles of Black women.
We are more than overdue for drawing rigid lines in the sand around sexual predators like R. Kelly. Or perhaps we could just stop defending the violent actions of Floyd Mayweather, a serially abusive millionaire who doesn’t even pretend to be sincerely apologetic about his crimes against Black women. These would be small but important gestures for believing in and supporting Black women and girls.
When it’s our brothas being gunned down in the street, we collectively proclaim that “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.” But when there’s a mistrial or a not guilty verdict in cases of rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence, suddenly, the system is the only thing that matters. Do you know how absurd it is to hear or read Black men saying, “Well, the court didn’t find him guilty, so he didn’t do it?”
Embedded in this assertion is a belief that white supremacy is the only arbiter of injustice in the criminal justice system. It ignores how this same system also pivots around misogyny and patriarchy — putting Black women in the horrific position of being victimized by both racism and sexism.
There’s too much work to be done for us to sit here and sugarcoat what’s happening: Black women being killed at twice the rate of white women by men in their lives, the murders and brutalization of Black trans women, and the prevalence of sexual violence in the lives of …