I’ve been shocked, if not dumbfounded, by White people across America suddenly recognizing that racism is not a figment of Black folks’ imagination. It only took 400 years and three pandemics to get them to concentrate long enough, but something has finally shifted. (Hold your applause. They don’t deserve it. And don’t let them just turn Juneteenth into a new holiday weekend for so-so sales either.)
Although I will never get my hopes up too high given that I’m a millennial — America has failed me too many times to still be its sucker — I must admit that it does indeed appear that some real change is on the horizon.
As much as we all have to worry about gun-toting bigots with or without a badge or the “Karens” of the world, Black women have to worry about Black men more often and more immediately — on top of everything else.
But Black men, I implore us not to let those White folks have all the atonement. We also need to focus on the myriad ways that we fail Black women and girls. Then maybe we can each pledge to hold one another more accountable. Not to sound like an after-school special, but given that men apparently need to be told again and again to stop being so goddamn awful, it feels like we live in one.
So, I’m here to help.
Two years ago, I published an essay entitled “Why the Music Industry Hasn’t Had Its #MeToo Moment.” Not long afterward, I received an email from a female music executive saying that she had read my piece and wanted to talk. What she shared was her pain from the harassment she received on the job caused by one of the powerful men the piece discussed — as well as the hurt she still carried over the culture she loves not loving her back the same way.
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Although R. Kelly has finally gotten his due, neither the larger music industry nor its many predators have received a proper reckoning — and the reasons why are worthy of further interrogation. They’re also on full display in On the Record, a documentary that focuses on the multiple allegations of sexual assault and abused leveled against Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records. In the film, former Def Jam Records A&R executive Drew Dixon — whose allegations in 2017 kicked off a wave of similar claims against Simmons — shares her story alongside some of Simmons’ other accusers, including former Def Jam employee Sil Lai Abrams, and Sheri Sher of the pioneering rap group Mercedes Ladies.
After a Sundance premiere, the film landed on HBO Max last week — and has sadly gained more headlines over various controversies surrounding its production and distribution than the content itself thus far. The documentary ought to be viewed widely; its allegations aren’t easily dismissed. But that didn’t stop the hosts of The Breakfast Club from inviting Simmons on for a softball chat that had no right being called an “interview.”
That is not to say men like Russell Simmons do not deserve an opportunity to defend themselves. I don’t begrudge any of the hosts for speaking to him per se. However, when you offer a celebrity a platform to respond to allegations of sexual abuse, addressing that celebrity as “Uncle Russ” might understandably give some folks the impression that the interview is not, uh, fair and balanced. And when his accusers have yet to appear on the show for a similar interview, you might do the same. Yes, Simmons was asked to respond to the allegations, but riddle me this: Do we think Harvey Weinstein or any other White dude accused of the same thing by as many women would be treated like family during an interview that covers rape allegations?
I thought so. Even if Simmons has the right to respond to allegations, when a dude is accused of sexual assault by many, many women, don’t act like the dude is kinfolk — and don’t allow him to trivialize a series of serious allegations spanning multiple decades. He said many things over the course of the interview, but this quote stuck out to me: “I was insensitive but I wasn’t a mind reader.”
I wish co-hosts Charlamagne and DJ Envy pushed back on Simmons as much as Angela Yee did. Men need to be better and bolder about holding other men accountable. As for me, respectfully, I dropped Russell Simmons in the trash back in 2017 and invite others to join me. Everyone is free to believe whatever they want, but I choose to believe the near 20 women accusing Simmons of wrongdoing. I’d like to think we can all agree that allegations of sexual abuse warrant real consideration. It is literally the bare minimum ask as far as human decency goes.
That’s why I was so disappointed to read what Spike Lee recently said about Woody Allen.
During an interview for New York’s 710 WOR radio last Friday, Lee expressed support for Allen, whose adopted daughter Dylan Farrow repeatedly accused the director of molesting her when she was a child, a claim Allen has consistently denied.
“I’d just like to say Woody Allen’s a great, great filmmaker, and this cancel thing is not just Woody,” Lee explained. “And I think that when we look back on it, [we’re] gonna see that, short of killing somebody, I don’t know if you can just erase somebody like they never existed. Woody’s a friend of mine… I know he’s going through it right now.”
The next day, Lee tweeted: “My words were WRONG. I do not and will not tolerate sexual harassment, assault, or violence. Such treatment causes real damage that can’t be minimized.”
Somewhere, my late uncle is saying from the beyond, “I told you about Spike Lee, n***a.” Yes, you did. Rest in peace, Unc.
Good on Netflix and Spike Lee’s better senses coming together to stop him from sinking his new film and himself, but we cannot dismiss the privilege reeking from Lee’s original assessment. I will not doubt Spike Lee’s commitment to Black people, but his “friend” is a man who continues to defend his pattern of never hiring Black actors. Why would someone of Spike Lee’s brilliance and stature waste breath on fuck-ass Woody Allen?
Having said that, at least Spike Lee presented the apology Dave Chappelle still can’t be bothered to give. Many people asked me if I had watched Chappelle’s new comedy special — as if I would even have any intentions to. As much as I loved Chappelle’s Show, I’m not supporting a man who traffics in transphobia under the pretense of humor. Not when two more Black trans women, Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania — were killed that same week.
No, I’m not putting their murders on a comedian, but I can say his “jokes” are cruel and help further perpetuate the idea that cisgender Black men’s attractions to trans women is something so shameful that one could think murder is an answer.
If you want to stream in support, so be it, but I don’t believe in Black liberation that does not include all Black people. That means I don’t care to hear the thoughts of Chappelle on Fox News bigots and their Black frenemies — because what can he say about the world if he can’t respect all those in it?
But as frustrating as last week’s news cycle was, the new week has brought even more devastation. The Tallahassee Police Department has identified Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau as a murder victim, more than a week after her disappearance. The 19-year-old Black woman’s recent tweets include information about the very man who stole her life. (Police have arrested a suspect, 49-year-old Aaron Glee Jr.) On The Record was about women in the music industry, but its underlying argument speaks to a broader horror: Black women’s voices are too often silenced and ignored. That only makes this reality all the more burdensome: As much as we all have to worry about gun-toting bigots with or without a badge or the “Karens” of the world, Black women have to worry about Black men more often and more immediately — on top of everything else.
And given that Salau was only a teenager when she decided to be selfless enough to take to the streets to protest on behalf of herself and all Black people, the most maddening and disheartening part of it all is that she risked her health and her life advocating for the humanity of the very Black man who stole her life.
So much of this movement to end police brutality and racial injustice is centered on the Black man’s experience, even when we know the problem has never been limited to us. If anything, Black women get it worse not only due to sexism, but because not enough Black men love and fight for them with the same urgency as they do for us. (Or worse, they abuse them, rape them, and kill them.)
I don’t pretend to be perfect, nor do I write from a place of sanctimony. But I am a survivor of abuse and I do know there is nothing in this world more pathetic than a Black man who takes out his transgressions on women. I may be able to forgive my father for not being a better man, but I saw his disrespect of my mother and always aimed to be a better man than him. It’s disheartening that so many other Black men witnessed similar bad behavior and decided to mirror it.
When I joke about having the gender equivalent of White guilt, I’m only half-kidding. I love Black men because I am one. But I love Black women, too, and frankly more; they’ve always been better to me than other Black men have.
We have to be better. We need to be pushing ourselves harder. We owe that to Black women.
And really, if White folks can magically discover racism, we can discuss misogyny and all the ugliness it has reared all on our own.