Sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood are far from new epidemics, but it has been an especially relevant topic of discussion since the doors of #WeinsteinGate flooded open in October. We’ve seen just about every male celebrity we know join Weinstein in the ranks of the disgraced and embattled: Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Murray Miller and more. Most recently, Today show anchor Matt Lauer was fired from NBC News for “inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Most of the men who have been recently accused, as well as their known victims, are White. However, Russell Simmons has emerged as a noteworthy outlier. The hip-hop mogul has stepped down from his companies and has reportedly been shunned by HBO after two women recently accused the hip hop mogul of sexual assault.
Does the relative absence of Black men named in this recent onslaught of allegations reflect on the behavior of Black men in the media world, or the relative lack of powerful Black men in those spaces? When allegations against Black men have been brought to light, why have they been largely ignored—especially when the accuser(s) is a Black woman?
Cassius, Newsone‘s sibling site, invited three Black women cultural critics to explore these complicated questions. These were their responses.
Tarana Burke, Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity and Founder of the #MeToo Movement
“First, I think we are clearly in a moment which is long overdue and has been a long time coming in general, but beyond that I think that America is socialized to respond to the vulnerability of White women. So having scores of ‘beautiful,’ famous White women come forward and tell their truth will clearly elicit some response. America is also socialized to disbelieve Black women resulting in what we saw with Lupita N’yongo and Aurora Perrineaux. But I think a deeper issue that we haven’t scratched the surface on is within the Black community—and it’s so nuanced. While we are constantly living with white supremacy and oppression and how it plays out in every part of our lives, we still have to be accountable for who we are to each other. One of the primary reasons Black men haven’t been swept up (yet) in this moment is because Black women aren’t coming forward. Black women aren’t coming forward because we have a harder time being believed both outside and INSIDE our own community. R. Kelly isn’t still holding on to his career because White people support him; it’s because we just can’t stop stepping in the name of love. We, Black people, are mired in debates and arguments about whether to support a child molester and serial rapist. Many of us are trained to protect Black men at all costs and it’s to our detriment.”
Tamura A. Lomax, Ph.D. and Co-Founder of The Feminist Wire
“The focus on Hollywood and rich white people in media boils down to whose stories matter, who gets to be a victim of sexual assault, and the politics of race, sex, and class in America. While rich White men are being fired from their very public jobs and wealthy White women in media are being ushered to safety and communities of empathy and care, Black women and girls have a history of sexual assault in this country, and simultaneously, no one caring. First of all, firing is not accountability. But second, we know that it is highly unlikely that anyone will be fired from their job for assaulting us. Ask Anita Hill. But given the way racism impacts labor and socio-economic class status and thus whole families and their ability to survive, I’m not sure this is what we want either. Black women have to consider entire communities, even when victimized. More, many of us see these public firings as having more to do with saving face and less to do with stopping rape culture, anyway. Last I checked, raping Black women and girls was hardly enough to jeopardize corporate or institutional interests. To be clear, R. Kelly is still selling out stadiums. That is to say, there are few, if any, penalties for raping Black women and girls. In fact, punishment is often reserved for the survivors who tell. And such communal sentencing can be anything from psycho-terrorism, a violent cussing out, threats, physical harm, isolation, accusations around betraying the race, demanding to know why they didn’t tell, loss of wages, fear, shaming, etc. The bottom line is: many Black women and girls cannot afford to publicly say #metoo. Because stakes is high, especially when abusers not only remain in community, but often to elevated statuses.”
Kirsten Savali, Journalist and Associate Editor at TheRoot.com
“It speaks to the whiteness of Hollywood that so few Black men have been publicly accused in that sphere. It speaks to how deeply patriarchy protects wealthy White men and White men’s assumption and expectation of the same. It is clear that they were/are out here completely reckless and violent because the thought of any real consequences never crossed their minds. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy is not set up for countless predatory Black men to sexually assault White women for decades, get away with it, and not face consequences—including, but not limited to, lynching. There are exceptions, like Bill Cosby, but there have been entire communities destroyed because a Black man was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Ida B. Wells-Barnett spearheaded an anti-lynching campaign in large part to push back against White women’s fraudulent claims of rape at the hands of Black men. This is not to suggest at all that Black men are incapable of raping White women because they are and they do. It is to say, however, that there would not be a cohort of wealthy White men covering for them while they did it.”