I’m a big fan. Big, big, fan. You really can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ve stood in Sephora for hours while my wife tried on 47 shades of Fenty. I watched Donald Glover do the Cabbage Patch on a beach five times just because you were in the video. Your drunken video with the white late-night host (you know the one) was a holiday in my household. Again. You can do no wrong.
Which is why we have to do something about your Diamond Ball. I know the Ball does marvelous things and far more than I can do for any foundation or community – 59 global projects and $13 million in grants and $6 million in grants for Clara and Lionel Braithwaite foundation. So it pains me doubly to criticize anything you do on the philanthropic front. But in this case, I have to.
Rihanna. This ain’t it.
The “this” in question is the announcement that the Diamond Ball would be honoring Shaun King with its Diamond Ball award. Rihanna. I don’t know if this is a personal choice by you or something someone on your staff picked but it’s straight-up disheartening.
Shaun King is a scam artist of the highest degree and the fact that he’s finagled his way to your presence and may even be in the same photo as you very soon is a testament to that legendary gift of grift. But please understand this: Shaun King is a net negative to the Black community and especially Black women, for whom you’ve worked so hard to advocate.
King has jumped from failed project to aborted initiative leaving a trail of Black women who have claimed that he has stolen ideas and at-best mismanaged affairs from top to bottom. Here’s one such open letter outlining the harm he’s done, written by people who say he’s harmed them. Here’s another, written by 30 former members of Justice Together – an organization started by Shaun – who called him out for the way he gaslit them for questioning things like mismanagement of funds. Here’s an article in the Washington Post about King’s disrespect and bullying of Black women. And, of course, the 2015 article from Goldie Taylor wondering where all the money he’s raised has gone.
Twitter also revived an old scam in which King raised money to climb some mountains. He climbed zero mountains.
At every step of the way, King has held donations and fundraisers and every step of the way there’s been controversy over where those funds exactly go. On January 20th, Shaun King took to his pulpit aka his Medium page (a space that is mostly about apologizing for the harm he’s caused) to talk about those funds: “On March 1st, I am releasing a public accounting of every dollar I’ve ever raised for families in the Black Lives Matter Movement, along with statements of support from them clearly stating that I have never done such a thing.”
Today is August 23rd. We have gotten no such accounting.
I also have a personally vested interest in the truth of King’s abuse being put forth to the public. In January, King sent out an email threatening legal action against a young, queer Black woman, Clarissa Brooks, who was also a student of mine at Morehouse and one of the most brilliant people I’ve been blessed to know. She questioned his money allocations and he sent the email — cc’ed to a group of prominent civil rights attorneys — solely to threaten and intimidate her. In the email and in a subsequent statement on a radio show, King said that he hired those lawyers. But there was never any indication that they were put on a retainer or any hiring actually took place. He simply copied them on the email and used them as further muscle for his intimidation.
Rihanna, I want you to understand this: Shaun King is harmful. He’s harmful to Black people and harmful especially to Black women. You are one of the most beloved and respected women in entertainment and having King near you will do irreparable harm. Shaun King will weaponize his proximity to you to invalidate further grievances Black women put forth about his abuses. That can’t happen.
I don’t know if this award for King was a personal decision from you or someone you work with but there’s time to reconsider. Shaun King has been allowed to flourish because of the silence of those he’s intimidated and the inexplicable praise from celebrities and outlets who are fine with superficial amounts of research and surface-level interest in the truths espoused by the most aggrieved among us. You, Rihanna, have a chance to change that narrative and help end the notion that Shaun King is about anyone other than Shaun King.
I don’t know if you’ll read this. I don’t know if this will matter. But it’s the least that can be done to remind you and the rest of the world that people like Shaun King will not cash in on Black pain without resistance from the people who really want us free.
Finally, it would be good if the award you planned on giving to him went to any number of Black women on the front lines fighting for us and loving us.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.