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Renée Graham

Don’t equate supporting black women with hating black men

R. Kelly arrives at the Daley Center in Chicago for a hearing in his child support case, March 6.
R. Kelly arrives at the Daley Center in Chicago for a hearing in his child support case, March 6.((Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

No, I don’t hate black men.

I’m well-versed in this nation’s bloody history, and the countless African-American men and boys who have been shot, mutilated, and lynched on false allegations because racist violence feeds on black bodies and souls.

Yet amplifying the voices of black women who’ve accused singer R. Kelly of sexual abuse for 25 years doesn’t mean I dislike black men. I simply refuse to believe that loyalty to my community means supporting all black men regardless of their misdeeds, even at the expense of black women.

“All that we have been through as black people in this country and you had the nerve to speak about R. Kelly the way you did,” wrote a man, calling himself “realchristiandior,” who contacted me on Instagram. “I am very disappointed and lost [sic] for words. You should be ashamed of yourself. God bless you.”

Supporting an accused sexual predator is a poor life choice. And what’s shameful is someone who weaponizes our tortured history to guilt-trip black women into blind devotion for a black man accused of sexually, physically, and mentally abusing black women. It’s both racist and sexist.

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Moya Bailey , a Northeastern University assistant professor of cultures, societies, and global studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, coined a term for this — misogynoir. That’s the specific prejudice fueled by sexism and racism faced by black women.

That Instagram comment was only one of many angry social media posts and tweets I’ve received since the Grammy-winning singer was charged in Illinois with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims. Three of them were allegedly underage. This comes in the aftermath of “Surviving R. Kelly,” the six-part Lifetime documentary that aired in January. Several of Kelly’s accusers detailed the allegations that have dogged Kelly throughout his career.

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My belief in his accusers is unwavering. You can’t have a quarter-century of smoke without fire, and nothing in Kelly’s histrionic protestations with CBS’s Gayle King last week convinced me to believe otherwise. Meanwhile, I’m hearing from a lot of irate black men who claim these women are only after money, and that this is nothing more than another racist attempt to ruin a successful black man — with black women as perpetrators.

These aren’t just fans who want to play “Ignition” at their next house party without judgment. For some, siding against Kelly is equal to disparaging all black men, and therefore all black people. Except black women never seem to merit the same fealty.

Such attitudes didn’t start with Kelly. From Clarence Thomas to Mike Tyson to Bill Cosby, black celebrities accused of sexual misconduct engendered support denied their accusers.

More recently, though Michael Jackson’s accusers aren’t black women, some are still decrying what they view as lies to “Destroy another strong black historical LEGEND?!?!,” as rapper T.I. posted on Instagram after the airing of HBO’s “Leaving Neverland.” In the four-hour documentary, two men allege Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were children.

Years ago, during an intense college discussion of Richard Wright’s classic “Native Son,” a young African-American male classmate raised his hand to speak. Instead of a question, he made a statement: “There’s nothing harder to be in this world than a black man.”

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After some murmurs of agreement from guys in the class, I added, “Actually the hardest thing to be is a black woman having to hear how hard it is to be a black man.”

My comment was a reaction to too many discussions about racism that only sympathized with black men, leaving black women’s suffering out of the equation entirely — or treating us as if our sole purpose is to support our community’s men.

It’s no coincidence that Kelly, Cosby, Thomas, and Jackson or their representatives claim they’ve being subjected to “lynching” when talking about the allegations they face. Such language not only conjures this nation’s racist violence, but also indicts accusers as participants in the destruction of black men. It targets black women as the ones with the horses and ropes, taking black men on a midnight ride out of this world.

Ultimately, the goal is to silence accusers and their supporters, but what does that mean when those voices belong to black women? Defending Kelly’s alleged victims should not be viewed as some kind of cultural betrayal. Black women are the backbone of the black community, and lifting them up when they need us most does not equal bringing black men down.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.