Two weeks ago I wrote an article in the form of an open letter to Nate Parker, confessing my conflicted feelings about the recently resurfaced revelations about his 17-year-old rape trial.
It should be noted that my article was one of dozens on the topic, and far from the most damning. While I openly expressed my deep dismay at the allegations and the transcripts, I stopped short of calling for a boycott of The Birth of a Nation, instead simply questioning whether I’d be able to stomach seeing it in the theater.
What I did hope—however naively—was that we as a community could finally begin to have an honest and constructive discussion about consent. Over the past decade or so, sex scandals involving some of our greatest luminaries seem to be urging us to do exactly that. And while it can always be argued that sexual assault and misconduct are not crimes exclusive to black celebrities, I’d counter that this shouldn’t justify our silence when our own heroes are the accused.
And yes, rather than simply indict and abandon outright, I dared suggest that someone whose experience was—and, no doubt, once again is—as “painful” as Parker’s has been might be the ideal person to lead that necessary conversation. I maintain this regardless of his guilt or innocence 17 years ago, since being tried for the crime—both in a Pennsylvania court and now in the court of public opinion—gives him firsthand knowledge of the potential damage done by anything less than sober and enthusiastic consent.
Admittedly, any writer for an online publication is fully aware of the dangers lurking in the comments section. Many of us avoid it altogether; others just develop thicker skin. Having weathered my share of insults, I had no expectation that my perspective would be universally well received, but I refused to ignore a conversation we so desperately and collectively need to have. That would prove to be wishful thinking, and scrolling through the comments (on both The Root and on its social media pages) would reveal a disturbing trend.
In my article, I wrote: “For black women in particular, our love and support frequently must come at our own expense and betrayal."
How true. Female commenters, in addition to myself, who dared express their anger, hurt and/or nonsupport of Parker were labeled “witch hunters,” “crazy,” “clowns” and “haters” bitter about his marriage to an apparently white woman, yet each intent on “ingratiating oneself with the majority.” Furthermore, we’re accused of perpetrating “black-on-black crime” and attempting to “lynch” Parker—a claim insulting not only to us but also to the legions of black men and women who were literally lynched, often simply for the sheer entertainment of their murderers.
Personally, I’ve been accused of using this scandal to promote myself, citing as proof the author bio that appears at the conclusion of every The Root article I’ve published (including this one). And undoubtedly, I’ve been well-compensated to orchestrate a takedown (clearly, that commenter has no idea what freelance writers generally make).
Both men and women have flung “feminist” at me repeatedly, as if it’s an insult. It’s not, though I’ve considered myself a womanist since reading Alice Walker’s definition of the term at age 15. However, although I have a degree acquired by double-majoring in writing and race and gender studies at Walker’s alma mater, a Tweet assesses that I’m nothing more than a “pseudo-intellectual parroting white female liberal points.” I suppose that’s both fitting and ironically flattering, when one considers similar criticism Walker faced after publishing her now seminal classic, The Color Purple.
Or worse, as one commenter ranted, I’m “one of those ‘swirlers’”—you mean like Parker?—“[whose] main mantra is [the] ‘Black man ain’t sh*t … sh**ting on other Blacks to make White daddy or mommy happy … ” This would no doubt come as a surprise to my black parents and black brother and the black man I’m currently dating—who has indulged me in very healthy debates on this topic—but that’s neither here nor there.
But perhaps most disturbing (and disgusting) was the man who felt it entirely acceptable to speculate on my own sexual history, stating: “You see I have a problem [with] some of these ‘so[-called] sistas’ writing articles to The Root when they’re not the Virgin Mary themselves. I suspect many of you sistas had unwanted sex and didn’t get the acting or singing part and never reported it. I bet the list is endless or maybe the guy wasn’t a black man.”
Wow. Black America, can we talk about our misogyny problem? Because it’s bigger than a movie, Parker’s questionable history or the “Hotep problem”—and certainly bigger than anything I or anyone else could possibly write about it. And it—like the rape culture it feeds—is not going anywhere until we address it.
I am not a rape survivor. I’m deeply grateful not to be, and I hope I’m never forced to be. But is the presumption that black women—legally considered unrapeable for centuries—must be deeply damaged in order to assess evidence, form an opinion, feel empathy and decide to stand on principles that protect their own sexual agency rather than blindly supporting an otherwise undeniably talented black man?
Or once the accuser was revealed to be white, were we simply expected to dismiss the ways in which we, too, are vulnerable and often victimized, because the horrible history of black men accused of rape in this country automatically suggests that any white woman is likely lying about such a crime? Aside from the fact that routinely, less than 50 percent of rapes are even reported—while less than 10 percent of those reports are false—if, in the end, even Parker has chosen not indict all white women on the basis of his experience, then why should we be expected to?
Intrigued, I’ve perused the comment sections of male writers who’ve addressed this topic from a perspective similar to my own, including Ibram Kendi, Ahmad Greene-Hayes and T.D. Williams. While there’s certainly some vitriol to be found, there is also a notable absence of the personal, speculative and even intimate attacks lobbed at me and other women accused of being complicit with white America in seeking to “destroy the black man.”
And so, again, I wonder: Even when we are not the victims, does black America’s collective liberation depend on the subjugation of its women? Philosopher Paulo Freire theorized that “the oppressed find in their oppressors their model of ‘manhood.’” Are we so disenfranchised that clinging to patriarchy—and, just as frequently, homophobia—represents empowerment? Even while being accused of being a “crab in a barrel,” I wonder how many of us are willing or even able to recognize the irony in how we’re denigrated by the world at large, yet eagerly seek to denigrate someone else for our own validation?
As I wrote last week, I haven’t given up hope for Nate Parker. I haven’t given up hope for us, either. But what became abundantly clear this past week is that our language, our dismissals, our stubborn allegiance, our outright refusal to even consider a perspective or pain other than our own, out many of us as willing accomplices in maintaining the rape culture that created this conflict. And long after The Birth of a Nation has left theaters, that will still be our problem to solve. In the meantime, as Damon Young suggests, we’d likely all be better off if we just wore our misogyny on our sleeves instead of trying to cloak it in talk of liberation and loyalty.
That’s all. Womanist rant over.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.