My childhood before the age of 10 had some big milestones. I moved to the US and learned English. I adopted Harlem as my hometown. I got my first self-purchased cassette—Sisqo’s underrated but absolutely flames Unleash the Dragon.
I had also seen and touched and touched an adult man’s penis, on multiple occasions, by the time that I blew 10 candles out on my birthday cake.
It’s been almost two decades since that chapter of my life, and specific dates (and memories, to be frank), escape me at this point, but the general context around the darkest part of my relatively happy-go-lucky childhood remain unchanged; namely, that shortly after my younger brother was born, my parents split for the umpteenth (but not final) time — with my father leaving a trail of unpaid bills in his wake.
An eviction, stint in a family shelter, and stint in a motel in the Baychester area of the Bronx later, my mother, infant brother, and I settled in a transitional housing facility on Morris Avenue, about a mile away from Yankee stadium. While my mom desperately worked to scrape pennies together and get us back to Harlem, she entrusted my brother and I's care to the married couple with a young son next door. And for months I would head straight there after getting home from school, to a married couple that seemed to love themselves and keeping their family together in a way my parents never could.
Maybe that was the reason why it took months for it to clock as strange that the husband also liked to have “private” time with me. I’ve done the therapy and taken the time and can’t really give you a definitive answer there — understanding and parsing through trauma, unfortunately, isn’t really cut and dry. What I can tell you however, is that being the first born child of a conservative Muslim East African household, the bulk of this occurred while my mother (bless her well meaning heart) seemingly used Steve Urkel as her style inspiration for all of my clothing choices after the age of 5.
Shockingly to almost no one — except apparently Erykah Badu — my mother’s affinity for putting me in high-water overall jeans didn’t deter a predator from targeting me. It’s almost as if…walk with me here guys…decisions made by sexual predators and rapists aren’t precipitated by whether or not they can see how recently you’ve lotioned your kneecaps.
Radical thinking here, I know! But hey, it’s no less radical than being a neo-soul artist and mother to a son and two daughters yet earnestly thinking that there’s something pragmatic in perpetuating the idea that it’s natural for adult men to have attraction to “women of childbearing age” — which, if we are going by that metric, is really as young as NINE — ultimately placing the onus on young girls to curtail the potential of the male figures in their lives to not foam at the mouth at pubescent lower thighs.
This is not pragmatism. It’s spreading the blame and responsibility for pedophilia to the children involved. It is robbing minors of their childhood. And, if it comes to this, victimhood. It is perpetuating this insane “men will be men and we need to accommodate for their innate nature to be savage beasts” logic that has been debunked time and time again.
It’s a false nuance to suggest there can be proactive measures done to help children and teenagers not get raped; a prayer cloth isn’t the barrier between whether or not an adult man will make the decision to try and touch you, and I don’t know what would make you think otherwise. It is hurtful and it is wrong.
Normalizing the compulsion of people who are gifted with the responsibility of guarding children’s lives — whether in an official capacity or a familial one — is not being “realistic.” It is allowing for a space in which predators can have a space in young lives.
It is not a kid’s job to accommodate adults in not sexualizing them. And no matter how nuanced you try to make it sound, the fact of the matter is that all roads outside of “targeting and raping children is wrong and the rapist's fault only” ultimately lead to that end point. Folks are squinting their third eye so hard trying to find the 2nd side to the story that they are landing cross-eyed, Badu included. Which also ultimately serves as an upsetting reminder that our default inclination to associate iconic neo-soul artists with the attribute of being “woke” is not as accurate as them just being hotep as all of the fucks.
It’s a tough pill to swallow that our favorite incense stick waving artists continuously miss the mark on a wide swath on substantive topics; but as the evidence accumulates, it becomes harder to dismiss. Before this most recent incident with Erykah, she took the stage at the Soul Train Awards and openly referred to renowned predator R. Kelly as her ‘brother.’ Similarly, Jill Scott has been put under fire for continuing to cast doubt on the Bill Cosby allegations - another predator - as well as generally spreading hotep meme misinformation (to admittedly hilarious response on my end). Lauryn Hill, a woman who has undoubtedly been put through the wringer by the men in her life, has used her platform to promote problematic messaging about what women should or shouldn’t do to command respect.
These are all arguably mindsets that they’ve held for the last 20 years. However, many of us have used the last two decades to grow and evolve in our understandings of human interaction and social conditions and realized how flawed our previous convictions may have been, while some of our treasured artistic talents have seemingly treaded water. It is consistently disappointing to see your favorite artists expose the threshold of their inaccurate convictions, but it is also a painful reminder that while we may think we know the convictions an artist may have, we should be wary of projecting our ideals onto personas that have not indicated as much.
This assessment, however, does not absolve one of fault; when your myopic thinking casts harmful implications onto the demands and expectations of children in predatory circumstances, it is necessary to be openly and rigorously challenged. Entertaining Erykah’s line of logic over the past two days as anything other than thoroughly objectionable and abhorrent is doing a disservice to the kids it maligns, and this cannot be overemphasized. Diversity of ideas should not come at the expense of a child’s right to their innocence, and any challenge to that should be fiercely defended not just in our community, but all others.