Jamilah Lemieux has about 3,000 accounts muted and blocked on social media. As a black woman who often uses her platform to call out abusive behavior towards black women and girls, Twitter’s mute feature is a tool she’s become more than familiar with.
She’s written countless pieces on men like R. Kelly and Bill Cosby, who have been accused of sexual assault and predatory behavior for decades. With that comes constant online harassment from both men and women. Some men have made multiple YouTube videos about her, claiming that she’s obsessed with bringing black men down, while others berate her on Twitter, claiming that she and other black women who engage in similar work are “agents of white supremacy.”
The Root sat down with Lemieux to chat about the weight of her work and the importance of protecting black women and girls at all costs.
The Root: Tell me about why it’s important to you to write about men like R. Kelly in your work.
Jamilah Lemieux: I am originally from Chicago South Side. Born and raised. I’ve been a professional writer for over ten years at this point and I have done my best to use whatever platform that I have to call attention to the things that R. Kelly has done and the things that R. Kelly has been accused of doing. It matters a lot to me because black women and girls matter and in the era of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, it is incredibly frustrating to see how hard we still have to fight to get people, including people who look like us, to believe and affirm and understand that. And I have a particular responsibility as a black woman as a mother to a black girl to never let people forget that we deserve protection, that we are human beings and that there is no R&B song, there’s no film, there’s no cultural moment or piece of art that should allow you the opportunity to be an abuser.
TR: What do you say to people who say you “don’t have the same energy” for white men and accuse you of being like an “agent of white supremacy?”
JM: “Where’s our energy for Harvey Weinstein, or for Woody Allen or for the father from 7th Heaven,” which I’ve heard a number of times. And of course, these people, like myself don’t even know the name of this person. So, we’re talking about a cultural icon like Bill Cosby and someone from a show that I’ve never watched my black ass life. But then I am being deputized to advocate against those men because I dare stand up against somebody who looks like me.
There’s no racial duty that I or any other black woman should have to stand by an abuser. Sexually assaulting white women is not reparations for the murder of Emmett Till or Trayvon Martin. It does nothing to tip the scales. It’s disgusting. And I don’t honestly believe that people that say we shouldn’t critique the likes of R. Kelly believe that. I think that they see liberation as black men having the same access, the same privilege that white men do.
TR: I’ve had men try to invalidate my opinions because “not all women” agree with me about the culture of misogyny.
JM: It’s very easy for folks particularly intellectually lazy ones to point to a woman who has said something and say, “How can this be sexist if she believes it?” She shares your opinions and that’s the only reason you’re listening to a woman today. Because I’d be willing to bet you usually don’t. Patriarchy is an eco-system. Don’t let that whole thing about most black households being led by women fool you. We are beholden to patriarchal standards of behavior, of beauty, of economics. So there are women that espouse things that are just as bad as your run-of-the-mill member of the “he man women haters club” and they are not to be taken more seriously because they come from the mouth of a woman.
So, if you’re going to listen to a black woman who defends rapists or sexism or other things it might be a barrier to her liberation and her ability to be a free woman in this country, I ask how seriously do you take the recommendations of Clarence Thomas? Of Ben Carson? Of Kanye West and his endorsement of Donald Trump? Are you saying that because these people are black, that the institutions and individuals that they support can’t be racist because they have black friends? Are you “I have female friends-ing” in response to serious conversations about violence?
TR: What would justice look like to you for people like R. Kelly?
JM: For me justice is the withdrawal of social status for those folks. It is the withdrawal of public support and affirmation. It is to see them go down in the annals of history as a both/and. So we will talk about your musical legacy and contribution, we will talk about the cultural impact of your television show, but we will also talk about who you were as a human being and who you harmed.
In the case of R. Kelly. I hope that includes jail time. And I know that our justice system is broken but I do understand that we don’t have a system of restorative justice yet that is built, that is structured to deal with somebody who has three decades of alleged predatory behavior and abuse of women under their belt. That’s not a circle of five concerned men in dashikis. There is something significant that is required there and as we are not yet prepared to provide that, our best hope is to put this person away so that he can’t be a harm to any more girls and women period.