*DJ Envy voice* Morning everybody, it’s three obtusely insensitive radio personalities providing a platform to an alleged rapist while further erasing and silencing the black women survivors on one of the largest black-led media platforms in the nation.
Trigger Warning: This article contains details from an interview with a man who has been multiply accused of sexual assault.
It was late Tuesday night and I was scrolling my timeline when I saw the following tweet, promoting the next episode of The Breakfast Club, set to air on Wednesday morning:
Show co-hosts Charlamagne Tha God, DJ Envy and Angela Yee sat with Russell Simmons to discuss his new life in Bali, veganism, police reform and the late Andre Harrell. But, of course, we all know why he was there: to discuss the sexual assault allegations against him in HBO Max’s documentary, On The Record, which follows survivors Drew Dixon, Sil Lai Abrams and Sheri Sher. What followed was a triggering hour of gaslighting, evasion, belittling, martyrdom, faux allyship and more.
Charlamagne has readily admitted that his recent controversial interview with Rush Limbaugh was a “waste of time,” in an interview with Stephen Colbert. So, to then further waste everyone else’s time going from one Rush to another—“Uncle Rush”—with a heaping side of triggers was alarming, to say the very least. Further, if you’re going to host an alleged rapist for the sake of having an honest conversation, the very basics include holding the interviewee accountable to answer tough yet necessary questions and providing the same opportunity for the accusers.
The interview opened with the obvious—Simmons’ current location in Bali. But, when Simmons explained the reasons behind his move (apparently he has a talent agency in Asia and he is building a yoga studio for teachers), neither of the co-hosts pressed him about the suspicious timing, aside from one question (to which Simmons denied there were any civil or criminal charges against him). They simply allowed him to allude to having to “get away from the media,” and let it be.
Abrams has confirmed that The Breakfast Club did not reach out to her, the other survivors or any documentary representatives to appear on the show. Yet, I have to ask: would they have even felt safe enough to appear on the show, anyway? Would the co-hosts create an environment that was welcoming to these black women in the same way they soothingly prepared Simmons for the inevitable question about the documentary? Regardless, these women should’ve been given the power and choice to make whatever decisions they felt they could.
Though Simmons claimed to feel “muted” following the influx of coverage surrounding his allegations, I’d argue that the survivors have been outright muzzled. Simmons has been dubbed the “godfather of hip-hop,” and was the epitome of a gatekeeper. The idea that he has been muted when not only was he a voice, but the voice, is asinine, at best. Someone finally listening to women whose entire careers and livelihoods have been destroyed for the sake of silence does not equate to him being “muted,” but OK.
The Time’s Up Foundation wrote a reporting guide refuting several of Simmons’ quotes in the interview, including his assertion that only “six or seven” women have come forward with allegations against him (it’s at least 15 at this time), his dismissive statements noting that the stories are “25 to 40 years old” (when it often takes time for survivors to come forward for a variety of systemic- and institutionalized-based reasons) and the ridiculous idea of “toxic femininity.”
“Black survivors endure a number of historical, cultural, and systemic barriers to being heard, supported, and believed,” Time’s Up wrote. “Immediately before an emotional conversation about police brutality against black women on The Breakfast Club this morning, Russell Simmons peddled numerous myths about sexual assault, stereotypes about black women, and distortions of facts in denying the multiple sexual assault allegations against him.”
Further, journalist and bestselling author Elaine Welteroth spoke up, directly calling out The Breakfast Club for further suppressing the conversation around the need to protect black women, especially given their responsibility as a leading black media outlet.
During this pivotal moment for Black liberation, Black women and survivors should not be discounted @breakfastclubamm” Welteroth tweeted. “We need OUR media to give voice to the Black women who are the most DISRESPECTED, UNPROTECTED, and NEGLECTED people in America.”
I’d be remiss not to mention Charlamagne’s own history with rape allegations, particularly a 2001 rape investigation (which has been dropped, though that does not, by default, prove innocence) involving a 15-year-old girl. Additionally, he has joked about the “Spanish Fly” incident and recalled eagerly watching the R. Kelly child pornography tape. The rape investigation, specifically, raised concerns to the point that there was a petition to get him fired from the show. That was two years ago—and here we are today. Who’s really “muted” here?
In a recent interview with The Root, Abrams reflected on the aftermath of coming forward, a decision that was many years in the making. “Not just the calls you get from people with ulterior motives, but the absolute silence from the people that you thought were your acquaintances and friends. [There is an] abandonment that occurs,” Abrams said.
These black women have been abandoned. Black Lives Matter doesn’t (nor shouldn’t) come with an asterisk. It does not come with a scheduled agenda that prioritizes cis-hetero black men above black women and/or members of the LGBTQ community.
The Breakfast Club has been popular for its accessibility, but has it ever been safe for black women? Like many people in the black community, I’ve tuned into The Breakfast Club, lured by certain guest appearances—in several cases, it was the only black-led platform those guests appeared on (which makes it difficult not to report on it, given my job). Still, despite their fair share of major mishaps (the horrifyingly transphobic aura of their Janet Mock interview was a major tipping point for me), there seem to have been far more pressure to protect this large black platform, similar to the mass protection of black men within the hip-hop community (as explained in On The Record). But, I’m tired. We’re tired. Enough is enough.
I’m tired of black women being roadkill, even in the name of black pride. I’m tired of black pride meaning the protection of cis-hetero black men at the expense of those who do not identify as such. I’m tired of living under the burden of a brolic rape culture. I’m tired of the very platforms that are supposed to represent me constantly shitting on those who most closely represent me. I’m tired of yelling my frustrations and critiques into a void. I’m tired.
I guess I could say that I’ve...lost my appetite for breakfast.