There is a phenomenon that occurs when you’re going about your day and can’t get a particular song out of your head. We refer to that song as an “earworm.” Well, a constant buzzing in the back of my head has recently gotten louder and louder: I refer to this song as an ear parasite—specifically, the parasitic system that has sucked Black women dry for years. As a Black woman living in America, I could be referring to any system really, but today, I’m talking about the music industry.
According to The Sleep Foundation, “white noise works by reducing the difference between background sounds and a “peak” sound, like a door slamming, giving you a better chance to sleep through it undisturbed.” For the Black gatekeepers who have maintained power in the music industry, their white noise has been the blatant erasure and silencing of the black women they’ve exploited and abused. For far too long, they’ve been able to “sleep through it undisturbed,” no matter how loudly Black women have pleaded and demanded to be heard by their direct peers (and family, to a certain extent). Well, it’s way past the time to wake the fuck up.
When Russell Simmons appeared on The Breakfast Club in the aftermath of the sexual assault and misconduct allegations leveled against him as well as the documentary highlighting three of his accusers (On The Record), it became abundantly clear just how much Black women represent the unwritten asterisk in Black Lives Matter. On Tuesday, TIDAL promoted a special all-male “Black Lives Matter” panel hosted by Revolt’s Drink Champs podcast via a now-deleted tweet. Other than the glaringly obvious missing Black women (not even 1/3 of the Black Lives Matters founders?!), our collective eyes focused on one particular guest—Russell Simmons.
Wait—didn’t we already go through this shit, already? What’s not clicking?!
Simmons’ inclusion in yet another leading platform has led to a crescendo of consternation and I want to delete this toxic song from my mental and emotional cloud. But before I do, allow me to turn up this song of accountability—let’s turn it all the way the fuck up.
First off, the very idea of having a bunch of talking heads waxing philosophically about just how much Black lives matter without including one Black woman further only confirms just how little we matter.
Each brutal detail surrounding the killing of Olutwatoyin Salau was yet another laceration on the ongoing wound that is the silencing of Black women. We’re constantly told that it’s not the “right time” for Black women to be at the forefront of the support (despite being at the forefront of the movement itself) because we’re “distracting” from the bigger picture. Well, that picture is pixelated and unsightly as fuck without the inclusion of Black women (and I hate to have to point this out, but I do: that includes every single one of our identities—whether that’s queer, trans, non-binary and more).
We’re really all we got. And, we’re beyond tired. Yes, the tweet was deleted and the episode featuring Simmons was pulled from the platform that night. Cool—next up, deleting the rampant misogynoir within the music industry!
“Twice is a pattern,” writer and activist Sil Lai Abrams told The Root in a statement. “It should not be incumbent upon survivors to continue to hold perpetrators accountable by policing media outlets.”
Following the backlash, author, activist and television personality Marc Lamont Hill (who participated in the panel) tweeted a thread explaining that he had not known of Simmons’ participation prior to recording.
“I stand with, and fully believe, the women who have come forward about Russell’s sexual violence,” Hill tweeted. “I am sorry that I shared space with someone who has caused such harm without accountability. Although I had NO IDEA he’d be on, I am nonetheless deeply sorry that I was a part of it.”
Podcast co-host and rapper N.O.R.E. also took to Twitter to express his grievances about the kerfuffle.
“I apologize for me [sic] not being fully aware of what was going on!!!” he exclaimed. “I just wanted to put black men together who are powerful for a powerful convo!!! Moving forward I will be more aware of guests and who and how they are presented!!!”
I had to ask, what does unabashed support for Black women look like without the need to be pushed? What does it look like to make a public declaration of solidarity without the guilt and fear of “cancel culture” hanging above your head? Actor Harold Perrineau’s public message stood out, as it’s rare to see someone in his position take this kind of stand, specifically for Black women.
He absolutely knows what it’s like to stand publicly with his daughter Aurora Perrineau, who filed sexual assault charges against Girls writer and executive producer Murray Miller in late 2017. I would say that kind of unrelenting support for your daughter’s autonomy and agency is a given—but then we all saw what went down with T.I.
“They are forgetting that they have Black daughters, nieces, sisters, etc., that they may not always be there to protect; the world is changing,” author and founding member of Mercedes Ladies, Sheri Sher said in a statement to The Root. “This generation of hip-hop culture looks up to them for knowledge, guidance and wisdom. So, they are breeding a generation of young Black women who will feel unsupported and receive backlash from their own communities if they speak out about being violated. Not only from someone in power, but in general. Young Black men will [feel] validated and look up to [them] if they decide to abuse or violate a Black woman. This is why we have a generation who is lost [and] suffers from anxiety and depression. The people who hold high positions in hip-hop [that this generation] idolizes care nothing about their well being.”
The music industry needs a goddamn gut rehab. As Abrams pointed out in her series of tweets on Tuesday, we can’t help but notice and point out the toxic cycle here. By giving Simmons these recent platforms, he is essentially being allowed to rebrand himself from the stain of being multiply accused of sexual assault—which is currently being magically erased from the zeitgeist simply because the victims are Black women.
Simmons is being protected and we can’t ignore the fellow Black male gatekeepers who are behind the platforms providing him that very shield. There’s Diddy (Revolt) and Jay-Z (TIDAL), both of whom have not only long been in the conversation with regard to the reeking misogynoir in their songs’ lyrics, but in their personal lives as well.
What we refer to as “the culture” has ignited a unique passion in our community, but that very passion has shifted into trauma for some of us. The culture has thrived despite its key component—Black women—being reduced to roadkill in the process. In fact, perhaps the culture (and its leaders) thrived (and continue to thrive) because of it.
As for the array of Black men who embody the very culture perpetuated by these gatekeepers, I have a question for you, as well: Perhaps your hesitation to speak out for Black women dwells in the fact that full support means not only publicly denouncing your problematic famous faves, but reckoning with the fact that they may be a mirror image of yourself, your family and friends?
Record producer Drew Dixon provided the following statement to The Root and I implore you to sit with her words:
When I was raped at 24 years old, I feared that my pain wouldn’t matter as much as Russell’s power. Twenty four years later, The Breakfast Club and Tidal have confirmed my heartbreakingly low expectations. It is an insult that Russell Simmons was allowed to go on those shows without any rigorous pushback from the hosts to cast unsubstantiated aspersions at me, Sheri, Sil Lai, Jenny and the other women whose stories have been vetted by the New York Times, the LA Times and The Hollywood Reporter. It was just as painful for me to see Russell Simmons, the man who raped me, propped up on those platforms within my community as it is for me to see Confederate statues canonizing men who raped and brutalized my ancestors propped up on platforms all over this country.
This is especially painful in this moment, as Black women seem to be an afterthought in the Black Lives Matter movement, even though BLM was founded by Black women. The MeToo movement, which was also founded by a Black woman, centered white women and left Black women largely overlooked. So if Black women don’t really matter in the BLM movement or in the MeToo movement, where do we turn for protection and justice? Who will defend our right to safety, if some of the most powerful Black men use their platforms to hand the microphone to a credibly accused serial abuser of Black women?
I am trying to be optimistic in this time of unprecedented upheaval, so I still hope that some of the Black men I admire will use their platforms and power to speak up. While it is deeply disappointing that the vast majority of influential Black men have said nothing about the serial rape of Black women by a Black icon, I wonder if maybe they just haven’t seen the documentary, yet. Or maybe they just haven’t had time to read any of the articles about it, yet. Whatever the reason, the silence from Black men about the abuse of Black women is deafening. What are they waiting for?
I echo her question—What are you waiting for? What is the music industry waiting for? What will it take to truly dismantle the system that has continuously denigrated its biggest champions? I’m asking this as a member of the family and victim of the culture; Black men, those who are in power and those who aren’t yet inherently benefit from such power structures: What will it take to stop being silent about shit that is specific to us when we’ve certainly never been silent about shit specific to you?
When that day comes, it’ll be music to my ears.
The Root has reached out to TIDAL for comment on this matter and is awaiting their response.