Exactly one week after their interview with Russell Simmons, The Breakfast Club confirmed that Sil Lai Abrams, one of his accusers and participants in HBO’s doc On The Record, would be appearing on the show.
On Wednesday, the writer, essayist, cultural commentator and activist sat down with co-host Angela Yee to discuss the documentary, her allegations against Simmons, the Oprah controversy that followed the announcement of the documentary, unpacking misogynoir in the black community as well as the aftermath of Simmons’ interview. In terms of the latter, several people called out the popular black radio show for having Simmons on the show, unchallenged. Abrams herself spoke out about it on Twitter, as well as detailing the harm the interview did in an immediate interview with ZORA.
Accordingly, when Abrams confirmed she would be appearing on the show, I have to admit my eyebrows raised in surprise, while also noting with some satisfaction that the call-outs were not completely in vain.
The two ladies got straight to the point, acknowledging the fact that many black women were not only disappointed but triggered, hurt, frustrated and fed-up with The Breakfast Club’s participation in a rampantly misogynistic culture.
“I understand that everyone’s entitled to tell their story,” Abrams began. “Everyone’s entitled to share their side of things. What was incredibly painful for me as a survivor was being silenced for so long and the first time that Russell pops up is on a show with such a reach as The Breakfast Club and that he was unchallenged, essentially throughout the entire interview. And not only was he unchallenged and allowed to perpetuate a lot of harmful myths around rape and around the women that have accused him but also, it was very retraumatizing. It was a traumatic experience because we didn’t have an opportunity to speak. There’s been this huge vortex of silence around the film within the black community, which I believe in a large part has been managed and negotiated by him. He’s a man with incredible power.”
“I would say The Breakfast Club is not perfect and I don’t think any platform gets it right all the time, but I know—and I think I can speak on behalf of all of us—that we do try to make sure that we uplift our community in many different ways and if things are triggering, I do apologize for that because that’s never my intention for that to happen,” Yee responded.
Yee noted that following their Simmons interview, HBO immediately reached out to them, which she claimed was the first time the network had reached out to them. However, Abrams confirmed that HBO reached out to the show at the top of May—naturally since they are a leading platform for Black America. With booking procedures and beyond, the two agreed the source of confusion there was due to miscommunication.
Additionally, as we watch the constant erasure of those who do not identify as a cis-gendered, heterosexual black male within the Black Lives Matter movement, this conversation proved timely on a larger scale. Honoring the life of Oluwatoyin Salau, Abrams assured that this movement can not go forward without including “trans people, queer people, poor people, women” and many other identities within the intersection. So, while it’s a difficult and hurtful conversation to have while we’re experiencing and witnessing these traumatizing injustices, we can’t continue to be silent about the erasure.
“That’s not black love,” Abrams noted. “That’s not accountability. And when you love someone, you hold them accountable. The love can’t just extend to those who are famous, the love has to extend to those who are the most marginalized and oppressed and don’t have a voice.”
Seeking to remedy a moment not previously afforded on the black-led platform, Yee asked Abrams what she wanted.
“I want accountability,” Abrams said, firmly. “If we’re not able to navigate the criminal justice system [since] what happened between us is outside of the statute of limitations and to be very clear, I chose not to press charges at the time because I was drunk that night, because he and I did have a prior sexual relationship and because I was terrified of the imbalance in power and money between us and what happened in the examination room, so I was scared.”
“Now, today, as a woman who is going to be turning 50 [years old] in a month, what does the grown-ass woman want? What I want is a chance to begin restorative justice,” she continued. “I want Russell to actually stop the pantomime of being an innocent and truly acknowledge the harm that he’s done and then start to make amends to the individuals and the community that he continues to harm by peddling mistruths he ends up contradicting himself on.”
Personally, I do appreciate the decision to allow Yee to take the lead as I don’t believe Charlamagne Da God and DJ Envy’s presence would’ve been productive or contributed to a safe environment for Abrams. But just like Abrams pointed out, I am awaiting a public confirmation of accountability from them and their complicity, as well.
“There is a tremendous responsibility that comes with having the privilege of the position that your show has,” Abrams added in the interview. “At times, the show hasn’t done right by the community it says it loves.”
As noted in the interview, Abrams has served on the board for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Safe Horizon. She further recommended RAINN as a helpful resource for survivors of sexual assault.
Check out the full interview below: