For the past couple of months, we have been inundated with stories of sexual misconduct in the media. With the recent barrage of cases, largely publicized by the #metoo social media movement (shout out to Tarana Burke who pioneered this movement), we have been flooded with news stories, think-pieces, and personal anecdotes of men and women who have been assaulted by men of high social stature.
One of the first things that I noticed when the coverage began was the number of women, even some that I know personally, who were quick to discredit and discount these incidents, especially when the accuser was a woman. “She’s just mad”, “She’s a hoe”, “She’s trying to make a come up” were some of the comments that I saw and heard. I was shocked and appalled. It made me wonder if we, as a collective body of women, are really that unsympathetic to other women…or do we not have a firm grasp on what constitutes sexual assault? Even though black women have largely been left out of the #metoo movement in the media, if statistics are correct, many of the same women who were disparaging the victims were likely victims themselves at some point in their lives. So instead of asking myself if we really know what it is, I wondered if it is so common that we have become anaesthetized to it?
I recently ran across a thought-provoking op-ed piece from the New York Times about predatory sexual behavior, specifically the prevalence in which girls who grow up in the hood are subjected to it and its impact on them. The piece, published on December 15, 2017 was written by Shanita Hubbard and is entitled Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, and Why Black Women Can’t Say #MeToo.
In this piece, Ms. Hubbard, an adjunct professor of criminal justice talks about how girls who grow up in the hood are victims of predatory behavior from an early age and subsequently begin to normalize it and see it as one more thing to add to the list of things that they must learn to survive. Without going into too much detail because I want you to read her piece, she goes on to talk about how power, particularly perceived power plays a role in how girls in the hood view themselves as victims. The fact that the perpetrators of this predatory behavior fall into the same demographic that is unjustly targeted by law enforcement in urban communities may explain why Black girls and women fail to hold these men accountable for their behavior. It may be difficult for a young girl to rationalize in her mind the dichotomy of someone simultaneously being mistreated and mistreating others…that someone who is brutalized by police could turn around and brutalize others. With all of the focus on #blacklivesmatter, the criminal injustice system, and the community rallying around Black men, it can send a message to young girls that their pain is less important.
Ultimately Ms. Hubbard’s piece reminded me of a personal experience I had when I was around 11 years old…one that closely mirrors those she described in her piece…an experience that I will never forget.
There was a corner store near my house, as there is on almost every corner in the hood. I would frequently go there to buy snacks for myself, the evening edition of The Cincinnati Post for my 85 year-old grandad who lived upstairs from me, or a pack of Kool Mild cigarettes for my dad. Sidenote: the store was Black-owned, the owners knew my family, and they knew the cigarettes were for my dad…in case you don’t understand the intricacies of hood life and were wondering how a kid could walk into a corner store and buy cigarettes.
Anyway, as I was leaving the store on this particular day, the men who hung outside the store (every hood corner store has a gang of men who hang out drinking Wild Irish Rose or MD 2020 from a brown paper bag) made a comment about my breasts. Now mind you, although I was decently developed by age 11, everything else about me said “little girl”. I had on a modest length denim skirt, white tights, a pink and white shirt, and a ponytail with a large pink bow. Plus, everyone in the hood knows everyone else so they knew who I was.
After I heard the comment, which was co-signed by a couple of the other perverted men, I picked up my pace and quickly made my way to my house, which was visible from the store. My dad, who was home when I came in, could tell that something was bothering me as soon as I walked in the door. I told him what happened. Now, my dad is a pretty mild-mannered guy. I watched him take it all in and very calmly tell me to stay in the house and he would be right back. I obeyed. When he returned a few minutes later, he told me to follow him back outside to the corner store. When we got there, one by one, the men began apologizing profusely. I mean, falling all over themselves to make sure that I understood that they were sorry, they meant it, and it would never happen again. I nodded bashfully and followed my dad back to the house. When we were back inside, I said, “Daddy what did you say to them?” He looked at me and responded in his typical calm, cool, and collected demeanor and said, “I told them that if any of them ever even think about looking at or saying anything out of the way to you ever again, I will come out here and clean off this whole corner with my .38”. From that moment on, I knew that I never had to worry that I would be subjected to predatory behavior from the men in my neighborhood because I knew that they knew that my dad, who would “cut a rock and make it bleed” for me, had meant what he said.
But my question is, who is looking out for the girls in the hood whose dads aren’t there to “cut a rock and make it bleed” for them? The answer is all of us. As a community, we have to do better. Loving our Black men and holding them accountable when they engage in predatory behavior are not mutually exclusive. We can and must do both.
If you haven’t done so already, please check out Shanita Hubbard’s New York Times op-ed piece: Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, and Why Black Women Can’t Say #MeToo