Lupita Nyong’o penned an op-ed for The New York Times in October that briefly disrupted the narrative around the Harvey Weinstein scandal that found the Hollywood titan facing accusations of sexual assault and harassment from scores of famed actresses, ex-employees and other women in the media industry over a 30 year period. Though the disgraced former executive initially attempted to deny the explosive takedown, he had gone largely silent as the number of accusers continued to grow—but then found his voice again in an attempt to discredit the Oscar winner’s disturbing description of a 2001 encounter.
Weinstein, who was fresh out of a six-day stint in “rehab” for sex addiction, deployed a tactic used by abusers time and time again: attack and blame the victim. The strategy is particularly successful when that person is a Black woman, as she is typically unlikely to receive much empathy or support in the first place.
Need examples? Think back to this summer, when BuzzFeed published a long, investigative piece unraveling the inner workings of R. Kelly’s sex “cult,” charging that the singer houses and travels with a rotating group of much younger Black women whom he manipulates and abuses. The story would stir extended dialogue across Black Twitter and the media sites that look there for content inspiration, but would go quiet relatively quickly considering the nature of the allegations and the 50 year old’s long, well-documented history of predatory behavior.
A few weeks ago, Young Thug allegedly cheated on his fiancé, Jerrika Karlae, and attempted to win her back with an “apologetic” Snapchat story that felt more like harassment than contrition. When she later tweeted, “I’m definitely back on the market tho,” the rapper replied, “What market?? Bitch u goin die OnGod.” His tweet garnered thousands of likes, retweets and crying emoji replies (many of them from other Black men) before eventually being deleted from the rapper’s feed and the collective memory of the public and media outlets that had little to say about it in the first place. That amnesia was made clear when he went and dropped a surprise collaboration with Future less than two weeks later to widespread fanfare.
The Weinstein drama has inspired the outing of other allegedly predatory men in the media world, including actor Kevin Spacey and journalist Mark Halperin, as well as sustained dialogue about the ways that powerful men abuse their positions and people around them. During this time, both Young Thug’s online attack on his ex and yet another alleged R. Kelly victim were met with relative silence. Wonder why?
Black girls and women are victimized often, but it often seems like other Black girls and women are the only ones who care.
In the weeks since the report went live, Weinstein has fallen from producer to pariah. Hollywood heavyweights from Ben Affleck to Matt Damon have scrambled to distance themselves from the odor of his crimes. White women crowned actress Rose McGowan a martyr for coming forward and briefly being banned from Twitter during the ensuing online furor. She would go on to make a tone deaf comparison between the plight of female victims and Black people. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has expelled the filmmaker’s membership, and late night hosts—Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, one of the Jimmys—all delivered delayed, uninspired, yet nonetheless harmonized zingers on the matter.
The bulk of the responses to the Weinstein scandal existed in a reflective prism of whiteness. White men across Hollywood dashed to denounce Weinstein in hopes of receiving a bit of social currency from their audiences, while White women enjoyed the relative privilege that is a right to public outrage and empathy.
Imagine if Weinstein’s camp could count on backlash from Nyong’o supporters in the same way that they knew not to further antagonize the many White women who have also accused him. We might not know that he has “a different recollection of the events” the actress described in her essay. Surely, he has a “different recollection” of some of those other stories too, right?
If the public affirmed Black women and girls in any sort of meaningful way, the Recording Academy might rightfully shun R. Kelly in the same way that the Academy of Motion Pictures has distanced itself from Weinstein.
If White women were to ever speak as loudly for all women as they do for themselves—perhaps there would be a change in the way abusers of Black girls and women are held accountable; perhaps the White women who mobilized on Twitter for McGowan would do the same for the despairing number of Black women who are harassed and berated on that site daily.
If Black men held each other accountable for their treatment of Black women, Chance the Rapper, someone who has rode to the top largely because he represents a moral, spiritual voice among the often violent noise of hip-hop, may pause to rethink why he considers Young Thug his “bredren,” possibly inspiring Black men everywhere to reassess their friendships with abusers and the way we protect, pardon, and enable them.
The general public—including Black men, most regrettably—will always abandon women like Nyong’o, so long as White women are the only women who are seen as catalysts for virtue signaling.
How to get men to, in general, dismantle rape culture and genuinely value the lives of women is an equation larger than what one writer can solve. But in the short term, the variables seem to be laid out as such: White men, relative to other groups, are the most invested in maintaining a White supremacist patriarchy. The latter half of that distinction would suggest that White men—the Afflecks, the Colberts, the Academy—only actually value White women but so much.
White women are valued for their assigned fragility, but not much else; they’re valued on the basis of what it says about men noble enough to come to their rescue.
This is an important distinction to make, as it provides context for the way Black men fail Black women daily. By excusing men like R. Kelly and Young Thug, we submit to a false truth—that only White women can ever be thought of and cared for as victims.
Each time we laugh at a Karlae or ignore a Nyong’o, we perpetuate the same White supremacist patriarchy that we, ourselves, are victimized by our entire lives.
While the fall of Harvey Weinstein represents some semblance of justice for the scores of women who have allegedly been harmed by this powerful man, it’s not only paramount to recognize that had all of the accusers looked like Nyong’o, there would likely be no consequences for him at all, but to also grapple with the role we play in why that fact is so impenetrable.