Iconic Black men are falling from grace. Good.
The devil needs no advocates.
Editor’s Note: This essay contains discussion of domestic violence, sexual assault, and mentions of r/pe
Eldridge Cleaver was a predator—a night stalker. He practiced on “black girls in the ghetto” where he knew the crimes would not be investigated before he eventually ventured across the tracks to methodically rape white women.
“Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women—and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman. I felt I was getting revenge.”
He admitted to these actions and ideologies in 1968 with his memoirs, Soul On Ice. Even though many Black women spent years criticizing Cleaver for what he did, he was still honored and recognized by many in the Black community as an icon and a revolutionary until his death in 1998, by which time he had become a Conservative Christian Republican.
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Bill Cosby is an admitted serial rapist, too. He stated in a 2005 deposition that he purchased quaaludes, specifically with the intention of drugging women to have sex with them. But that’s not sex; that’s rape.
After a long career of being a sexual predator, the earliest incident is alleged to have happened in 1965, Cosby was finally found guilty on three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault for a rape he committed in 2004. He now faces 30 years in prison.
Men like Cleaver and Cosby have always existed—abusive, predatory, violent. They exist in our favorite media, in our activist circles, in our workplaces, in our families, and sometimes in our own homes.
Icons of Black media and movements have gone unchallenged on their criminal and abusive ways for too damn long, and hopefully, Cosby’s guilty verdict marks a significant moment that will ensure the downfall of others like him.
These abusers don’t deserve our grace. They never have, but Black people have spent too many years putting energy towards defending famous Black men, despite a wealth of evidence and/or confessions, because of a compulsion to protect Black men from the prying eyes and violence of whiteness.
Just as Cosby’s defenders insisted that the rape allegations against him were a conspiracy, made only because “he was trying to buy NBC,” so too did actor/director Nate Parker’s defenders, claiming that the rape allegations against him were only brought to the forefront in order to deter audiences from seeing his historically inaccurate Nat Turner film, The Birth Of A Nation (2015).
Likewise, the woman who accused Russell Simmons of rape must be lying in order to tear a Black man down. Kobe Bryant’s accuser is a liar because she only wanted money from the NBA star. Usher would never have relations with a man and he definitely would never fuck a fat woman, so the accusations of sexual misconduct against him must be false.
R. Kelly, a man who has a long and well-documented history of preying on underage Black girls and possessing child pornography, has had loyal fans and defenders for over twenty years now. Only recently, after reports about his extremely abusive sex cult surfaced in 2017, has he finally begun to feel the heat for his crimes. Kelly has been evicted from two houses in Atlanta, dropped from the lineup for a UIC concert, and Tom Joyner is now refusing to play his music after an interview with creator of “Me Too”, Tarana Burke, all the past few months.
Burke credits the “Me Too” movement with creating the climate that finally allowed Cosby to face some semblance of accountability for at least one of his crimes. Though she launched the project in 2006, it has only recently been brought to the forefront of social conversations when it became appropriated as a hashtag by white feminists like Rose McGowan.
#MeToo led us into an ongoing public discussion about sexual misconduct and consent, creating a deeper understanding of it for many who were previously ignorant. This, Burke believes, is how the jury came to finally comprehend what transpired as a sexual violation, resulting in Cosby’s guilty verdict.
Our need to indict the abusers in our communities should not stop here. The culpability that we deserve to see is not only about “Me Too” and sexual violations. It’s also about the Chris Brown’s of the world, with distinct and consistent histories of violence.
Less than a week ago, Kelis revealed during an interview that her marriage to Nas was physically and psychologically abusive. This is not the first time that Nas has been accused of domestic violence, but that must have been a lie, too, according to his fans and supporters.
There is a present and, thus far, abiding willingness to overlook a Black man’s abuse of women and girls, especially when he is considered a talented icon or a revolutionary. Even the overwhelming support for Black Panther’s “revolutionary” N’Jadaka—a man who is violent and aggressive towards every Black woman in his path on his alleged quest for Black Liberation—is representative of this disposition.
Cosby and his representatives even attempted to take advantage of this phenomenon, trying very hard to make the trial “about race.” According to his defense, his accusers and the media are all just trying to destroy a wealthy Black man. I guess they figure that if it worked for OJ Simpson, the wife-beater and double murderer, it could work for Bill Cosby, the serial rapist, too.
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Our elders taught us to “not act the fool in front of white folks,” because that’s what they were taught, too. Jim Crow said you better move to the other side of sidewalk when you see them coming. Move to the back of the bus so Miss Anne can have this seat. Cover or straighten your hair so they don’t have to be reminded that your Blackness lives in your naps.
Don’t argue. Just do it. Don’t give them any more reason to look down on us. Don’t play into those stereotypes about us being savages, beasts, and monstrosities. Give no credence to their claims that we are violent, predatory, sexually deviant, and licentious. They already think we are less than human.
If to err is human, then we must acknowledge the violent parts of our humanity, too. That means stating plainly when one of our own has betrayed our trust, holding them accountable for their violence, and placing the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.
We betray ourselves when we do not seek that justice and instead hold fast to notions that the public image of famous Black men falling from grace would be a negative reflection on Blackness as a whole. Even worse is when these optics are upheld as more important than Blackness as a whole.
The devil needs no advocates. May the momentum and energy of “Me Too” stay with us as we push forward and tear down monuments built to those who have proven to be undeserving of our grace. I’m ready for them to fall so we can finally watch them burn.