In many vulnerable groups, a subset will internalize and reflect ways of operation that parallel the oppressive party. Sometimes, this means people of color deploy respectability politics based on proximity to or distance from upper-class whiteness. Sometimes, this means women protect powerful and predatory men at the expense of violated women and girls. Sometimes, people with a seat at the table lock the conference room door behind them.

Of course, identity issues are often more complex than some activists care to admit, but nuancing issues is not the same as arguing there is an expiration date for sexual trauma, as Wendy Williams recently tried. The longtime media personality incensed scores when she critiqued the #Metoo movement and insulted Black people at the same time.

“What is this, ten years too late?” Williams said during a segment late last week. “It’s not gonna work. Black people aren’t really good at protesting. Not since the King march.”

“The #MeToo movement hasn’t affected R. Kelly,” she said. “R. Kelly wasn’t a ‘Me Too.’ Aaliyah voluntarily married him when she was 15 years old. Her parents voluntarily let her do it.”

Williams does raise complicated issues. Parents often have the final say in their children’s decisions, including romantic relationships and the capacity to legally marry. But men with unfettered power seek out very young partners in exercises of “marking” their so-called territory and treating people like property. Dominant and subordinate work dynamics remove reasonable opportunities for sexual choice. And the amount of melanin in one’s skin translates to how believed their story will be.

The #MeToo movement’s ubiquity and some people’s choice to view men largely as predators especially grated Williams. “I love that people are speaking up for the first time and coming out but I look at all men like you’re a ‘me too,’ all of em, all of em, which is not fair,” she said. 

#Metoo creator Tarana Burke responded to Williams on Twitter. “I heard what Wendy said yesterday and was disgusted by it. This is why Black women/girls are hesitant about coming forward with their #metoo stories bc of Black women like @WendyWilliams who blame the victim.”

Movements are messy and societies evolve. Yes, people who are accused are owed their opportunity to respond to the allegations. Yes, this work requires all kinds of people to engage in long-term unlearning and remedying processes. But rather than tabling these talks, society just needs to form and sustain better mechanisms to address sexual and gendered violence.

 

 

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