To Black Women Who Just Want to Heal
Controversy about a documentary on Russell Simmons begs the question: when will we start believing Black survivors?
To the women who came forward and engaged the public about their experiences with Russell Simmons, I’m in solidarity with you. Speaking truth to power is freedom and being believed is healing. And your freedom — your healing — is long overdue. Black women’s freedom is long overdue.
We live in a culture that does not always allow us to be victims of violence because we are Black and woman. Century-old tropes of a deceitful Jezebel and strong Black woman, coupled with an obligation to protect the reputation of our community, has silenced us. The expectation to protect Black men at all costs, robs Black survivors of freedom to acknowledge they have been victims in any way, especially against Black men. It places parameters around how, when, and if we seek justice, and scrutinizes us when we dare to share our stories.
This is why I support each of you. You have bravely chosen to say “me too” aloud and break old traditions of keeping violence against Black women a well-known secret within the community. Who can Black women protect through silence if no one tries protects us? The perpetual silence, the secrets, and the shame ends now.
You should not be expected to remain silent about men like Russell Simmons — men who are protected by systems of power and privilege. These systems of power and privilege allow influential men like him to admit to once living a “playboy” lifestyle yet dismiss allegations of sexual assault. I fully believe that people can change, repent, or have spiritual awakenings. And as you brave women attempt to heal, people must be held accountable and deal with the consequences of any harm they have caused. It’s negligent to try to sweep this kind of violence under a mat, assume a mountain pose, and meditate until it goes away. Your commitment to the well-being of Black men should not come at the expense of your own well-being. And should not require your silence. Systems of power and privilege expect you to choose your race experience over your gender experience to protect the egos of powerful Black men. Such expectations perpetually ignore the realities of racialized sexual violence. But as those systems are being knocked down, whether the assault happened three months ago or three decades ago, your boldness makes it clear that Black women shall not be silenced any longer to protect the reputations, accolades, and power of any person who has caused them harm.
If knowledge that the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected woman in America is a Black woman remains a well-known, catchy quote within the Black community that lacks action and accountability, we will routinely see campaigns to silence Black survivors of sexual violence again and again. This is bigger than a documentary. This is bigger Simmons. And bigger than Oprah’s creative vision. This is about believing Black survivors. Periodt. We cannot have knowledge that this documentary, among other documentaries, exists and continue to ignore Black survivors.
So I see you. You are the strong, resilient, and courageous warriors we need. I believe you and I am with you.