A look into the plight of the overlooked Black Celebrity in the discussion of sexual harassment
Hashtags have become a form of protest, organization, and promotion. While the #MeToo Movement was created in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an African American civil rights activist, the movement became viral in 2017 subsequently following the Harvey Weinstein allegations.
Earlier this year, notable, black actresses and creators Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Lena Waithe, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Angela Robinson, and Laverne Cox spoke at the NAACP Image Awards in support of the movement, but also criticizing sub-par efforts to recognize black women’s plight with sexual assault.
“Time’s up on complaining about an imperfect system if we aren’t willing to fix it, time’s up on our silence, time’s up on the abuse of power,” the five women recited while bringing awareness to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a fund created by the National Women’s Law Center to aid in the fight against sexual harassment and retaliation.
“Now is the time to finally stop the sexual harassment and retaliation that has often gone unchecked,” reads the fund’s online mission statement.
Founded in January of this year the fund has already received nearly 4,000 requests for assistance, raised $22 million while committing roughly $4 million to funding cases and media support, and have awarded $750,000 in outreach grants to organizations who are working for equality of others. Committed to 68 cases and counting, the fund has received 788 attorneys into the Legal Network for Gender Equality.
The growth of the movement has been assisted in large part by notable stars in entertainment such as Anika Noni Rose, Gabrielle Union, Octavia Spencer, Amber Rose, and Samira Wiley are just a few black noteworthy celebrities who have also spoken up in support of the MeToo movement.
Let’s not forget Terry Crews and how he stood up to testify as a sexual assault victim at the hands of Hollywood executive, Adam Venit. Being one of the few male voices to appear in the company of so many women, he recounts the feeling of shame being associated with an incident of sexual harassment and the difficulty in speaking up for one’s self.
“I know how hard it is to come forward. I know the shame associated with assault.””
With all these instances of black men and women being assaulted one would think that there would be more stories in mainstream media discussions regarding black celebrities. When Black Panther star, Lupita Nyong’o spoke out about her interaction with Harvey Weinstein in 2017, Salma Hayek’s New York Time essay insisted that he only responded to them because it is easier to discredit women of color, and she may be on to something.
According to a Pew Research Center study, the hashtag has been used more than 19 million times on Twitter with two of the highest numbers of times regarding Weinstein and CBS chairman, Leslie Moonves, resignations following investigations in to allegations of sexual harassment.
Just like many occurrences in our society, when people of color attempt to bring awareness to troubles plaguing our community, whether good or bad, we are often ignored, disregarded, or overlooked. The responses we usually receive are either layered with what-ifs or dissected in such a way that many become indifferent to the true issue that we were attempting to bring consciousness to.
Janelle Monae has often used her platform as one to shed light on her stance and the topics she is passionate about, acknowledging that it wasn’t just Hollywood that had problems with sexual misconduct, and that the same problems afflict many in the music industry as well.
Her latest album, Dirty Computer, Django Jane serves as a rallying cry of sorts for women in general and she has said that she wants to fight for not only women but all those have marginalized in today’s society.
“We gave you life, we gave you birth, We gave you God, We gave you earth, We fem the future, don’t make it worse,” Monae sings.+
So how do black men and women get justice for alleged assaults? Has black celebrities speaking out hurt or helped the MeToo movement? And are we being discriminated against because our skin color is darker than those of our non-melanin cohorts?
It begs to ask this question: is their trauma more important than mine? Kudos to the black celebrities who have used their voices to open up dialogue on this matter, but it seems as though we have a lot more work to do when it comes to having the movement identify with all women equally regarding color, shape, or creed.
While I believe Burke appreciates the gesture in furthering the #MeToo conversation, I have a feeling this may have not been her exact vision when she founded this movement in 2006, and that is where the root cause of black celebrity and the #MeToo movement may lie.