I am so full right now! I have feelings on feelings. So, like I tell my clients, it’s time for me to do a FEELINGS CHECK IN. Right now, I feel happy, sad, validated, and I certainly feel some type of way. April 26th (the day of writing) has been huge! Cosby was finally convicted of sexual assault and Kelis told her story. The two don’t seem to match except that the running theme here is that “women are not to be trusted” and that “any woman who comes out of their mouth to say something contrary to the (or any) Black man, is fucking it up for the culture.”
The love and lies of the Kelis & Nas history has always been pretty fascinating to me. I was one of those people who was super happy to see them together. I was all “black love,” even when I was younger and didn’t really know any better. Now, as a sex and relationship therapist, I know and understand nuance. I know, understand, and accept that people are both saints and scoundrels. We are often taught to revere or fear one side of a person and to disregard that people are multifaceted beings with both good and bad, light and dark, yin and yang, or as I call it, saint and scoundrel. We will dwell on one half of a person and sanitize them to be the one thing we already thought of them. In Kelis deciding to stand in and share her truth, she has shifted the narrative of who people thought they were as a couple. And some people are not happy about that.
Let’s start with what we know:
What we know is that there is a racial and sex based hierarchy in these here United States. Whites before Blacks, and men before women. (of course it is more nuanced than that, but that’s why you should hire me to speak, duh!) What we also know is that there have been very carefully constructed tropes for people of color (PoC). Women of color (WoC) especially have suffered at the hands of these tropes because not only do we deal with white supremacy and what it can bring (less earning power, racism, and death), but we also have to deal with patriarchy and what that can bring (less earning power, sexism, and death).
I have been of the mind that Black women are (secretly?) the most feared “minority” population. I say this because when Black women speak, and stand in their truth, everyone is implicated; white people and PoC alike. There seems to be a vested interest in silencing the stories of Black women because in those stories, who is free from blame? Surely not white people, as a whole benefitting from a racist society. Surely not white males, for being at the pinnacle of race and sex privilege. Or white women for using a minority status while standing on the backs of Black women and choosing race benefits over the lack of justice related to sex almost EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And surely not Black men. Not the ones who are interested only in replacing White male patriarchy with Black male patriarchy; or also believe in their penis given rights to rape or beat women (we already know ALL Black men aren’t like this; but the ones who are, secretly and otherwise, certainly speak a lot louder than other ones). The point is EVERYONE GETS TOLD ON! No one is exempt. Remember: there are levels to this! Everyone but that Blackest Black woman holds a certain level of power. I think the strongest and most damning tropes are reserved for Black women as a way to check the power of the truths we could tell. No one wants to be implicated and so it has become easiest to disempower the voice of Black women...Anti-Blackness.
This is one of those articles that is about, but not about the headline subject. This is about Kelis and Nas, but it is NOT about Kelis and Nas. Again this is about the reaction of the masses to what has been presented as new information for some. Black women have been called and have had to deal with the tropes of the Angry Black Woman, the Crazy/ Over Emotional Woman, the Gold Digger, and of course the sexual tropes they derived from: Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire. If you listen to the account that Kelis gave in her interview with Hollywood Unlocked, you will hear that many of these tropes were more than present and accounted for. She was called crazy and emotionally unstable at points. She has been called angry and bitter. And she has been called a Gold Digger. These tropes have been used to discredit and silence her. But like I said this is about, but not about that. Where I want to focus (again), is on how we perceive women who tell their truth when that truth is in opposition to what we want to hear and contradicts the silencing tropes.
We [Black people] have been given the duty to protect our own. Black women have certainly taken up that mantle to make sure that they are the first ones to defend and love and be a safe harbor, too. Even when they are being abused physically, mentally, sexually or otherwise at home by other Black folk. For a Black woman to tell anyone, what they have endured at the hands of a Black man bring a whole world of hurt on themselves. We are taught and told to keep our silence. We are taught and told that the racism we experience is enough of a battle to fight without also fighting sexism. We have been told to wait our turn, when Black male liberation is secured, we can then secure a space for Black women. But who does this benefit? We cannot continue to negate the effects of sexism and only focus on race. Black women do NOT have the luxury of only being Black. They do NOT have the luxury of only being women. We are at the intersection of being hated by all for all that we are. Asking us to hold our silence in light of Black male hurt feelings is an act of aggression and violence. It is on level of white people asking Black people to hold their feelings of racism to themselves because there are hurt feelings. This is a seeming disdain for Black Women.
We are being asked to continue to complete the Ride or Die narrative. When Cosby was accused, the story was switched up in the collective psyche to say he didn’t do it. Cosby himself said he did. And then tactics changed. Then people were saying that he couldn’t rape those women because they were ugly and he had beautiful people around him all the time that he could have raped instead. (seriously?) Then asking “why did it take so long?” became the narrative along with trying to say that he was being punished for trying to purchase NBC in 1992! I think we have Cliff Huxtable mixed up with Bill Cosby. I think it’s easy to say it’s a white woman’s witch hunt after a Black icon, BUT only if you choose to ignore the Black women who also came forward with stories of rape. Seems there is not only that need to hush unwanted stories, but also a desire to uphold the cognitive dissonance that would allow someone to say there were only stories of whiteness. The problem is that there are still the sexual tropes given to Black women present within this narrative. The Jezebel tells us that the sexuality of Black women is so wonton and masculine that to rape her is no crime. She wants the “D” so it can’t be rape, right? She was in the room. She drank the drink. She held her silence. With the conviction of Cosby came a whole new way of being. Now people are talking about the white men who have yet to be prosecuted. I am still trying to understand what is wanted. Do we want justice to find those white men who also have hurt people through rape? OR do we want Cosby to be given a pass from raping people because others have not been prosecuted? (Sounds silly when you say it aloud-try it). Di-gressing.
With Kelis and Nas, that’s a whole nother issue. It takes us deeper still into those tropes and their derivatives: the Mammy, the Jezebel, and the Sapphire. The Mammy and the Sapphire give way to the Matriarch. To have a matriarch is concluded that this neck moving, eye rolling, emasculating woman has chased her man out of the house and has been angry and bitter ever since. We have grown on the teet of what the masses think about Black people. We see the narratives play out on tv, in movies, etc. So much so that all Nas has to do is say Kelis is bitter or angry or hurt to be alone. All he has to do is bring question to her emotional stability. Invoke the tropes. The people will eat that shit up. Because we have cast women in the role of being unable to have higher brain functions in favor of the emotions which have to rule to the detriment of all. We have cast Black women into the role of chasing men away for being unreasonable and emasculating. Some people will have made up their minds about what Kelis is saying before they hear it, if only because there is a formula that has been given about how you should think of a Black woman who would not be the Ride or Die for the man she was once with. There is already a way of thinking about a Black woman who would spill all the damn tea (including physical abuse-mint, part time father grey, dictating from the sidelines with lavender, and questioning his mental stability rooibos) and leave a Black man exposed. There is already a way of thinking about a Black woman who don’t Ride or Die with the narrative placed. There is a way of thinking about a woman who has been sanitized to only be a trope. But this narrative is abusive. This narrative is detrimental to Black women and all those who hear it. Though it has been said that these tropes are destructive and damning, though there is a screaming out for help, and pleading for full person recognition, it falls on chosen-to-be deaf ears. Where are the men who Ride or Die for Black women? The ones who hear #sayhername and actually correct their friends and family?
For Your Consideration
Getting better as a community- both in Black communities and out—does not happen in siloed silence. We have been asking white people to acknowledge and check their privilege. We must also do the same within. Black men must acknowledge and check their privilege. As a community, we need to look at the traditions and narratives we have upheld as the Truth in our community: keeping our mouths shut, blind support of everybody who is black, favoring men over women as leaders whose legacy can never be up for question and true evaluation; in other words the Ride or Die mentality. Because this way of thinking is killing the women who have to uphold it. We cannot talk about our experience of white supremacy hurting us, while ignoring how patriarchy in the Black community does the same.
So many women come in to therapy with me to talk about the hurts they have received from the people in their lives. They have been told, and it has been repeated that, those hurts don’t matter in the “grand scheme of things”. When do they get to be acknowledge and allowed to stand in their truth with the whole community? When do we validate that there are uncles who little girls fear to greet in their own homes? When do we say the we cannot Ride for a family that would rather we Die than tell our truth? Kelis told her truth and some people would villinize her for it. Cosby is convicted on the word of those who also told their truth, but there is a choice to ignore the pain of those women. Instead of being scared, maybe we should learn to accept and be liberated by the truths told. Hit it with the Michael Jackson and look at the (hu)man in the mirror. Ask yourself why you are so resistant to people standing in their truth and being convicted for their wrongdoings. Why does it niggle you in the back of your mind? Why does it cause a feeling of discomfort? What are YOU worried about?
I, for one, will NOT allow male fragility or white fragility to make me hold my tongue or pause my steps. I will always make space for the Black Women who need their stories told. We have been silent for long enough. We are only asking to be believed and protected, and loved, and cherished in the same way we do for you, and in the same way you love, protect, and cherish yourself.