“It would have been more comfortable to remain silent.”
This statement was spoken 26 years ago by Anita Hill during the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, as she testified about the sexual harassment she endured during her employment as Thomas’s assistant. This quote came to my remembrance after I read Lupita Nyong’o’s statement about her encounter with Harvey Weinstein. A part of her statement that resonated with me was, “I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him. I wish I had known there were ears to hear me.” By the time, she made her statement public, many women had come forth, and Harvey Weinstein had already been removed from his position and had not spoken much to the public about the allegations. However, Weinstein made a point to come out of hiding and dispute Nyong’o’s allegations. It was as if Weinstein wanted to make it clear that he may have raped and sexually assaulted many women in Hollywood but he wouldn’t dare touch a Negro gal.
When I commented on Weinstein’s statement on Twitter, someone replied to me, “Because at some point, even a sexual deviant has a standard to what he will go after.”
Imagine reading that comment as a Black woman. It reminded me of slavery and how Black women were nothing more than free labor and a sexual commodity. And while White men could and did freely rape Black women it was a dirty little secret on the plantation. In fact, White men have been raping Black women for centuries with almost little to no consequences. Nearly 400 years later, this narrative has not changed. A man that has sexually assaulted women for almost four decades made it clear that he didn’t try to touch that Negro gal. It seemed to him, that would be more embarrassing, humiliating and damaging than the fact that he is a known sexual predator.
For weeks, I have thought about Anita and Lupita, knowing that I wanted to write about this topic yet wrestling with my own thoughts and emotions. While outwardly, I remained silent, inwardly my feelings were in a whirlwind as I thought about my own encounters and relationships with men throughout my life. These feelings came to a head when the Louisville Metro Council voted in favor of Councilman Dan Johnson remaining in position despite sexual misconduct allegations. Dan Johnson had been accused of sexual misconduct towards Councilwoman Jessica Green in addition to an allegation of harassment by a staffer. The vote came down to 13 in favor of Johnson and 6 against Johnson remaining on the Metro Council. The Metro Council have given Johnson strict stipulations that he must adhere to and have stated several reasons for their vote.
On the surface, the reasons seem compelling and perhaps legally justifiable. I am not here to argue that as I know the opinions on this can and do vary. I am here to state two things that stood out to me. The Metro Council was advised that removing Johnson would likely result in an appeal and a lengthy trial that could cost almost $100,000 in taxpayer’s money. I wonder what is the right price that would have worked for the Metro Council for Jessica Green to work in an environment where she felt safe and secure? If $100,000 was considered too much for her, what would have been a feasible amount for this Black woman to receive justice? What was Jessica Green’s worth to the taxpayers of Louisville? When I hear Jessica Green say that she has been, “stripped of her humanity,” I want to know, how much was her humanity worth to the Metro Council? Because when I read that it would have cost the taxpayers, what I heard is, justice for Black women has a price limit. Justice for Black women has a monetary cap on it. Justice for Black women isn’t profitable to the city.
I am discouraged by the vote, but I am highly disappointed in the women that voted for a man that admits his “wrongdoings and transgressions.” I do not excuse men like Weinstein or Johnson for any of their behavior, but I take an issue with women that are complicit in the sexual assault of other women. While they may not have committed the offense, they have made it that much harder for women to stand up and speak out. Shame on you! How do you come back to your neighborhood and look your constituents in the eyes and justify this? Especially if the area that you serve is predominantly an African- American community. How do you explain to Black women that this vote was one of compassion and love? How do you explain this to Black women knowing that in a preliminary study, 60% of Black women have been sexually abused before they are 18? And often by someone of the same race as them. If not in their own homes, if not in their own communities, if not at their place of employment, where can Black women find justice? This vote was a slap in the face to women all around Kentucky, and it was, in particular, a backhanded slap to Black women who have been victimized. I read accounts of Weinstein, and while I was disgusted with his behavior, I am angry with the women that led innocent women to him like a lamb to the slaughter. The vote in favor of Johnson was a reminder to Black women to shut up. Don’t say anything. Be quiet. Who is gonna believe you anyway? You ain’t worth the money it would cost to fight for justice. So deal with it!
That is what the vote said to me as a Black woman in Kentucky. When this issue first came out, I asked the question, “If A Black Woman Yells Rape, Does Anyone Hear It?” The answer is a resounding no. Remember, Black women, even Harvey Weinstein has standards.