I mean, it’s a valid question…
In October of 2017 and in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, Terry Crews came forward with a personal story of abuse that he’d suffered. Before I read the details, my presumption was that his trauma was inflicted during an event in his childhood or distant past. I imagined a small, powerless Black boy unable or too scared to fight back against his attacker.
Nothing prepared me for the reality instead.
It was not in the distant past, but 2016. Mr. Crews was (and is) still a popular figure in the world of entertainment. He was not a small, helpless Black boy, but rather a powerfully built Black man. And at 6’2” and 240, someone close to him sexually assaulted him in a public space: Adam Venit, his own agent.
In subsequent interviews, Crews described a chain reaction of thoughts that coursed through his mind before he made the decision to leave the party where the incident took place and Venit unbloodied. I sat with the scene he described, the emotions he’s had to battle with during and sense, and I feel nothing but compassion and empathy. His story hits close to home for me, not just as someone who has had to endure and live with the aftermath of my own sexual assault, but as the aunt of a young Black man who has had to live with his.
In 2016, my nephew found himself in similar circumstances to Mr. Crews. I tell this story with his permission. I would’ve told in 2 years ago when he first asked me to put into words what he was feeling, but I didn’t have the strength. Or the words. All I could feel was rage and powerlessness. Anger that I couldn’t be there to protect him and impotent in the resignation that we all would have to wait for the law to give him justice, if ever it would.
My nephew, Malik*, was a freshman at Kennesaw State during the year in question. He’s an all rounder student: an A student, involved in community endeavors, an active member of his church, a visual artist and as a Georgia boy who would rather wander than woods than meander through a mall, an athlete. He went to the university on a scholarship.
Malik has a sweet, unassuming disposition. And I’m not just saying this as a doting aunt. He truly sees and receives the world and all in it with an open heart. Unfortunately, those particular traits – those that have drawn good people into his life – were turned and used against him on an overcast afternoon. A man approached him as he was leaving the field where Malik had gone for a run, asking for directions. As is in his nature, he helped him, I’m sure with a winning smile, and jogged away. Soon he notices the man is following him, so he picks up his pace. He’s anxious now.
In an attempt to ditch his stalker, he dashes into a building. It’s empty as there are no classes at the moment. He finds a bathroom and ducks into a stall. When the man’s feet slow down in the empty bathroom, Malik has decided that he’s done enough running and confronts this stranger. He burst out of the bathroom stall, shouting, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
The man lunges for him and Malik is unable to avoid his grasp. The stranger has him almost immobile. In those few seconds, Malik assumed that this was a robbery in progress and readies his mind to lose his wallet, maybe his cell phone. What happens next he’s unprepared for. The man begins to grope him through his clothes.
He snaps, wriggling free of the erstwhile unbreakable grasp. He turns and faces the man and draws his fist back to smash into his face. And then he stops.
“Auntie Malaka…because all I could see was the police showing up and arresting me,” he said quietly. “I know how it would look. A young Black man on a college campus where I may or may not belong, and the bloodied face of a white guy on that same campus. I saw my scholarship being taken away. I saw a charges. I saw a trial where it was his word against mine. There’s no way that I can prove that that man touched me, but there’s plenty of proof that I beat his face in.”
These are the same considerations women have to contend with on a daily basis. Do I bear intolerable treatment from management to keep my job? Do I ignore harmful, sexist jokes that hurt me, but seem to make the team happy?
“What did you do next?” I asked, careful to keep my tone even.
“I shoved him into a wall as hard as I could and ran back to my dorm.”
Malik reported the incident to campus police. Two weeks after the incident, the man (who was actually not white, but Latinx) was seen back on campus, loitering around a freshman dorm. He called campus police again to have him removed. I don’t know what has happened since, partly because I am afraid to know. Look at how Black men are treating Terry Crews, calling him “soft”, “a punk”…belittling him because he failed to knock his assaulter’s teeth in. I don’t think I could handle that for Malik. And I don’t think that the majority of Black men could handle that for themselves. That’s the source of all this vitriol.
As a species, we really think higher of ourselves than we ought. We think that we are capable of more, better than, more deserving of. When we see the same weakness we know resides deep within ourselves reflected and played out in the lives of others, we are repulsed by it. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the shenanigans of one-time funnyman, DL Hughley, and his unwarranted (and unhelpful) attack on Terry Crew, criticizing his reaction to his own assault.
As @SimonesFiasco tweets, he is the last person on Earth qualified to be dispensing advice on this matter, seeing his tepid response to his own child’s murder, musing that it was a ‘good thing’.
My theory is this: Black men are afraid to be human. They fear experiencing the range of emotions, sentiments and attachments that are a natural part of a mortal existence. Anger, indignation and even jocularity are fine. These require minimal mental acuity; unlike the qualities of compassion, empathy and sympathy, which are much more demanding. They demand that we see ourselves in both the joys and suffering of others, and Black men – who have travelled leagues on a broken road of pain over the centuries – cannot bear to look into the eyes of another man and see the reality of his fractured soul staring back.
The real problem isn’t that Terry or Malik and men like them didn’t “fight back”; It’s that a particular segment of our community won’t even allow them space to admit their trauma…and it’s more prevalent in our communities than we dare admit. So you mute the victim and celebrate the perpetrator.
This is not strength, brothers. It’s simply a mockery of it.