Selective Empathy: Why aren’t Black men doing more for our sisters in the era of MeToo?
Last week was one of the most triggering for survivors of sexual assault. As disgraced comic icon and philanthropist Bill Cosby was finally sentenced to three to 10 years in prison (the first of its kind in the MeToo movement) for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, the country was also gearing up for an intense Senate hearing involving SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Dr. Ford gave a passionate testimony that resonated with countless women who have been victims of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rape. Many shared their stories on social media, using the hashtag #MeToo and/or #whyIdidntreport.
I was personally reminded of the Black women who came before Dr. Ford, most notably law professor Anita Hill, who gave her sworn testimony against now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas nearly 27 years ago. Hill, like many women back then, didn’t have social media to convey instant solidarity with her along with 24-hour news cycle pundits arguing on various networks about how her credibility. Hill was a trailblazer who advanced the conversation of workplace sexual harassment and holding such men in power accountable.
Just like 1991, there are still an undeniable contingency of men who do not believe women and are simply rape apologists. While Black women were telling us the intimate details of their stories across social media and on television, such as CNN commentator Symone Sanders, who said she was raped in college while intoxicated; MSNBC analyst Zerlina Maxwell who previously launched the hashtag #Rapecultureiswhen to share her traumatic experience; and professor and TV host Melissa Harris Perry, who revealed that she was raped a second time as recent as 2016, and many others, there were some Black men who have actively denied their experiences. And yet, whether Black or white, Democrat or Republican, men were defending Cosby and Kavanaugh pulling out every excuse from the book to invalidate Dr. Ford’s and other women’s testimonies.
“The Cosby apologists strike again,” I told myself as I watched several brothers on social media invoke false narratives of racial injustice to defend a convicted rapist. When the tables turned to a powerful white man such as Kavanaugh, somehow some men actually suggested that no person should experience such allegations that date back years later.
Even Perry couldn’t catch a break after revealing that she was sexually assaulted as recent as 2016 and didn’t report it because she “learned from decades of living as a survivor, a public figure that reporting would only bring more pain, not justice.” Black men especially wanted to know why she didn’t report and questioned her thinking as a survivor.
It was shameful to see fathers even position their sons as victims of the #MeToo movement rather than consider their daughters.
“I’ve got boys, and I’ve got girls. And when I see what’s going on right now, it’s scary,” Donald Trump Jr. told Daily Mail TV in an a recent interview. “Right now, I’d say my sons” was his response when asked whom he feared for more in the rise of the #MeToo movement because somehow he foolishly believes his innocent sons are somehow more at risk than his daughters who are unfortunately and statistically more susceptible to sexual harassment behavior. Sadly, so many others carry this false notion that hypotheticals involving wrongly accused men are more important to consider than the reality of female victims who are survivors.
It matters to see black women’s vulnerability as well as celebrate our strength. Her voice may never have wavered, she may never have wept in public, but I assure you, what Professor Hill experienced was deeply deeply painful. To truly understand & respond matters.
— Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) September 27, 2018
It would be easy to dispose these men as being selfish, unempathetic, and simply unable to show compassion when it comes to sensitive issues concerning women. Many online have tried to make faulty psychological evaluations that suggest men aren’t capable of caring about others, but that, too, is false.
What I’m saying is men, in general, will selfishly only cape for other men and the women who they are personally invested in and that narrative needs to end.
If you spent the week in shambles pitying the men who have been convicted or accused, ask yourself why you weren’t thinking of the women impacted. And whatever the reason is, just know that is part of the problem.
If Black women can create movements that aim to protect us all (i.e. Black Lives Matter and Me Too), then we owe it to them to believe them and have their backs just as equally.
We witness blind support for other men when observing how several were quick to pity Cosby as he entered a prison cell at 81-years-old, without considering how his victims felt. According to some Black men, Cosby should get a pass because he is old and got railroaded by a racist judicial system, but Black women who are victims of sexual abuse, well we need to scrutinize the hell out of them and question why they didn’t report the assault or abuse when it happened because, what if she’s lying.
Then there are the men who half-ass their defense of women on the condition of the “she could be your mother, daughter” plea because somehow women victims aren’t worthy of our support if they aren’t related to us. These double standards further highlight a society that is divided on how to combat rape culture. Men having selective empathy for women does nothing to collectively address anything. In fact, it further perpetuates sexism and the inequity imposed among women that men have yet to face head on.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. The award-winning journalist has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.