|Music mogul Russell Simmons © Lucas Jackson / Reuters|
By Veronica Wells
If you’ve been even semi conscious in the past few months, it would have been impossible for you to avoid the news about men, in various industries, being accused of everything from sexual harassment to rape. Things have died down a bit now; but for a good two to three months there was a new name to add to the list of potential predators every week.
I was speaking to a friend about how I wouldn’t be surprised by anyone’s name being called. My friend mentioned undisputed good guys like Tom Hanks or Levar Burton. And just as I was willing to go with her, we learned that “nice guy” Aziz Ansari had been implicated in some type of sexual…insensitivity.
The point is, we don’t know these celebrities like we think we do. And more importantly, you can’t swear for anybody. So it begs the question, how would you respond if a man you loved was accused of sexual assault?
With that premise in mind, I’m always surprised to see women take the “stand by your man” approach when it comes to allegations of sexual assault.
Rapper Nelly has been accused of rape or sexual assault by at least three different women. He claims that he had consensual sex with the first woman who accused him. After this particular case went back and forth, with the alleged victim deciding whether or not she was going to testify against him, two more women from the United Kingdom stepped forward with allegations of their own.
|Shantel Jackson’s IG|
What adds another layer of interesting to Nelly’s narrative is the fact that during all of these instances, he was in a relationship with Shantel Jackson. The two have been dating for some time now. And while I wouldn’t be so quick to defend a man who, at the very least, cheated on me and, at the very worse, raped women, Jackson took to Instagram to offer an explanation of her man’s innocence.
|Shantel Jackson’s IG post|
In the weeks since she issued the statement, another woman in the UK came forward with another allegation of rape.
Russell Simmons has spent the past few months defending his innocence. While he’s issued an apology to the women he’s hurt and said he’s open for dialogue, he’s also stepped down as head of his companies, taken lie detector tests and created the ill-advised and short-lived #NotMe campaign.
When TMZ ran up on Kimora Lee Simmons, his ex-wife and mother of his two daughters, they asked her about the assault allegations involving her ex husband and whether or not she believed in his innocence. She said she loved him, that they were friends and she did believe he was innocent.
Later, with some more time to think it over, she issued this more in depth, more nuanced response.
It was a good statement, considering she’s speaking about her children’s father, a man who has been active and present in their daughters’ lives. It acknowledged the relationship they share but doesn’t belittle the experiences of the women either. And while I know that a lot of people were waiting for her to weigh in, I would have told TMZ, I only speak for myself.
Honestly, at a time like this, asking women to speak up and out for the men they’re connected to seems like a distraction and a deflection from the central issue here, the behavior of men.
If anything, the Aziz Ansari story taught us that men aren’t always clear of what constitutes sexual force or coercion. In a society that trains men to convince, persuade and coax women into having sex with them, at all costs, men aren’t taught to read body language, to keep checking in to make sure a woman is comfortable, to understand that permission for one sexual act doesn’t guarantee permission for another. In our own lives and the lives of our friends and family, we can point to the ways in which liberties have been taken when it comes to sex and sexuality, by men who we know meant well. Men who didn’t understand that their pressure felt like a violation. Imagine how much more heightened it is for men who have money and power, who see and use women as commodities, men who aren’t used to being told no…by anyone. Who knows how power and access affect the sexual psyche. In the heat of the moment, when a man wants sex, none of us can swear by what he would or wouldn’t do to get it. We just don’t know.
|Bill Cosby & Kesha Knight Pulliam|
Most of us can agree that with over 50 allegations against him, with receipts of payouts and strikingly similar stories that span decades, Bill Cosby is guilty of some, if not all of the allegations against him. It’s hard to ignore the voices and faces of all those women. Still, when he stood trial his play daughter Keshia Knight Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable), walked into the courtroom on his arm.
It was a moment staged with the internet and news media in mind. It reminds us of Heathcliff as the loving and devoted father, of Rudy, his doting daughter. If his reputation hadn’t already been besmirched beyond repair, it might have struck a chord. But it was too little, too late. And with Keshia’s desperate and frequent grasps for relevancy, I could see right through this photo opp. I had a visceral reaction to it. After all, Bill Cosby has real daughters, a real wife. While they have spoken out in his defense, why weren’t they present to walk him into the courtroom? Afterward though, it made me consider what I would do if someone I knew and loved had been accused of and likely did something so heinous. I wrote that I would probably be, “at the crib, praying. I’ma come visit you in prison and we can talk about treatment.”
I know from personal experience that you can love people despite their vile behavior. If someone has been kind and loving to you, there’s an ability to split them in your mind. To see and know them as two different people. I think we confuse love for someone as an excuse or rationalization for bad behavior. We make it an “either, or” scenario when it’s really a “both, and” type of deal. You’re not either a saint or a sinner. You can be a rapist and a mentor. While we like to create just one box for people, most of us exist in more than a few. And despite cancel culture, the illusion of perfection, and our reliance on binaries, you can love parts of a person and despise the parts of them that hurt others. What you don’t have to do is let loyalty impede your humanity.