Although I for one am generally too sensitive to enjoy watching movies about slavery (because I feel like I get it without having to watch painful reenactments), I was looking forward to seeing Birth of a Nation. I always am in support of contributing to the success of films that tell our stories, that remind others of what we’ve been through, and that inspire hope when some days it seems to be running out, even if I personally struggle to get through them. However, as I’m sure you’ve already heard, Nate Parker, the producer and director of Birth of a Nation has recently received a surplus attention not for the film but for his involvement, along with two friends, in a rape that took place during his college years.
Hearing of this case, I find myself in a very familiar situation, one where I wish I could support a Black man and his talents because he does have much to be proud of but where I am left to say “but.” It’s happened many times before, for instance – “R Kelly is a great singer but he’s been accused of rape several times including cases involving minors,” “Dr. Dre is incredibly talented but he has beaten multiple women and scarred their lives forever,” “Floyd Mayweather has accomplished incredible feats but he is a perpetrator of domestic violence and battery against women,” “Bill Cosby could have been considered an icon but he raped dozens of women,” the list unfortunately goes on and on and on.
Just why? This shit is getting old and more disappointing every time. The disappointment is then worsened when such celebrities cannot own up to their mistakes and at least try to make things right when they have the opportunity to do so. For example, apologies from such men are virtually unheard of – they instead elect to let things pass and continue to get buried with time and they watch from the sidelines while their victims’ lives are destroyed. In these times, I call upon the words of writer Joan Morgan who puts all of these feelings into a paragraph from her book When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost so poignantly:
I love black men like I love no other. And I’m not talking about sex or aesthetics. I’m talking about loving ya’ll to be down for the drama – stomping anything that threatens your existence. Now only a fool loves that hard without asking the same in return. So yeah, I demand that Black men fight sexism with the same passion they battle racism. I want you to annihilate anything that endangers sistas’ welfare – including violence against women – because my survival walks hand in hand with yours. So, my brotha, if loving ya’ll fiercely and wanting it back makes me a feminist then I’m a feminist. So be it.
Sure, there are a lot of people out there who do awful things, especially men and men of all different races and walks of life, so why am I focusing on famous Black men? Well I’m glad you asked. I am doing so first, because I am tired of having to say “but” so often when it comes to Black male celebrities. Second, it is most disappointing for me when Black men contribute to the oppression of Black women. Third, I am infuriated by people who protect such famous Black men by saying that those who ask them to own up to their mistakes are standing in the way of Black success. Fourth, I really wish they hadn’t done what they did so that I could just be proud and partake in the celebration of further success for our community. Fifth, since they did do what they did, I want them to own up to it and stop running away, hiding behind their power. And finally, I want all Black men with aspirations to be famous to always do the right thing, to make us proud, and to allow us to not have to stand up and say “but.”