The older I get, the more I’ve tragically become accustomed to the harsh instant reactions our community has when a Black celebrity is accused of rape.
They are just as predictable as the verdict of white officers accused of shooting unarmed black youth, and just as annoying as the expected excuses white people spout out when the system often fails us.
But nonetheless, our community succumbs to the pettiness and self-deprecating notions of denouncing rape culture in a misguided attempt to “defend our Black men.”
Nine times out of ten, these were the top five horrific defenses you heard when rapper Nelly was arrested — and eventually not charged — for an alleged rape on his tour bus over the weekend:
• It’s a conspiracy to take down the Black man. He must have been trying to make a huge business deal.
• It’s a conspiracy to take down the Black man. He’s too attractive to do something like that.
• It’s a conspiracy to take down the Black man. The accuser wants money and is probably a gold-digger trying to take advantage.
• It’s a conspiracy to take down the Black man. The accuser is probably white and crying rape to put him behind bars.
• It’s a conspiracy to take down the Black man. Look at all the other white men who have raped and gotten away with it… we should focus on them instead.
As the investigation on Nelly continues, the public has yet to be given any details on the accuser or the situation in full to even know if any of the aforementioned theories apply. But sadly, while many of these apologists will spend so much energy yelling “innocent until proven guilty,” why hasn’t the same respect been given to the accuser?
When our community automatically dismiss an alleged rape as a way of defending Black men, we are delusionally implying that they are immune from committing it. We are also putting the lived experiences of past rape victims against a fallible wall of scrutiny that invalidates their truth. When you go out of your way to automatically deny a possible victim of their experience before an investigation has been completed, you are perpetuating the same form of violence you fear is happening to the accused.
If you believe that Nelly is without-a-doubt innocent — even without any evidence or facts being yet presented — you can do so without pushing warped conspiracy theories that do more to infuriate rape victims and denounce the culture as a whole.
To answer your burning questions: Yes, an arguably attractive, wealthy, Black man — like any other race/class/attraction status of men — can commit rape, because such factors don’t have anything to do with the act of rape itself. Rape is about power: A desire for it being carried out in this vicious way crosses all racial and socioeconomic lines.
As much as some would like to conspire that it’s racism that clouds most rape accusations involving Black men, that’s a lie. Rape victims across all racial lines are mainly attacked by members of their own race. In other words, there are more Black women being raped by Black men than white men in America. As many continue to argue that we must defend our Black men in times of such criticism, who’s defending our Black women who are often victimized?
If you are one of those in the community that only discuss rape culture when you believe a Black man is being falsely accused, please sit down. If you find it necessary to position Blackness as as reason for not being held accountable for sexual abuse, you aren’t helping anyone. And if you would rather tear down the lived experiences of rape victims online just to promote your weak defenses, log off. None of these reactions to Nelly’s rape accusations will do anything to make him appear more innocent or bring justice to anyone involved.
It’s too early for anyone to lay down the ultimate verdict on either side of this matter right now. But one thing we all should be mindful of is dismissing the severity of these rape allegations and belittling previous victims of similar abuse.
You can remain a fan without perpetuating the same toxicity that doesn’t help anyone in the long run.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.