By Chelsea Higgs Wise •
It’s been a few days since the Women’s March RVA, and as motivated as I am to build; my passion is to amplify narratives of persistence for Black women. I understand that dismantling the patriarchy will take bulldozers of disruption as well as barriers of sustainable resistance. With this resistance, will come reactions, some healthy and others that perpetuate the historic harms, especially at the expense of Black women. These oppressive reactions are normally ones loaded in defense and avoidance of bias that then lead to unnecessary caping. Caping, or to cape, is defined in the Urban Dictionary as “blindly defending someone.” As I reflected on seeing 1000 Richmonders from all backgrounds at the Arthur Ashe Center last Saturday, I couldn’t help but think how we, as a society, have different reactions to people based on how we perceive their identity. It is human nature to process the world through a lens of our own experience; however, our lenses are partly shaped by the dominant narrative of our country. The problem comes when we blindly rely on our unchecked lens to guide how we think we are supposed to react. AKA: CAPING.
On the individual and community level, we have a serious problem of reacting with inappropriate caping. The internalized misogyny that caused 52% of white women to cape against their voter interests in 2016 is a problem. Pushing to legalize marriage for same-sex couples but outlawing transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, is a problem. The abundance of news coverage for a missing white girl compared to the absence of coverage when a Black girl is missing, is a problem. And most recently, the French Montana effect of acknowledging a rapist but separating the man from the music, is a problem.
Since the release of the Lifetime Documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” we all have been processing how to digest hearing the truths of the survivors. Last weekend, French Montana became the latest to come out in defense of R. Kelly. All over social media, there are posts under-estimating what it takes to protect Black girls; French’s comment is just the most recent and unnecessary. First, no one asked for his opinion. Second, his unsolicited public statement is indicative of Mr. Montana’s likely low emotional intelligence score. Third, apologize. To stop the cycle of inappropriate caping, we have to intentionally retrain ourselves, and readjust to prioritize the protection of sexual assault survivors ahead of what to do with the assailant.
I wondered what it would take for a mainstream, Kardashian-ex-boyfriend kinda dude like French Montana, to finally speak out against R. Kelly. At this point, the rumors have been going on for years. Kelly’s crew has admitted to helping him. The victims have testified. His wife spoke out. Hell, there is visual evidence of him peeing on a 14-year-old. I’ve lost hope in us reaching the collective conclusion that R. Kelly, the man, and the legacy, are trash.
Let’s go back to that idea of the dominant conditioning of misogynistic thinking. Point blank: our shaped lens tells us to value masculinity over everything. What if R. Kelly’s masculinity was called into question? What if something destroyed the macho-man shield society allows R. Kelly to hide behind? Bearing in mind the extreme nature of R. Kelly’s documented actions to date, what would shatter his masculine image?
What we know is male homosexuality is closely categorized by society as the proximity to femininity. What if R. Kelly’s masculinity was put into question with witness testimony by accusations of him assaulting boys or even R. Kelly himself enjoying anal play with these young girls? Would the Black community and greater masculine-obsessed society finally react with agreeing to #MuteRKelly?
“We don’t raise boys to be men. We raise boys to not be women or gay men,” says ex-NFL quarterback Don McPherson. The one time we consistently see men police other men is when the reaction/ behavior in question is outside the typical masculinity box. Think about every time you have heard “no homo” or “pause” when male friends interact. These are phrases used when there could be the slightest of sexual undertones. Even the most immature of word-plays can be cause for grown men saying “pause.” For example, if a man compliments another man’s outfit, “no homo” or “pause” could follow along with an adolescent giggle. To put this in mainstream (white people) context, McPherson also said, “when men try to forge healthy relationships with other men, we trivialize it by calling it a bro-mance, defined as “a close but non-sexual relationship between men.” Isn’t that just a friendship?”
Yes, Don, Yes it is. But once a person recognizes misogyny in their own reactions, what happens? It’s like a person who suddenly stops the snooze button and sees that being woke is uncomfortable; even in a room full of folks the same hue as you. Recognizing our reactions are rooted in misogyny is not an easy pill to swallow, especially if we were taught in the Black community to not confront one another in the presence of white people. As a woman who has had her assaults silenced at the risk of the white gaze, I say that’s just another teaching to oppress the Black femme voice. This is just my experience, but I know there is no community exempted from this lens check. In the digital world of 2019, we understand how vital representation is in the media so it stands to reason that it shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend why we need role models who are engaging in anti-misogynistic theories to disrupt and dismantle masculinity.
It must be mandatory that we see role models who learn to listen, reflect, and apologize. When we talk about apologies, we must stop questioning ‘if’ one is needed and start the deeper reflection. Then, repeat.
Our distorted lenses impact how we perceive and respond to sexual assault; therefore, the only sustainable solution is by constantly checking our lens. A productive lens check begins with listening. The listening part is what takes us the longest because it is re-learning how to pause our reaction. We have to hear each other’s perspectives and experiences to re-shape our lens. When reflecting, have someone around that you trust to support the guilt of possibly othering someone in the past, but to hold yourself accountable for thinking of victims first in the future.
Masculinity is not who you are but what you do. Make your actions line up with protecting Black girls and then apologize. Hell, apologize two or three times remembering that your bias probably yielded several actions that could use an “I’m sorry.” Seriously, learn how to be okay with giving authentic apologies. Once we shed our oppressive reactions we can #MuteMisogyny, unsubscribe to the behaviors of harmful systems against women, and better shape authentic reactions that create safer outcomes for our most precious people: our Black and brown girls.
Chelsea Higgs Wise is a clinically trained social worker who advocates for inclusive historic narratives in the context of race and gender.