Lately, I’ve been trying to nail down whether social media brings out the worst in people or is a great revealer of the worst in people, or is both. I’m not sure. All I know is that the past few days on the internet have left me in a kind of awe, an awe that is perhaps naive. I just can’t believe how many black people don’t give a fuck about other black people.
On the popular Instagram page @Talk2pops, there’s a clip of Kevin Hart saying he felt attacked by trolls who tracked down his 2008 tweets bashing gays and dark-skinned black women with the caption, “What are your thoughts?”
I write: “I feel like this is bullshit personally, but OK.”
Unsurprisingly, my comment is met with pushback.
One commenter says “you are white of course you want your head in the sand oppression doesn’t affect you.” Another, who has ostensibly looked at my page and seen my boyfriend, a non-black man of color, writes: “She don’t like black men. So anything a black man say is automatically bullshit.”
This exchange, if you can call it that, is just one example of what’s happening all over the internet in the conversation surrounding both Kevin Hart’s bizarre redemption arc and revelations concerning R. Kelly’s abuse of young black girls in the recent Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly.” (To be clear: I’m not equating Kevin Hart’s tweets with R. Kelly’s history of abuse ― telling harmful jokes is not the same as physically abusing someone. But the ramifications of both men’s actions lie on a spectrum.)
It’s been disheartening and demoralizing to see black people (especially black women) trot out the same tired defenses of terrible men. They usually hinge on some sort of persecution theory ― white people are “out to get” men like Kelly, Hart and Bill Cosby. To believe allegations about them, or not forgive them, is to buy into the white man’s devious plan. If Kevin Hart can’t use gay slurs and be forgiven, then what about the Amy Schumers and Sarah Silvermans of the world? Sure, Kelly allegedly raped a few girls, but what about Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein?
White people doing similar or worse things than black people does not absolve black people of their bullshit. We can talk about the realities and impact of racial double standards all day, but that doesn’t make the impact of Kelly’s actions any less real or any less harmful. Invoking Weinstein’s name as if it makes what Kelly has done any less awful is... bizarre.
Running into the comments section of some blog like The Shade Room that posts Hart’s “Ellen” apology and goes on and on about how Ellen is “invited to the cookout” because she gave Hart a platform for his redemption arc doesn’t change the fact that she’s essentially forgiving him for comments he made about a community she doesn’t even belong to.
When black people come to the defense of these men, here’s what they are really saying: Black lives matter, but only certain ones, only convenient ones.
The disingenuousness of this whole thing is astounding.
This is not to say that there are not real, genuine concerns that we should be having about the ways in which predominantly white institutions influence and orchestrate the persecution of black people in the public eye. It is, after all, overwhelmingly white institutions like the Oscars and the Grammy and white tastemakers like Ellen who have co-signed these men as much as any black people have. This also isn’t to play into some narrative that all black people are inherently homophobic or misogynistic (I’m aware that tweets or comments on The Shade Room, for instance, do not represent the totality of black opinion on this situation). But the conversation around these two stories still forces us to interrogate the ways in which we do and don’t show up for one another.
When black people come to the defense of these men, here’s what they are really saying: Black lives matter, but only certain ones, only convenient ones. Men like Kelly are worth defending, but not the black women and girls in our communities who fall prey to these men. Men like Kevin Hart deserve a second chance for their homophobia, even after doubling down and initially refusing to apologize for this homophobia, and this second chance should come at the expense of gay black people, particularly the femme gay black men and boys who Hart targeted in his tweets.
And here’s the thing: It’s impossible to know what to do with this. It’s impossible to know how to enter a conversation with someone who dismisses me as a white man’s whore or an agent of white supremacy because I won’t defend men who have offended or harmed people within my own community. Where do you begin? Is it even worth it? A part of me feels that it has to be, because true solidarity is the only path to true progress. A part of me wants to reach out one by one to these people I’ve interacted with on social media and explain with tenderness that we can’t all be free if only some of us are free.
But there’s another part of me, a stronger part, that just wants to say: Stop lying to yourself and others. Just say you hate black girls and queer black people and go.