Terry Crews: Black Men Aren’t Allowed To Be Victims Until They’re Dead

The actor spoke to HuffPost about being a sexual assault survivor and deprogramming toxic masculinity.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost Photos: Getty

Terry Crews is not here for any macho-man bullshit.

“Masculinity can be a cult,” Crews said at the Women in the World Summit in April. “And when I say ‘cult,’ it’s no different than David Koresh. It’s no different than Jim Jones.”

And the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor knows the cost of toxic masculinity all too well. Amid the Me Too reckoning this past fall, Crews publicly accused Hollywood executive Adam Venit of groping him at a party in 2016. His story gave a face and a platform to many other male survivors, and reminded the public that men are sexually assaulted, too. But it hasn’t been easy.

“When I walk into a room, guys are split down the middle with me and my story,” Crews told HuffPost of his experience since going public. “But I’m OK.”

Crews, 49, pressed charges against Venit in December, but the Los Angeles District Attorneys office dropped the case due to the statute of limitations. Although Venit will not face criminal charges, Crews is still suing him in civil court.

While Crews’ name has been in the headlines more than usual the last few months, he’s no stranger to activism. The former NFL player, husband and father of five has advocated for women and criticized strict gender roles since he published his book about men and masculinity, Manhood: How to Be a Better Man — or Just Live with One, in 2014. Since then, he’s regularly called out sexism, supported sexual assault survivors and advocated for feminism.

More recently, Crews was chosen as one of Time’s “Silence Breakers” for the magazine’s Person of the Year issue. He’s also being honored alongside Me Too founder Tarana Burke at the anti-sexual violence organization Safe Horizon’s Annual Champion Awards Gala next week.

Crews spoke to HuffPost about what it’s been like to come forward with his story and the next steps in his fight against the “cult” of masculinity.

What’s your experience been like as a straight black man, coming forward as a sexual assault survivor?

Well, it’s really, really hard because you’re going up against a mindset that has been ingrained in our culture for a long, long time. The big thing I’ve encountered is that people expect a guy like me to always be tough. But, the thing is, as a black man, the only time you’re really recognized as being victimized is when you’re dead. Otherwise you don’t get hurt, you don’t get tired ... it’s like people think you’re supposed to jump through the air and dunk from one place to the next.

One thing I’ve realized is that, as George Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” I’m just telling my truth. I’m saying what happened to me. I’m not speaking for anyone else. I’m just saying that this is ridiculous, and this is not acceptable. No one ― no man, no woman, no child ― should ever put up with being treated less than human. Ever.

“As a black man, the only time you’re really recognized as being victimized is when you’re dead.”

- Terry Crews

America’s full of conspiracy theories, but you can never really prove a conspiracy. But complicity ― complicity is a whole other matter. You can prove complicity. Complicity is a system. Complicity is when you look the other way. Complicity is when no one steps forward, no one actually does anything about these wrongs. That’s a complicit system. That is what we have.

At the Women in the World conference a few weeks ago, you said “masculinity can be a cult.” Can you talk to me a bit more about that?

I love being a man. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I love what being a man is. But when you’ve twisted up the definition, when all of a sudden I have to do everything you say in order to be a man ― that’s a cult. ’Cause cults are about control. If you step out of line, you’re drinking Kool-Aid and we’ll kill you. That’s the whole point of a cult. Anybody who steps outside of what they deem as this definition of manhood you’re gonna find yourself in the cross-hairs.

I’m guilty of it, too. I’m not here pointing fingers at anybody. I was a card-carrying member, and all the sudden I had the wake-up call of my life. I said to myself, “You got all of this wrong.” I feel like I dodged a bullet because I easily could have lived and died as a member of this thing. I had to be deprogrammed, so to speak.

What do you think are the next steps in the Me Too movement for men, whether as survivors or allies?

Men are scared. Men are very, very scared right now. My thing is to concede. We need men to concede. We need men to say, “You know what? We’re wrong, we goofed that up.” I tell people I think it’s gonna be messy. This is not gonna be a neat, clean transition.

Yeah, these systemic issues are going to take a long time to correct.

Exactly. It’s going to take a while because we’re talking about people’s mindsets. We’re talking about very, very strong mindsets. It’s good that we’re talking about it, though. Ten years ago you couldn’t even bring this stuff up. The next generation is learning so young, my son and my daughters are growing up in a different world than their dad did.

This Me Too reckoning seems to have reached some men but not all men. It’s alarming that R. Kelly has had dozens of women and underage girls accuse him of sexual assault, rape, sex slavery and child abuse but somehow it has yet to tarnish his stardom.

What are your thoughts on R. Kelly and the recent campaign to get justice for his victims, specifically justice for black women?

The thing is, there are black men at the Black Lives Matter rally that are looking at a woman and saying, “Bitch, sit down.” And it’s like, wait a minute, this is about equality. But they don’t see women as equal within their own community. So, the R. Kelly thing was like, “Hey man, he’s just being a man.” He’s doing what you do as a guy, if you can get over on ’em do it.

“Men need to be deprogrammed.”

- Terry Crews

It’s so crazy to me because, again, men need to be deprogrammed. It’s like this cognitive dissonance that occurs. Women have been saying this forever. Unfortunately, what we need is a man to say stop this. Men have to call out other guys on these issues.

Women need allyship.

Right. We need someone from the offending party to wake up and say, “We gotta stop this.” I feel like there are a lot of guys that are now starting to get it, but we need more. I think the most important thing we need to do is to continue to talk. We need to continue this conversation.

After I told my story, I have had thousands and thousands of men, either online or in person, who tell me, “Dude, that happened to me.” They’re like, “Man, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying something.” And that’s how I know I’m doing the right thing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.