In hip-hop, as ever, Black men’s stories of vulnerability and pain receive consistent attention, while their conduct toward Black women is either ignored or defended. That dynamic garners them sympathy from fans. “It’s how we treat celebrity and our heroes. We would much rather turn the other way than lose that,” Joan Morgan, the author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down, told me. She added that sometimes the decision to support an artist accused of assault doesn’t even require believing that he’s innocent. It just requires an indifference rooted in misogynoir, a term that describes the misogyny and racism directed at Black women. “We’re particularly more willing to turn the other way if the person who that crime was committed against or who has been assaulted or who has been wronged is a Black woman,” she said.
This culture of indifference is only reinforced when men such as Simmons receive carte blanche to publicly besmirch their accusers—especially under the guise of social justice. The record-label executive, who has no new work to promote, was invited to speak on yet another hip-hop-focused platform—the podcast Drink Champs—to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement last week. Other guests included the rappers Talib Kweli, Mysonne, and Bun B, as well as the political commentator Marc Lamont Hill, who has since apologized for his appearance. An all-male lineup sends a strong message: that Black men are the sole arbiters and beneficiaries of racial-justice activism. Framing anti-Black racism as a problem that mostly hurts Black men, despite all measures of reality proving otherwise, lends further credence to the idea that they should be elevated at all costs.
Read: R. Kelly and the cost of Black protectionism
No wonder, then, that efforts to curb the effects of racism stop short of imagining justice for people affected by gender-based violence too. Hip-hop largely saves its protective energy for the Black men who occupy its upper echelons, the small handful who made it in an industry still dominated by white people. “What we’re seeing with the spate of collective voices of Black women who have been systematically exploited, abused, harassed, and pushed out … is something long overdue,” Abrams told me. Society still does not “hold Black men, irrespective of their social status, accountable for their crimes against Black women.”
Even those who admit to causing women grievous bodily harm still seem to enjoy widespread acclaim. Consider, for example, the fact that Chris Brown earned two trophies at Sunday’s BET Awards, a ceremony spent reminding viewers that Black Lives Matter, in signage and in speech. Brown infamously assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna in a brutal 2009 incident and pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge. (That Rihanna would later go on to collaborate with Brown and that Bustamante remains in a relationship with Fabolous do not negate the men’s actions.) The producers of the awards show, along with many viewers, didn’t seem to see how Brown’s inclusion contradicted the ceremony’s premise that Black entertainers are instrumental to social change.