Open Letter in Defense of Black Survivors
Over the last week, we know countless of you have come forward with credible accusations of horrific sexual abuse and violence at the hands of Black celebrities – including Soulja Boy and T.I. and Tiny. R&B singer Raz B has spoken out once again about his experience of sexual abuse – yet no media outlets, corporate actors, or systems of justice have centered survivors’ stories or promised accountability. Like you, we are carrying the emotional weight of this news and know that we are reliving a collective trauma akin to the exposing of Cosby and R. Kelly.
Today, we write to hold space for what this moment is bringing up for Black survivors.
Over the next few days, we know your stories and the experiences of Black survivors may be dismissed. We know people will try to discredit and scrutinize you. We know people will evaluate your stories by a set of questions that shift responsibility from the accuser to the accused: “What were they wearing? What do they do for a living? What is the social status of the abuser?” And we know that when the alleged abusers are not only famous, but held up as pillars in the Black community, the tendency will be to sweep these allegations under the rug.
We know this because we have seen it time and time again. When these questions begin to surface, we know that they are based on respectability politics: a false set of principles that many times shape who we view as deserving of safety, protection, and autonomy over their lives and bodies. Today, we write as a call to action to resist that urge and consider what’s at stake for Black survivors if we don’t treat their stories with dignity, respect, and care.
This tendency to ignore, mock, challenge, and discredit the stories of Black survivors is an attempt to coerce us into silence and, this too, is an act of violence. This silencing of our stories leaves us unprotected. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 5 Black women are survivors of rape. The reverberating impact of silence and trauma spans across generations.
Historically, justice for survivors has been a virtue almost exclusively bestowed upon cisgender, white, able-bodied women. Black survivors who report sexual assault or violence are less likely to be believed than their white counterparts. Our stories are often quickly discarded as lies before they are even fully heard. Black survivors are not afforded the level of attention, care, and impartiality that we deserve – and problematic media and cultural depictions fuel a culture of disbelief that pushes survivors further into the shadows. Moreover, internalized shame about sexual violence has us apologizing and making space for the harm-doer without addressing the harm done or centering the survivor.
The level of violence that has occurred against Black survivors for so long demands stories and headlines that center them across all media – mainstream, Black, and non-BIPOC outlets. Amid a historic reckoning on racial justice, we can’t say that we value Black people and then remain silent when we suffer. If we aren’t actively and consistently voicing our opposition to this behavior, then we are supporting it. When Black survivors share their stories, we must hear their truth with the respect and dignity they deserve.
We’re hearing your stories. And we’re long overdue for the kind of cultural shift and reckoning that all survivors deserve. To the Black survivors who continue to come forward in the face of what feels like insurmountable barriers and backlash: thank you, we see you, and we hold space for you. We reaffirm our commitment to ending sexual violence. And to do that, we must disrupt it at every turn.
We are calling on and for:
- The media: Make Black survivors’ experiences visible and reframe the narrative to center justice for survivors. Treat Black survivor stories with journalistic integrity. Conduct thorough investigations and examinations of claims made by the survivors.
- Our community: Show your support for the survivors in your life by redirecting harmful narratives that shame or blame survivors for coming forward. Let’s hold each other accountable by calling out the behaviors that keep all of us from feeling safe and healing.
- To survivors: Know that your stories are valuable, your voice is needed, and we are here to support you. Below you’ll find information and organizational supports that are open for survivors to access:
‘me too.’ International serves as a convener, thought leader, and organizer across the mainstream and the grassroots to address systems that allow for the proliferation of sexual violence, specifically in Black, queer, trans, disabled, and all communities of color. Leveraging its model and framework, grounded in existing research and theory, ‘me too.’ centers individual and community healing and transformation, empowerment through empathy, shifting cultural narratives and practices, and advancing a global survivor-led movement to end sexual violence. The ‘me too.’ website has toolkits, a directory, and healing support specialists who can connect survivors with counselors, therapy centers, and other resources. You can get help or find resources by visiting our site at www.metoomvmt.org, or emailing us at email@example.com.
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund™, which is housed at and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund LLC, connects those who experience sexual misconduct including assault, harassment, abuse, and related retaliation in the workplace or in trying to advance their careers with legal and public relations assistance. The Fund helps defray legal and public relations costs in select cases based on criteria and availability of funds. Donations to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund are tax deductible through the TIME’S UP™ Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
Text GET HELP to 306-44 or Call (202) 319-3053 or https://nwlc.org/times-up-legal-defense-fund/
Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline for 24/7 confidential support. 1-800-656-HOPE or https://hotline.rainn.org/online
Tarana Burke, Founder & Executive Director, me too. International
Fatima Goss Graves, Executive Director, National Women’s Law Center
Monifa Bandele, Chief Operating Officer, TIME’S UP Foundation