Dear Russell Simmons: #YesYou
#YesYou, because unless you have been actively engaged in teaching men about rape culture and how to end it, you are not doing nearly enough.
By Da’Shaun Harrison
Very powerful men have been under scrutiny recently for their perpetuation of sexual violence against women, femmes, men and otherwise queer bodies. We have read disheartening testimonies from many accusers of some of Hollywood’s most esteemed actors and producers, like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
We have heard from brave women about their non-consensual interactions with politicians like Roy Moore and Al Franken. We have even read stories about acclaimed television journalists such as Matt Lauer. Each of these men have either not responded to the allegations made against them or, alternatively, have chosen to deny some or all of them. In more current news, however, we have heard allegations about respected men in the music industry and their sexual misconduct.
A month ago, Russell Simmons’ first accuser came forward with her story. Since then, he has been accused by at least eight other women of sexual harassment and sexual assault. On December 14, Simmons posted a photo on Instagram where he responded to the allegations against him. Just like many of the other men who were accused, Simmons denied each allegation. However, his denial was more than just a simple statement made for optics and to protect his brand.
Simmons’ response, which he linked to the hashtag #NotMe, is a blatant attempt at silencing the voices of women and men who have been courageous enough to share deeply personal traumas with the world through the hashtag #MeToo—a campaign started by Tarana Burke ten years ago. In his statement, he wrote “my intention is not to diminish the #MeToo movement in anyway, but instead hold my accusers accountable. …It’s just a statement about my innocence.”
I understand rape to be a product of capitalism, and capitalism to be a system in which people—powerful people—enact violence to gain total control over a person/place/thing; power that allows them to take bold stances to silence survivors even when all evidence shows that only 2%-10% of rape allegations are false, and that 63% of survivors don’t ever report. This means that even if Simmons’ intent was not to diminish the work behind #MeToo, or silence the voices which contribute to it, he did so through adding to the dangerous narrative that survivors live with any reason to falsely accuse anyone of being a perpetrator.
In the unlikely case that all or some of the allegations against Simmons are in fact untrue, he should have instead worked with his legal team to present the proof of his innocence that he claimed in his Instagram post. Instead, he created a counter-narrative aiding in the tired rhetoric used to keep survivors from ever speaking up.
So, #YesYou, because for as long as we live in a patriarchal, cisheterosexist society all men have a stake in rape culture and must consistently work to counteract it. #YesYou, because the proper response from anyone who has been accused of sexual violence should be focused on the healing of the survivor and not removing the mic from the mouth with which they speak. #YesYou, because the only people who should be “held accountable” following an allegation should be the accused. #YesYou, because irrespective of whether or not you are innocent of accusations, there should be a commitment to amplifying the voices of survivors. #YesYou, because unless you have been actively engaged in teaching men about rape culture and how to end it, you are not doing nearly enough. Unless and until men, specifically, commit wholly to eradicating patriarchy and the many systemic pillars that hold it up, #NotMe will never been an acceptable response to allegations and #YesYou will be applied across the board.
Author Bio: Da’Shaun L. Harrison serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Queer Black Millennial. He is a 21-year-old sociology student at Morehouse College. Harrison is Black and Queer abolitionist, organizer, and socialist.