Nicole Vassell, The independent
Earlier this week, when a New York jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape in the third degree, there was something of a collective sigh of relief across the internet and the news-reading public who’d been keeping up with this story since it first broke in October 2017.
Finally, after years of making the lives of women in Hollywood hell, a slice of justice – and a landmark moment in the #MeToo timeline. With the claims against the former producer having triggered a snowball effect of men in the entertainment industry and elsewhere being held to account for often decades-worth of abuses, seeing Weinstein convicted gives us a reason to exhale.
However, now that Weinstein has been found guilty, let’s observe a moment of silence for those who no longer have their go-to line of defence for the convicted crimes of Bill Cosby. As with the collapse of this major name in the line-up of famous abusers, so falls the argument that some have used to defend Cosby, who is currently serving time in prison for the drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand.
There have been a number of those who have defended the likes of Cosby by using Weinstein’s lack of conviction as a point to fall back on when black male celebrities are also in the firing line for these crimes; people have used Weinstein’s former freedom as a rebuttal and an example of racism unfairly dethroning a black person of influence. R Kelly, who is currently in custody facing federal charges that include child pornography, kidnapping and forced labour, is another figure who has been defended by fans with the Weinstein excuse – “Why should Weinstein be walking free, when R Kelly isn’t?”
However, this logic is fundamentally flawed. Declaring Cosby’s sentencing unjust as compared to that of a white man’s implies that he deserves the chance to escape prosecution. It’s not an argument borne out of concern for the accusers, it’s one that wants him to be afforded the privilege to abuse without criminal punishment – and it’s unacceptable.
To watch people I admire fall on their own swords in this way has been disappointing, to say the least. Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu and Taraji P Henson are examples of celebrities who’ve used the “What about Weinstein?” line as a reaction to black men in entertainment being accused of crimes. And in some senses, you can see where this desire to defend black icons comes from – the years of entertainment or the ways they’ve broken ground for those who’ve come after them. However, this is in no way worth the expense of the people who have directly suffered as a result of their actions.
It is hard enough for people to come forward about sexual abuse without people online continuing to stand up for an abuser’s “greatness”, and moving the conversation back to the value of their work.
I’ll be among the first to proudly call out discrimination when it happens to people of colour – black people in particular – because the fact remains that systemic racism means black people are overpoliced, and often face tougher sentences than their white counterparts for the same crimes. However, this isn’t an instance that holds up to the same examination. There are plenty of privileges that black people are denied, but the right to assault without facing justice isn’t one worth fighting for.
If your first reaction to hearing about the harmful acts of black icons, even with dozens of testimonies standing as evidence, was to ask “What about Weinstein?”, it’s essential to question where this concern was truly coming from. Whether it’s Weinstein or Cosby in the docks, the survivors’ testimonies are equally horrific and deserving of justice.
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