I hate when celebrities die. Particularly prominent male figures in the Black community. Not only is the loss of their life tragic, seeing the ugliness that manifests as a result of these unearthed feelings is too much to witness. If you’ve experienced a significant loss, perhaps you’ve seen the unresolved issues, the general messiness and family drama that can accompany funerals. And grieving a public figure with the entire Black community only magnifies the dysfunction a million fold.
From the moment the reality of Kobe Bryant’s passing set in, people were discussing his rape case. White women wanted us to contend with this part of his life in addition to his greatness. Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo and a sexual assault survivor herself, had a response that best aligned with my own thinking. After posting a graphic on social media about how to take care of yourself when the news is difficult, a woman asked her if she’d forgotten about Kobe’s 2003 incident, in which a young White woman claimed the NBA star raped her.
Burke had a response that best aligned with how I was feeling in the moment.
“…Yes I remember what happened in 2003 but I’m not sure how it is helpful to revisit it *today* while so many folks are in shock and mourning. It felt appropriate to do my best to be supportive of folks who were struggling today—however that struggle has manifested. We are human beings. We have multitudes.”
Her response illustrated another clear line of demarcation in the way Black women and White women handle death and alleged sexual assault. For Black women, Black men are complex human beings. And for many White women, Black men are hypersexualized brutes and nothing more, even in death. While Black women were able to simultaneously mourn a great man and hold space for victims who might have trouble seeing him glorified despite the allegations, White women wanted the story of the 2003 incident to dominate the narrative of not only his tragic death but that of his daughter and the 7 other victims who lost their lives with him.
It was with this conversation in the atmosphere that Gayle King sat down to speak to WNBA legend and friend of Kobe Bryant, Lisa Leslie.
In a clip that has since gone viral, King asks Leslie a string of questions about the alleged assault and whether or not it taints Kobe’s legacy.
When I watched the video, I thought the line of questioning was inappropriate past a certain point. I felt it was fair for Gayle to ask Lisa if she felt Kobe’s legacy was complicated. That is the national conversation happening right now and to me, it seemed as if Gayle wanted Leslie’s take on that topic.
And I thought it should have ended there. Any further prodding seemed like overkill. Because more than anything, I don’t know what they expected a friend in mourning to say about someone they loved or cared about. And that to me was what made it inappropriate.
We can debate all day and night about the proper time to speak or not speak about the rape allegations. But this conversation that Gayle had would have been much more valuable with a sexual assault survivor or activist like Tarana Burke, who could speak to the nuances, Kobe’s humanity and life after the incident, as well as the larger more important issue of dismantling rape culture, without someone’s tragic death being the backdrop.
I recognized that Gayle had taken things too far. But what I couldn’t have anticipated was the backlash. First there was Ari Lennox who argued that Oprah and Gayle, who she repeatedly and unamusingly called Okra and Kale, were going out of their way to tear down the legacies of Black men.
I can only assume that she meant Oprah’s participation in the Russell Simmons’ documentary and her interview with the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children.
Russell, Kobe and Michael have all been accused of sexual assault. But there are great distinctions between these men. Kobe’s situation of a singular incident that, as far as we know, was never repeated again. He publicly acknowledged his responsibility in the situation and there were no additional reports about him. While both Russell and Michael’s legacies are indeed tainted with decades worth of accusations and personal accounts of the abuse they experienced at the hands of these men.
I would like to tell Ari, who has dealt first hand with hurtful Black men, that there is nothing wrong with defending our brothers. Just make sure you pick the right ones.
Since Ari, Matt Barnes, Boosie, LeBron James, and a slew of other Black men, in and out of the public eye, have lent their voices to the chorus in an effort to tear down Gayle.
But the loudest voice was rapper Snoop Dogg who offered up the most disrespectful response of them all, calling Gayle “a funky, dog-head b*tch” and a punk muthaf*cka.”
Later, he likened Gayle to Chewbacca, asking that we trade her for Nancy Pelosi. Black men in his comments, including Killer Mike, Deion Sanders ,Chuck D. and more agreed.
Ironically, Snoop began his video saying that “we the worst.” I guess he meant Black people at large but he could have and should have been talking about himself, Black men and the wayward women who support their abuse.
I get that people thought the line of questioning was inappropriate. I understand that they didn’t feel it was the right time and that Gayle was disrespecting the family. But the attacks on her appearance and calling her out of her name are far more disrespectful than Gayle’s initial offense. And it only demonstrates a sad truth. That Black men sit ready and waiting for any opportunity to deride a Black woman. Gayle King is far from the only Black woman he’s used his platform to speak against. I unfollowed him a few months ago, recognizing a disturbing pattern.
But for the most part we interpret all of this as fun and games because Black women are easy targets. And Uncle Snoop’s eagerness to put Gayle in her place–and the community celebration of it– gave permission for the everyday Black man on the street or on social media to do the exact same thing when a Black woman says or does something he doesn’t like. For as much as the entire community rallies to hold Black men up, we witness the same type of unity when it comes time to tear a Black woman down. And not only is it incredibly unfair, it’s hurtful.
Countless Black men have said and done far worse, publicly, but if their victims weren’t Black men, Snoop and the Black men like him have had little to say about it.
The fact of the matter is Black men like Snoop don’t want anyone to ever portray a narrative that positions beloved Black men in a less than deified light. Men like Snoop don’t feel like a conversation about rape culture, regardless of the man accused, is ever necessary. Kobe Bryant aside, there is no desire to see any Black men held accountable. Not only does his own questionable behavior speak to this but there’s also the fact that since the release of that video, Snoop started defending Bill Cosby. For all of his greatness, Bill Cosby is a convicted rapist with over 50 + women, Black and White alike, testifying that he drugged them in order to rape their unconscious or semi-conscious bodies. But Snoop is bragging on the fact that Cosby commended him from prison.
That shows you where his head and heart were. This wasn’t about Gayle and Kobe. It was about the protection of Black men, even those who have every reason to be called out.
Our community has a tendency of likening the treatment of evil Black men to the treatment of evil White men, wondering why Black men are treated more severely. We all know the answer to that. But the real question is, why are we using evil White men as the standard for our morality? Black men like Snoop don’t want Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey or any of the others to be held accountable, they want Black men to attain enough power to avoid consequences. They want to be White men, powerful and privileged enough to harm others without retribution.
In the days since her interview went viral and Snoop released his own video, Gayle King has received death threats. According to Oprah, she’s not doing well. As a community who claims to respect life and legacy, I wish that same consideration had been extended to Gayle.
As I mentioned earlier, death has the tendency to unearth unhealed and unaddressed wounds. And sadly, in the midst of our collective grief of Kobe and his daughter, we also must grapple with the fact that our own brothers don’t seem to be invested in protecting and supporting us in the way we do them.