I’ll never forget the feeling I felt when I participated in my first protest. I rushed from my apartment to the Daley Plaza of Chicago to meet up with the group of over 300 activists from all over the city. There’s no denying it, I was angry; I was livid at the seemingly nonstop deaths of my brothers and sisters in the city and nationwide. But I was also invigorated. For not only was I surrounded by people just as angry and determined to make a change as I was, but I was surrounded by many other Black people taking activism into their own hands.
I later learned that many of the Black activities that I saw at that protest and many of the protests I attended following my first were members of a group by the name of Black Youth Project 100, or BYP100. The group defines itself as “an activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people.” As I have gotten more involved with the fight for Black liberation, my connections with BYP100’s Chicago chapter have grown. I learned their marching chants. I signed their petitions.
And, thus, I supported their efforts as they took the streets of Chicago to cry out against police brutality in the wake of the Chicago Police Department’s release of footage showing the execution of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. I admired the efforts of those who challenged systems of power on the front lines in order to bring attention to the disregard held for McDonald’s life and other lives like his. Not long after, I was reading about the protest on my social media timeline and the arrests of activists, namely Malcolm London, a co-chair for BYP100.
It wasn’t long before that same timeline was filled with pleas by activists and artists alike demanding that London be released. “He’s a leader in the community and did nothing wrong,” one tweet read.
I’m not sure if it was my intuition or a signal from a higher power, but I hesitated to share or post anything regarding London’s release. Within an hour, my hesitation was justified.
A Facebook friend and former schoolmate of mine opened up to Facebook, claiming that she was sexually assaulted by London and that seeing everyone’s undying support for him “was nothing short of traumatizing.” The next day, the woman, Kyra*, released an open letter via Facebook for the BYP100 and greater Chicago activist community. “As you may know, I recently disclosed that I am a survivor of a sexual assault perpetrated by your co-chair and regarded community organizer, Malcolm London,” the letter begins.
As the letter reads, Kyra claims three years ago when London was inside her apartment she dosed off and “woke up with Malcolm’s fingers in my vagina.” After asking him to leave and telling him he sexually violated her, “He was apologetic, but did not understand why what he did to me was assault… To this day, he still refers to what occurred between us as ‘a misunderstanding.’” the letter continues.
In all honesty, the further I got through Kyra’s letter, the more disgusted I became. Disgusted that so many people were unknowingly supporting someone who would do that. Disgusted that someone like Kyra was a victim to that kind of abuse. And, most of all, disgusted that an appointed “figurehead” and “leader” in our fight for Black liberation had and has a limited view of what liberation really means.
As Kyra’s letter was reposted and shared by the masses, I thought on the history of this dynamic.
It is often discussed that Black women and femmes are the backbone to the Black revolutionary movement and the fight for justice. The placing of Black men as figureheads in these movements happens just as, if not more, often. What does not get discussed as much as it needs to, however, is the danger of idolization in these scenarios. Malcolm London’s placing as a forefront leader in the Black Lives Matter movement places him on a pedestal and thus makes it hard for him to be seen with any flaws. This concept is not new to the movement. There is very little awareness on Huey Newton’s abusive lifestyle and the trauma he inflicted on other members of the Black Panther Party, yet there is an abundance of imagery of him being a fearless leader. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a serial adulterer and often cheated on his wife Coretta, yet somehow all we ever hear is that he singlehandedly brought Blacks justice during the Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, there continues to be backlash against the victim’s of Bill Cosby’s abuse in the name of not “tearing down the Black man.” Even more recently, Spike Lee’s comments regarding sexual assault on college campuses directly contradict the fact that he is held as a revolutionary and pro-Black filmmaker.
I am, at the very least, disappointed. Not only am I disappointed that these actions are happening and have been happening all in the fraudulent name of “justice,” but more disappointed to know for sure that so many people will run to the rescue of these abusers. So far, all the BYP100 has said on the matter is London’s membership has been suspended. Writing on Facebook, the organization stated “We have been made aware of a sexual assault allegation involving a BYP100 leader. As an organization rooted in a Black queer feminist framework, we take reports of sexual assault extremely seriously. When this allegation came to our attention, we immediately embarked on our accountability process. We are committed to seeing it through.”
Beyond being disappointed, I am done. No longer will I accept the pathetic “Talking about this is just bringing the Black man down,” excuse. No longer will I sit in complicity for the sake of painting a picture of perfection where there is chaos. We do not owe abusers anything. But we do owe the victims and survivors the opportunity to heal in whatever manner needed. We cannot credit our Black women, specifically our Black queer women, for being so supportive and integral in times of liberation while we are simultaneously denying those same women liberation, often from sexual assault and misogyny. All oppression is linked, and I am in no way sorry for calling out these tired intersections of oppression.
Drop the role models. Drop the idolization. Stop giving cookies to those who are doing what they should be in the first place. And, most of all, drop the erasure.
If #ALLBlackLivesMatter, it’s about time that we start acting like it.
*Kyra’s full name has been left out for her safety.