On Nate Parker and Hypocrisy
Last December, I spent the last week of the month ranting about Bill Cosby on my Facebook fan page. His supporters were banned because I was not about to have rape apologists in my space. “Y’all know Cliff Huxtable, not Bill Cosby,” I reminded those who seemed determined to defend the latter because of their fondness for the former.
“Women make false rape accusations less than 2% of the time,” I reminded them, so I was uninterested in speculating that more than dozens of women, some of them famous already, were willing to lie about being violated. Though race is always a factor for Black people, I was unwilling to declare that the historical context of Black men being falsely accused, convicted and even executed for raping white women somehow proved that Cosby was innocent, the victim of a conspiracy to take down a powerful Black man. No, Cosby was never “about to buy NBC.” He wasn’t being sabotaged. He had admitted in a court deposition to drugging women and hinted that ambiguity can be interpreted as consent.
I’d grown up loving The Cosby Show. Yet, I was easily able to divest from Cosby’s cultural value to the Black community. I was unwavering in my stance, a position made easier by the fact that I had written Cosby off back in 2004 when he had lambasted Black people, blaming victims of police brutality and poverty for their own conditions, in his infamous “Pound Cake” speech.
I’d taken similar positions easily before. My car’s radio hasn’t played an R. Kelly track since he was exposed as an alleged pedophile. I opted not to see “Straight Outta Compton” after friends pulled receipts about NWA’s ignored legacy of promoting misogynoir and rape culture. Growing into my Black womanhood, I’ve prided myself on rejecting the blind, unyielding loyalty to Black men that Black women are groomed to give. I decided that I would never condone, uphold or silently acquiesce to Black men preying on women and girls because of the perceived value of their work to Black culture.
Until this week.
If asked if I had upheld the promise I’d made to myself to hold Black men accountable for their abusive, immoral and criminal behavior, I would answered arrogantly affirmatively that I had.
That all changed when stories about Nate Parker allegedly raping and stalking a woman 17 years ago resurfaced.
Since the first promotional photos of Parker’s Nat Turner biopic, The Birth of a Nation, were released, I’ve anticipated seeing that film. Weary of portrayals of docile Black people, content to endure racist terrorism and persecution non-violently, I was ecstatic about Turner’s story finally being told. When the trailer was finally released, I watched it over and over and over. I have never been so moved. I was ready to see this movie.
Between the time the film was announced and when I finally saw the trailer, I’d seen articles about Parker’s rape case shared too. A friend has been passionately vocal about how Parker has not been made to answer for the incident and seemed easily able to redeem himself. I skimmed one article and closed it.
Then, this week, a new story was trending on my timeline. Parker’s accuser’s brother had revealed that the woman was never able to recover from the trauma of the incident. The grief had caused her to commit suicide, he said. I read the story tearfully.
Wednesday, I woke to a post from Parker, defending himself from the allegations while craftily all but admitting some culpability, saying that while he maintains that “the encounter was unambiguously consensual,” he “should have used more wisdom.” The actor went on to explain how he should have been more empathetic as he “fought to clear his name,” concluding that “there are wounds that neither time nor wounds can heal.” To me, Parker’s statement, strategically compassionate and well-written, was an indictment.
His words weren’t an indictment of him, as I’d accepted the victim’s story. Rather, his words exposed and indicted my own hypocrisy as I sanctimoniously flexed my integrity, haranguing Black people for the rape apologism that contributes to the culture of sexual abuse and exploitation of Black women, while sticking my fingers in my ears when talk to turned to Parker. Having the courage of my conviction was easy when I there was no conflict of interest. Whatever impact The Cosby Show had on me had long ago reached its zenith.
But Parker held the story of revolution I craved.
I had convinced myself that not making any further public endorsement of the film was enough. I planned to see it quietly. No one had to know that I supported Nate Parker. I have never been a fan of his. I don’t remember seeing any of his films. I was supporting the story, not the storyteller. The neutrality I detest in others was suddenly not so bad.
I, a Black woman, all too familiar with being preyed upon, stalked and even violated by a Black man, was satisfied to ignore this woman’s story, having persuaded myself that this one time, the fact that the accused wasn’t convicted was enough to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Just this once, the stone wall I usually erected for victims of assault crumbled. Just this once, maybe enough time had passed.
Just this once, the conspiracy theories about the powers that be attempting to take down a Black man who was attempting to bring positive representation of Blackness to the media didn’t seem quite as ludicrous to me. I soothed my conscious with all of the morally repugnant arguments I had decimated when presented with them in the face of Cosby. Gradually, but not unconsciously, I had become privately what I loathed publicly.
And now, standing again after I have fallen from the high horse I was rode so proudly, starts with me first accepting that art and artist are inseparable. As invaluable as Turner’s story is to me, it is not worth my conscience. I cannot afford the price of hypocrisy.
LaSha is a writer and blogger who is passionate about Black people. Find her on Twitter @knflkkollective.