Gabrielle Union has a long history of speaking out against sexual predators. The Being Mary Jane star has been forthcoming about her own sexual assault in interviews and her new memoir, We’re Going To Need More Wine. Union’s had to be because, as she recently pointed out to the New York Times, media coverage of sexual assault is decidedly skewed and offers much more reporting of victims who are white women.
Like so many of us, Union saw the #MeToo hashtag garnering traction anew in the wake of the two exposés on Harvey Weinstein’s litany of sexual harassment and assault allegations. The actress and author was asked about it while on Good Morning America, where, as a survivor, she says her PTSD manifested again. Union admits that all the physical interaction on her book tour has been very difficult. But she’s pressed on, in part because she feels a certain obligation as white women continue to be centered in the near-daily disclosures and thinkpieces.
Not to diminish anyone’s trauma, but the voices of black women and women of color need to be heard just as loudly and clearly in this discussion of rape culture and consequences for abusers. And right now, Union said, “I think the floodgates have opened for white women.” She continued: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”
It’s no coincidence that the only new account of coercion that Weinstein attempted to refute—from rehab, no less—was Lupita Nyong’o’s. As The Root’s Ida Harris writes, “sexual violence is projected onto black girls at a higher rate than it is onto other races and ethnicities,” citing the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. But the media affords only a fraction of the airtime or digital ink to telling those stories: “For black girls, there is no black collective rallying against these crimes. There is no public shaming or takedown of sexual violators, because society gives zero fucks, and the black community protects its villains and devalues its girls.”
Even continued coverage of R. Kelly’s inappropriate sexual behavior and past allegations is more of a torch being carried by veteran journalist Jim DeRogatis than it is national news. And it’s not enough to keep people from collaborating with the R&B singer, not even rape survivor and rape survivor advocate Lady Gaga. Harris wonders, is it because his known victims are black girls and women?
This doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any outcry, but it’s overwhelmingly come from black women. Along with Union, Tarana Burke has been raising awareness of sexual violence against black girls. She’s the founder of the #MeToo movement, which has either been co-opted or expanded, depending on how you look at it, to include all victims of sexual assault. On the one hand, more awareness and support is always good, and sexual assault is certainly not limited to any one demographic. On the other, you have Alyssa Milano, who tweeted out the hashtag, thereby giving it a new boost, speaking over Burke in a joint interview. The actress is obviously well meaning, but at the same time, it’s another unfortunate example of black women being marginalized.
In the Times’ profile, Union also points out that if the actresses who’d come forward about Weinstein’s hotel ploys “hadn’t been Hollywood royalty” or “approachable,” if they “hadn’t been people who have had access to parts and roles and true inclusion in Hollywood, would we have believed?” That statement applies to all survivors, as there’s strict criteria, including class and race, for who we believe or whose assaults we take most seriously. But now that there is some serious traction, Union wonders: “When we have the microphone, how often do we pass it back to the people who are experiencing a different challenge, but who are equally worthy as having the microphone?”
[Note: The Root, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.]