‘Russell Simmons Raped Me.’ Will Black Women Always Be an Afterthought?
Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
In 1962, Malcolm X said: “The most disrespectful person in America is the black. The most vulnerable person in America is the black one. The most neglected person in America is the black woman. "
In 2020 it is still true. Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her home on March 13, and the people who shot and killed her are still roaming freely. I was raped by Russell Simmons and the world is still giving him a platform to spread his myths, distortions, and lies, while Russell and I have reportedly been raped and 12 other women brutally sexually assaulted for being taken seriously . Black women and girls are always an afterthought when they are victims of crime.
Russell and I made an appointment in 1990 and when he later invited me to visit his apartment, he pinned me on the wall and raped me after I explicitly said no and asked him to stop. Sherri Hines was a teenager and aspiring singer in the first all-female hip-hop group in the early 80s when she said she was attacked by Russell. Drew Dixon was a producer of platinum-selling albums when she said Russell violently raped her and ran around her office the following week as if nothing had happened. Def Jam's assistant, Sil Lai Abrams, tried to kill herself the morning after Russell allegedly raped her in 1994. There are more, and maybe some, whose names we will never know.
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From the moment I told how Russell Simmons raped me, others accused me: Why didn't you report right away? It is sometimes asked with real curiosity, but most of the time the question itself is an indication of suspicion. The answer is simple: victims of sexual assault know that they are not believed. Experiencing worse than the rape trauma is said to never have happened.
But for the victims of Russell Simmons - mostly young black women - it's not just the knowledge that we're not going to believe. It is the knowledge that because we are black, we may not even be heard.
Most American systems fail black women every day by not believing us or taking our pain seriously or not raising our names when our pain is proven. When I witnessed the double traumas of COVID-19 and racial injustices in our community in the past weeks and months, I was reminded of how insidious this minimization of our truths is in almost every part of life.
Accused serial rapist Russell Simmons
Scott Gries / Getty
Sometimes we know we're sick just to find out we're fine. In Brooklyn, Rana Zoe Mungin, a healthy 30-year-old high school teacher and black woman, died of COVID-19 in April after being rejected for a test twice. In Detroit, healthcare worker Deborah Gatewood was denied a virus test four times and sent home three times from the hospital where she worked. After she was finally taken in at a temperature of 106 degrees, she died.
This should not surprise anyone who knows the research. Black patients are less likely to receive pain relievers from doctors. A full 40 percent of medical students in their first and second year in a 2016 study said blacks had “thicker skin” and felt less pain than whites. These racist prejudices mean that black college educated mothers are more likely to die or have severe pregnancy or birth complications than white women who have never graduated from high school - in other words, you can't attribute it to socioeconomics.
If you were born and raised in systems that you minimize based on your skin color - and you see that stories of women killed by the police barely affect public awareness - commit yourself to being incredulous or accused to act against you in your own self-interest. This is partly why only 1 in 15 raped black women report this.
There is another reason why I and, I suspect, many black women are silent: silence is our code. We are conditioned and doomed to protect black men to the detriment of our own lives and to give up our happiness, mental health and well-being so black men can thrive and achieve their goals. After all, they are the hunted in America and can rarely be great.
But when I look at the stories about black mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and daughters who die from COVID-19 and I see how we have to remind the world about Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, Riah Milton and Dominique 'Mie' Fells, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson and Rekia Boyd, I see that this silence - whether we fear not to be believed in rape or illness and pain - is itself a virus. And it has to end.
Is it fair that we have to demand justice or use energy to convince others that one of the worst things in our lives is real? No. But my father was the lawyer of Martin Luther King Jr., and I grew up knowing that equality is a constant struggle. So I'll scream as long as necessary until the day black women are respected, protected, and heard - and those who would deny us our truths will be drowned out by the strength of our voices.
Alexia Norton Jones is a bestselling author, poet, literary agent and former actress. It is represented by the TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund
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