#MeToo is arguably the most impactful and publicized movement in recent times. It has brought down kings and made new queens who wear thorny crowns of past trauma. It has radically changed pop culture dialogue while deconstructing rules of interpersonal engagement in all mediums.
#MeToo has affected African American kingdoms as well, or more like razed them with results that are still unclear. After all, the fall was swift for seemingly invincible royalty like R. Kelly and Bill Cosby — yet, somehow, Clarence Thomas still sits upon a throne of laws in Washington. Does Cardi B deserve a reckoning for actions that parallel the ones of both Kelly and Cosby? Is Herman Cain’s entrance to the Federal Reserve a testament of private atonement or public amnesia? Should Morgan Freeman stay a free man due to being grandfathered by lesser sexual offenses?
More importantly, how is #MeToo affecting African Americans who live real lives beyond the Empire-esque domains of music, politics, and Hollywood?
The answer is found in a recent EBONY/QuestionPro survey. The study consists of more than 700 African Americans of both sexes and across all demographics.
How do African Americans view #MeToo?
A majority of respondents (60 percent) have a favorable view of the movement, with the rest split evenly (19 percent) as viewing it unfavorable or not sure. Here are some other takeaways:
- Fifty-six percent state that #MeToo has modified the way they feel about consent
- Fifty-three percent say their views on sexual harassment have changed in the past few years because of the movement.
- The impact of #MeToo has been so considerable that 50 percent in the study claim they are very cautious now when bringing up sexual subjects in a group setting.
- To wit, #MeToo has both the attention and the consent of the African American population.
And it’s certainly a movement largely created and driven by women, in the minds of African Americans. The majority of respondents (Forty-two percent) claim that sexual misconduct impacts females more than males, while 33 percent claim it affects men more.
How the rules have changed
Are the days of the “youthful indiscretion” defense over? It appears to be the case. A majority (43 percent) of participants disagree that sexual harassment is less relevant when the accused was young — with 28 percent agreeing and the rest not sure.
Timing is everything, as they say. The study was split when it comes to sexual misconduct being less relevant of occurring in the far past and not reported on time – with 38 percent disagreeing, 31 percent agreeing, and 30 percent not sure/neither agreeing nor disagreeing. At the same time, 43 percent say there ought to be a statute of limitations for sexual misconduct complaints, while 35 percent feel it should be limitless.
What about when an alleged victim speaks up? Should they be believed? According to the study, 50 percent of African Americans feel an alleged victim should be given the benefit of the doubt, with only 17 percent disagreeing.
However, many African Americans feel that perhaps too many eggs might be breaking to make this cultural omelet. Forty-four percent strongly agree/somewhat agree that some individuals have been unfairly accused of sexual misconduct, while only 18 percent felt that no one had been wrongfully accused.
Some social movements tend to feel like medieval inquisitions. That’s not the perception of African Americans when it comes to #MeToo: 42 percent say they don’t worry about being unfairly accused of sexual misconduct, with 28 percent worried they will be accused.
Back to what’s happening in Olympus
Perhaps times haven’t changed as much, at least when it comes to celebrities in the eye of the African American public. A majority of respondents (43 percent) feel that Clarence Thomas would still be confirmed if Anita Hill had come out today with her sexual misconduct allegations (instead of 1991, although they still caused a huge political, cultural, and media firestorm in America). Having said this, the study found that 63 percent of participants feel that sexual harassment in the workplace remains a key issue today.
Forty-seven percent of participants state they still listen to R. Kelly’s music. The King of Pop is still the king, though, with 60 percent of respondents claiming they still listen to the music of Michael Jackson. However, only 30 percent state that they would still support a successful artist if sexual misconduct charges surfaced.
When it comes to America’s Dad, African American loyalty is more divided:
- Forty-three percent disagree with Bill Cosby’s sentence
- Thirty-nine percent feel justice was served
- Eighteen percent are not sure about the verdict
What will happen with #MeToo?
Fifty-four percent of respondents feel that #MeToo will have a lasting impact on culture. This means the movement probably isn’t going anywhere and has legs.
There is a perception that perhaps African American men will be easier targets, as a result of the #MeToo movement. The survey shows that 67% of respondents are concerned with Black men being denied due process when they are accused of sexual assaults and harassment. Of course, this could stem from African American’s historical experience with the justice system or by witnessing the downfall of top celebrities like Cosby and R Kelly, while people like Kevin Spacey and others go into exile. In fairness, the sexual assault case that sent Cosby to prison pre-dated the movement and was filed as the statute of limitation was expiring.
Nevertheless, it appears #MeToo hasn’t been able to fully alter the perception of African Americans towards those we admire or made a significant cultural impact in the African American community – as seen by the reverence still given towards Jackson and Kelly, as well as the blind spots towards Thomas and Cosby. Then again, many Caucasians will scorn a Harvey Weinstein and then coddle a Donald Trump when it comes to sexual misconduct.
Regardless of race, it’s hard to let go of those we admire and love when they shatter our expectations. Their public betrayals and crimes often fog our own perception. Maybe author Zadie Smith is right when she wrote, “The great lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.”
Maybe we are trapped by the love of our kings and queens, but hopefully, the truths of #MeToo will set free more African American women on the ground.