When A Favorite Goes Full-Blown Problematic

What do you do when a person behind something you support may actually be a scumbag?

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Credit: The artist (via NPR)

This has been helluva week for rape.

First, the past of Nate Parker, director and writer of “Birth of A Nation”, revealed that he was once accused of raping a woman while as a student at Penn State University. Jean McGianni Celestin, a person credited with working on “Nation”, was also charged. Parker did an interview expressing some semblance of remorse but that fell on death ears. It was later discovered that the victim had committed suicide and her family, due to the resurfacing of the event, recently had to come out and make a statement somehow on their behalf.

Parker’s film was set up to be an Oscar contender and a cultural shifter. But now, many folks are refusing to see it. I, like many others, was enraptured by Parker’s ascension in Hollywood, going from a somewhat-known young Black actor to writing and directing the highest bid on movie in Sundance’s history (17.5 million). Now, like others, I am trying to figure out if I should see the movie at all.

On the opposite end, one of Hip-Hop’s brightest talents, Freddie Gibbs, was formally charged with sexually assaulting a woman after one of his shows in Austria. Earlier in the Summer, Gibbs had been arrested on a warrant related to the case and was in jail in France until he was released to Austrian authorities.

When the news of his warrant and initial arrest surfaced, I went into state of disbelief. I’ve been following Gibbs’s career since 2009, watching him go from the blogs to sold-out tours. While I don’t listen to him with the same intensity as I used to (you can read about that HERE), I still felt fortunate to have witnessed his growth as a strong independent rap artist.

Yesterday, when I heard that he was formally charged with sexual assault, I couldn’t help think about his fiancee and daughter. I thought about his career from this point forward, all of his future projects. I even tried to assuage what was going on by saying “it’s just a charge” over and over. But then I realized that I was part of the problem. And that I didn’t want to reconcile with the fact that one of my favorite artists could very well be problematic.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when someone you have supported — with retweets, money and word of mouth — says or does something incredibly stupid. Not only is it an indictment on their character but it starts to feel like an predictor of your own. You almost feel betrayed, as if that person’s decision making affected you on a personal level.

You try to rationalize it, maybe finding a happy place for your thoughts to sit while you figure out how to really feel about what’s happening. Or maybe you’ve decided to leave said person alone, finding what they’ve done too terrible to ignore. Or maybe it’s complete ambivalence: favorites are always going to be problematic because we all are. So why care?

I don’t want to teeter into ambivalence concerning Freddie Gibbs, Nate Parker and other stories about rape and sexual assault however I do find myself going there every time.

A part of me is genuinely upset and disgusted. I have been both sexually assaulted and raped, so it’s personal. But I’m also very much troubled by the conversations surrounding the topic that I believe it’s impairing my judgement to even care. I’m inundated with people’s thoughts about rape that I tune it all out into a space of no care. Maybe I don’t care as an act of self-care, who knows.

But now we have to ask ourselves if we should continue to support someone who made that vicious mistake. Should we go “Birth of a Nation”? Should I buy another Freddie Gibbs album if he happens to be exonerated? Should I care enough about these two people to give them the grace and mercy they, on base, deserve?

I’m a firm believer behind the concepts of grace and mercy. Truthfully, I have benefited from the both of them. Without the two, I may not be here to even write this. I made mistakes in my life that in ways I’m still atoning for. I’ve hurt people, hurt myself. And even in that process, people never ran away from me or treated me like I wasn’t worth saving. In short, someone gave a damn about me. Enough to not hold my past against me because they knew that, maybe, I wasn’t the absolute physical embodiment of my mistakes.

But yet, I understand how it’s hard for all of us to employ that same level of support for everyone else. Especially for someone who physically harmed another human being.

And yet, we still stand by and support institutions who influence a culture built on the idea that someone’s life may not actually matter. We still watch sports, for goodness sake. So where do we draw the line? Where do our moral platitudes begin and end?

That’s where I leave confused. I want to say that I can’t support someone who says or does crappy things. But my actions on the daily say otherwise. Because I’m a flawed creature. Like them?

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