I was only about 5 years old when N.W.A. ruled the airwaves. I vaguely remember hearing their records on the bus rides to and from school in later years. So, I didn’t know the Dr. Dre that made headlines for assaulting women. I didn’t know the Ice Cube who made excuses for calling women “b-tches.” The Dr. Dre I am familiar with is the Dre who produced hits for R&B heavyweights like Mary J. Blige (“Family Affair”) and rappers like Eve (“Satisfaction”), Eminem (“My Name Is”), and 50 Cent (“In Da Club”). The Ice Cube I know made a rather smooth transition into mainstream Hollywood, becoming one of America’s favorite straight-faced actors.
I was too young in 1991 to understand the meaning of some of the rap I heard frequently and later, as a teenager it wasn’t a concern to look at some of my favorite music artists’ histories and personal lives. I had blinders on – as many young people do – and I only cared about their music and style. As an adult, however, the blinders had no choice but to come off.
With the release of the incredibly successful film, Straight Outta Compton this past weekend, Dr. Dre’s history of physical abuse against Black women resurfaced most notably in the reexamining of his brutal assault of DJ Dee Barnes. Activist writer, dream hampton, was the first to call out Dr. Dre for his vicious, unrepentant behavior and while all her points were spot on, the larger hip hop community and Black community barely backed her righteous call for accountability.
Sadly, after reading many of the comments under DJ Dee Barnes’s Gawker.com piece, I realize now, at 29 years old, that not much has changed. On Facebook, Black Girls Rock!, Inc. posted the link to Barnes’s piece and the comments flooded in. I stared in disbelief at the trail of comments that berated and denigrated Barnes for retelling her traumatic experience. My shock was largely due to the internal knowing that many, if not all of us as Black women, have been touched by some form of physical abuse – whether directly or indirectly. We have all either experienced or witnessed the trauma of someone who has survived abuse whether we were aware of it or not. We all are Dee Barnes whether we choose to walk in that conviction or not.
The most popular comments I read were, “She’s just looking for another 15 minutes,” or “How long has it been? She needs to get over it!” or “How long are we supposed to hold people’s past mistakes over their heads?” This is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, it is important to validate the fact that women survivors – in general – are consistently and systematically silenced and the trauma of physical abuse is real and lasting. When you drill down to how this specifically affects Black women and girls, the numbers are higher and the silencing is deafening. Trauma does not have an expiration date. It does not simply disintegrate as the years roll by. Dee Barnes’s life was marred by this attack while Dr. Dre went on to live a commercially successful life. Aside from the lasting physical trauma, Barnes could not work in Hollywood after the attack. This points directly to the fact that violence against Black women affects not only our physical well-being but our ability to survive economically. The correlation between violence and economic injustice among Black women is direct and it is worth revisiting again and again until we understand and pull out the very specific roots that enable this system of oppression. What she experienced was real and that reality has not changed statistically for Black women in the 24 years since Barnes was attacked. So how, pray tell, is she is supposed to “get over it”? How are any of us supposed to get over it?
Secondly, Black women have consistently been targets of hip hop culture. While it is an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality, it is a reality nonetheless. It just is what it is. We have to face it. Some of our favorite rappers are impenitent physical abusers and have won awards for songs that glorify such behavior. Even with all of the evidence right before our eyes, pumping out through the airwaves, we turn a blind eye, afraid to call out what is killing us.
It is disappointing to see Sisters tell another Sister to just “get over it.” “Getting over it” is a constant theme in our community, to push past pain and wrongdoing instead of confronting it, unpacking it, and doing the work to change the culture that allows, nay, encourages barbaric treatment of women. Dre needs to be held accountable. Cosby needs to be held accountable. R. Kelly needs to be held accountable. It doesn’t take away from their creative genius, but it does begin a movement of responsibility within our community and it changes the mindsets that encourage the normalized abuse of Black women and girls. Our capacity to empathize with one another, to facilitate healing space for one another, to do the work to not only heal the wounds but to examine and correct the source of the injury in the first place is what makes us who we are as a people. It is time to truly get back to that not just in word, but in spirit and in deed.