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EBONY Attitudes

The #MeToo Movement Through the Black Lens

 #MeToo is arguably one of the country’s most impactful and publicized movements 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.

This movement 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 such as 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?

More important, 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 responses from 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) between viewing it unfavorably or not sure of how they feel about it. Here are some other takeaways:

  • 56 percent state that #MeToo has modified the way they feel about consent
  • 53 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 of study respondents 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. Forty-two percent claim 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? That appears to be the case. Forty-three percent of participants disagree that sexual harassment is less relevant when the accused was of a young age, 28 percent agree and the rest are not sure.

Timing is everything, as they say. The study was split when it comes to sexual misconduct being less relevant if occurring in the far past and not reported at the 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, whereas 35 percent feel it should be limitless.

What about when an alleged victim speaks up? Should he or she be believed? According to the study, 50 percent of African-Americans feel an alleged victim should be given the benefit of the doubt, and only 17 percent disagree.

Many respondents 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, and only 18 percent feel that no one has been unfairly accused.

Some social movements tend to feel like medieval inquisitions. That, however, is 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, 28 percent worry they will be accused.

Back to what’s happening in Olympus

Perhaps times haven’t changed much, at least when it comes to celebrities in the eyes of the African-American public. Forty-three percent feel Clarence Thomas would still be confirmed if Anita Hill came forward with her sexual misconduct allegations now (instead of 1991, although they still caused a huge political, cultural, and media firestorm in America at the time). Having said this, the study finds 63 percent of participants feel 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; 60 percent of respondents claim they still listen to Michael Jackson’s music. Only 30 percent, however, say 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:

  • 43 percent disagree with Bill Cosby’s sentence;
  • 39 percent feel justice was served; and
  • 18 percent are not sure about the verdict.

What will happen with #MeToo?

Slightly more than half, 54 percent, of respondents feel #MeToo will have a lasting impact on culture. This means the movement probably isn’t going anywhere and has legs.

There is also a perception that African-American men will be easier targets as a result of the #MeToo movement. The survey shows that 67 percent of respondents are concerned about Black men being denied due process when they are accused of sexual assault and harassment. Of course, this could stem from African-Americans’ historical experience with the justice system or from witnessing the downfall of top celebrities such as Cosby and Kelly while Caucasian people such as Kevin Spacey and others just go into exile. In fairness, the sexual assault case that sent Cosby to prison predated the movement and was filed as the statute of limitation was expiring.

Nevertheless, it appears #MeToo hasn’t been able to fully alter respondents’ perception of African-Americans we admire or who have made a significant cultural impact in the Black community, evidenced by the reverence still felt about Jackson and Kelly. Then again, many Caucasians will scorn a Harvey Weinstein but 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 perceptions. Maybe author Zadie Smith, who wrote, “The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free,” is right.

What is EBONY Attitudes?

Periodically, EBONY hosts online surveys to measure attitudes about contemporary topics affecting African-Americans. When you sign up, we will only send you invitations to participate in our surveys as well as survey results. Each survey will take fewer than ten minutes to complete. Thanks for signing up and being a part of our research, sign up now.

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