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The Problem With ‘Skinfolk Passes’ For Predators

flickr/Ted Eytan

Justice for sexual abuse victims is not ‘lynching.’

Since last week I’ve been wondering one thing: Can Black people stop giving out Skinfolk Passes to people who behave horrifically? And in particular, to predatory men?

Within the African-American community, “skinfolk” refers to other Black people — those who share your racial background. Ostensibly we share a bittersweet bond that comes from having common experiences as marginalized people.

But in the wake of the Cosby verdict and the movement to #MuteRKelly, some people have used racial solidarity to justify giving these men an absolute pardon for their actions — excusing them based on little more than the fact that they’re Black.

Due Process Is Needed For Sexual Harassment Accusations — But For Whom?

Recently, a stunning verdict was announced: Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, an unfortunately rare conviction. Apart from a few news clips, I didn’t pay any attention to people’s reactions. Yet through the magic of social media, I found a video about the case from author and speaker Dr. Boyce Watkins: “Bill Cosby is being publicly lynched, but this Black woman is who you all will be afraid to hear.”

The first part of the title stopped me cold.

Some people have used racial solidarity to justify giving these men an absolute pardon for their actions. Click To Tweet

In his video, Dr. Watkins featured a YouTuber who expressed a point of view that he supported: Because of racism and inequities in the justice system, Black people are disproportionately charged for crimes and given harsher sentences than their white counterparts. It’s an argument multiple studies have supported. However, he used this evidence to draw the conclusion that, because of this imbalance, Mr. Cosby doesn’t deserve the punishment that he received.

Bill Cosby isn’t the only person people like Dr. Watkins are defending. Last Monday, the Time’s Up movement declared its support of women of color and #MuteRKelly — a campaign calling for the end of the music industry’s support of Robert “R” Kelly, an artist who has faced multiple allegations of predatory behavior throughout his career, particularly against underage Black girls.

No, Youth Is Never An Excuse For Sexual Assault

In light of Time’s Up’s stance, Kelly shared a statement which included the following words:

“We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to [African-American] culture.”

Overall, I’m disgusted. But I’m also confused. Why are these men and their supporters so committed to saying that they’re being “lynched” or otherwise persecuted?

Via Twitter

In his video, Dr. Watkins made a point of recalling that lynching victims were unjustly executed for imaginary crimes, while their white attackers literally got away with murder. Therefore, according to him, as it was then, so it must be now — the Black men in question are always innocent victims of a white conspiracy.

That would make sense, if it weren’t for the fact that Mr. Cosby was held accountable according to the law. He was tried via due process — not malicious rumors. And although many of Mr. Cosby’s victims were white, Mr. Kelly’s are not. What’s the reason behind claiming “lynching” in his defense? In both cases, the evidence is there, and to compare the actions of a man (or one’s own actions), to innocent men and women being brutally murdered? That’s nothing more than a farce and a sign of how delusional you’ve become.

Let’s Expose The White Double Standard For ‘Playing The Race Card’

I’m at a loss when it comes to understanding why these men think it’s appropriate to use this language. I can only assume that they’re panicking — it’s probably jarring for them be dethroned after years of protected status as cultural demigods, and for their fans to see that happen to men they once idolized. In an attempt to throw their supporters a last lifeline, they’ve turned to an image that will win them as much sympathy as possible. They’ve decided to lean on the most triggering idea that they can think of — the image of a Black man being lynched. And who, in their right mind, would want to see their heroes meet such a horrible fate?

It’s true that these men are not exempt from being oppressed. However it is important to note that they are still men, susceptible to misogynistic thinking and habits.

Too often, the media overlooks positive Black role models. Therefore, it’s easy to want to get behind a gifted comedian or musician. Especially ones as widely-loved as Kelly and Cosby were. As recently as this weekend, in stories about his conviction, Bill Cosby was referred to as “America’s Dad.” Fans will likely remember that R. Kelly was the “Pied Piper of R&B” — a moniker that seems especially sinister in light of his reputation.

And I know the type of world we live in. The justice system is corrupt. The school-to-prison pipeline shows no signs of slowing down, and victims of police violence become hashtags on an almost weekly basis. Yet a person’s status as a victim of oppression shouldn’t grant them immunity from suffering the consequences of their actions. It can’t and shouldn’t absolve someone from being punished for committing acts of evil. After years of being persecuted through racism and its manifestations, we, Black people, deserve a reprieve from being endangered. But Bill and Robert aren’t it.