The Demon Within: Black Men, Brilliance, and Diabolical Personalities

by Leah C.K. Lewis

It seems every skeleton in the closets of notable African American men is coming out. Historically, there have been claims of domestic violence against men like Miles Davis, James Brown, Ike Turner, and Bill Withers (who will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015).

In this age of technology, we have photographic proof of Chris Brown’s vicious assault on Rihanna. That was but a precursor to the video of Ray Rice’s knockout blow to the face of his then girlfriend, Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice, as she shortly thereafter became his wife).

The fifteenth year of the twenty-first century appears to be the year the chickens began coming home to roost. While activists took to the streets and shopping districts for die-ins and stopped traffic on highways to protest the unrighteous killings of unarmed African American women, men, and children, twenty or so women have come out to accuse Bill Cosby of rape and sexual assault. Some of the alleged assaults date back as far as the 1960’s and involve the use of illicit drugs. Darren Sharper, who once won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints sits in a Los Angeles jail awaiting trial on rape he allegedly perpetrated with an accomplice and the use of date-rape drugs. Shaper may also be charged in two other jurisdictions—New Orleans and Tempe, Arizona—for similar crimes.

Many years ago, we witnessed assertions of child molestation against R. Kelly and Michael Jackson. Then there is the recent case of child abuse against Adrian Peterson, formerly of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, to which he pleaded no contest.

Lest I forget, James Fortune, the minister and Gospel artist, who was involved in two separate instances—first, sued for child abuse in 2012, and recently, criminally charged with assaulting his wife.

Just days ago, on this very site, I read an article asserting the debauched behavior of the creator and king of AfroBeat, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, long deceased.

Even in light of this litany of sadness, suffering, and degradation, I do not believe for one minute that our men are any more pathological than the men in any other ethnic group. But, really, that is not the issue, is it?

What matters is that something demonic is raging among our people and the bloodletting just does not seem to stop. In the process, families, and individuals are being destroyed along with reputations built on hard work and blessings.

Creative geniuses and athletically gifted men are being exposed as potentially deeply broken vessels.

What are we, their adoring public, expected to do as we watch the media spectacle that becomes their lives? Is it immoral and anti-feminine to appreciate their artistic or athletic gifts? Are we to condemn them in the public square and the market place, especially, when they evade prosecution in the courts?

For each of us it comes down to choice—or better yet, choices. Our ethics and our aesthetics come into play. Can our minds conceive that they committed the acts for which they have been blamed? Do we deem their alleged actions tolerable or morally reprehensible? Do we like their music, their shows, or their team? Can we live without the gifts they bring? We may ask, “What contribution have they made to better the lives of other African Americans?”

We all have a scale against which we weigh egregious behavior. On one side, we place our tolerance and appreciation. On the other side, we place the violations of child molestation, rape, and domestic violence and any other unlawful or immoral deed.

Because we are human, we shutter to think of our own frailties. Because we are human, our emotions often strongly come into play. Because we are human, we often pass judgment, not recognizing that without proof, we do not know with certainty whether the accused is actually guilty because we were not there. Alternatively, we fail to accept that human beings, regardless of their brilliance or our relationship to them, are capable of the diabolical.

As women, we are placed in a quandary when our men endanger us. It would serve us well to develop a personal and collective zero-tolerance policy regarding all types of abuse. Let us not reward bad behavior in any form or fashion. To do so perpetuates our disregard, ill treatment, and exploitation. Since #BlackWomensLivesMatter too, let us hold up a standard against our destruction at the hands of our men and the industries that profit from their abilities.

Leah C.K. Lewis, J.D., M.Div., is a minister, councilwoman, author, and animation producer. She recently completed her dissertation on sex and sexuality in the African American Baptist Church and a manuscript on legal, religious, and political rhetoric pertinent to “race.” Follow her on Twitter @HumanStriving and on

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