On Kehlani, the Shaming of Black Women and Black Male Accountability

 photo Kehlani 1.jpg
by Tajh Sutton @afrocenCHICK

I was late to the party when the beautiful, talented Kehlani tried to take her own life Monday evening.

I first heard about a “pop star suicide attempt” in passing while TMZ was playing on the television during a visit to my mother-in-law in Fort Greene. Then, while scrolling through Facebook later that evening, I saw a Blavity post about Nick Cannon visiting Kehlani in the hospital. I may not know the singer personally, but anytime a life is saved, I consider that a beautiful thing. I recognized her name, and although I'm not very familiar with her music, I have been a fan of her style for a while.

Upon checking out some of her music, it dawned on me that baby girl might be super bad and tatted up, but she's going through the same things every other 20 year old woman goes through.
I found a particularly disrespectful round up of tweets in one article that suggested that not only is Kehlani a “hoe,” but that any woman “defending her” was a hoe as well. This infuriated me.

While back tracking through news stories and blogs online, it became clear that a variety of societal ills and people were to blame for this life almost being lost. We could place all the blame on toxic masculinity and cyber bullying, but there is a particular group of people involved in the situation that were not only silent, but also complicit in creating the misogynistic framing of the entire episode—Black men.

It is high time that our brothers realize the impact of their words, attitudes and behavior, in seriousness or jest, when it comes to Black women, and it is imperative that they take a stand in our defense when we are attacked on any basis, but especially when it is because we were
“theirs” at some point and moved on.

Party Next Door, Kehlani's self-professed first love, posted a photo on his Instagram of the two holding hands in bed with the caption “After all her shenanigans, I got the r&b singer back in my bed.”

Let's examine that.

I can tell you plainly that I don't know Kehlani, Kyrie Irving or Party Next Door personally. I will never be privy to the ins, outs and intricacies of their relationship. For all I know, Party Next Door is as deeply in love with Kehlani as she is with him. That is my hope, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. This post may very well have been his expression of that love, passion and excitement about getting back together with the one that got away.

But we need to look at the language here.

Party Next Door could have announced to the world in a multitude of ways that he and Kehlani were back together and he chose the most sexual, possessive, minimizing language humanly possible to describe his reunion with a woman he supposedly loves. The post starts out insinuating that Kehlani was the reason for their break up. It was her “shenanigans” that caused her to wind up with someone else. But in spite of that, she was back in bed with her ex. Not in his arms. Not in his life. In his bed. They may not have even done anything intimate during the time the photo was taken but with this phrasing, he sends a message of blame and ownership. It suggests they had sex. As if he was trying to say “she was fucking up but she's still mine and I hit that- ha ha.”

That is a dangerous way to present your reunion with a black woman in the public eye to the world. Kehlani was in another high profile relationship, and Party Next Door’s words promote violent, dehumanizing language in the name of subtly shaming a woman, giving outsiders permission to be outright disrespectful because we have now collectively decided she is a “thot.”

Men and women in relationships are partners, and the moment you engage in shaming a woman for exercising her freedom as a result of your perceived lack of allegiance to her counterpart, past or present, you are actively engaging in misogyny. In the case of Black women there is a particularly violent and disrespectful way they are shamed as a direct result of prevalent notions suggesting we are simultaneously undesirable and hyper sexual. “How dare this b*tch. She's lucky he even looked her way! But you know how ‘they are.’”

Party Next Door set her up for this.

He may love her, but we need to acknowledge the tendency of men, even when they are in love or a relationship, to act and speak about the women in their lives as though they are property- and/or disposable. Party Next Door, and all men who claim to be in love with black women, need to be accountable for how their language perpetuates and reinforces misogyny, intentionally or unintentionally.
We see it all the time. Black man loves black woman. Black woman loves black man. Black man and black woman are no longer in love/break up. Black man all of a sudden never thought she was shit anyway. Black woman moves on. Black man suddenly recalls how much of a bitch/ho/lame Black woman is and actually always was. Black community comes to defense of black man and shames black woman for being “loose” and a “hoe” and moving on “too fast.” Meanwhile black man is on his third girlfriend and 9th hooker since the break up.

Party Next Door is out of line not only for making that post, but also for offering no public apology for such a blatant act of machismo at the expense of his lady. He deleted the post that started the fire storm without addressing what he said and how he said it. That is a problem. Language matters. Public reaction to their getting back together might not have been any less brutal if he captioned the photo with “So good to have my baby back.” But how even the men we love frame their relationships with us during and after them reflects their disrespect for black women.

As for Kyrie, he may be hurt, but I cannot give him a pass for staying silent while the Internet tore her apart. If he ever loved that girl, regardless of how he feels in this moment, he should have come to her defense.

Even if they did not break up amicably. Even if he feels like she moved on too quickly. Even if the girl is lying and she did cheat, I would really love to see the same grace bestowed upon Black women that is bestowed on Black men when relationships end.

Folks are still calling Amber Rose a slut and acting like she destroyed her family when it was Wiz Khalifa who cheated on her. People still treat Karrueche as though she is at fault for the deterioration of her relationship with Chris Brown. Meanwhile he was singing about disloyal hoes while getting other women pregnant. Ciara is expected to wait for Future to bring his simple ass to the future and step up to the plate as a daddy, making it impossible for another man to do so, instead of be happy with her current fiancé in a functional, healthy, committed relationship.

This is the pattern we will continue to see if Black men don't step up. Until loving a Black woman is about more than having her in your bed and laying claim to her body, we can expect more of the same. Until Black women are allowed to be sexy for themselves and not the man they're with at the moment, we will continue to be harassed for existing in our truths. Until Black men stop forgetting their entire journey with Black women the moment it ends because they cannot get out of their feelings long enough to show the kind of love that doesn't involve sex, every Black woman who ever loves more than one person in her lifetime will be subject to what Ciara, Kehlani, and so many others have been victim to.

Black men should to react to the words “hoe,” “slut,” “thot,” and “trick” the same way you would if you heard a woman call a man a “dog.” I want Black men to realize your sisters, mamas, cousins, and, yes—one day your daughters—will make use of their vaginas and like it. This will occur with multiple men (and perhaps some women.) This is the natural order of things. You are all products of some form of Black love no matter how long it lasted. Black women are tired of having to bring up mothers, sisters, aunties and female cousins in order to appeal to Black men’s love for Black women you know personally as though we are not all the daughters, sisters, lovers, cousins, mothers and grandmas of Black people. Kehlani's experience with being judged after moving on is the story of every black woman who has ever dated or dared to love more than one person in her lifetime. It's about time we acknowledged the second class citizen status of black women and started loving them longer than it takes for them to realize a relationship is not working out.

Author Note 4/20/18: While my identification of Kehlani as a Black woman was woefully misguided, I stand by the points made in this piece and hope they resonate despite my misstep. 

Photograph by WireImage

Tajh Sutton is a proud mother, writer, educator, activist, entrepreneur and performance artist. Follow her on everything at @Afrocenchick and her community endeavors at @LocLoveLivesHere and @YoungPeopleOfColorInc Check out her blog at afrocenchick.wordpress.com

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