Sex & Relationships
Nate Parker and the Death of Nuance

By Michael Harriot

Confession: I am a horrible human being.

I am a rape apologist who hates women.

I am a self-hating Black man willing to throw another Black men under the bus.

I support the rape culture.

I support a system willing to lynch a Black man through public opinion even when a court finds him not guilty.

Apparently I am all of these.

When I write about race, I am often condemned by other Black people for saying I don’t think all racism stems from a hate of Black people. I’m cool with that. I also receive an infinite amount of hate mail accusing me of being racist against white people. I’m cool with that. When discussing most subjects, I find there are two kinds of people:

The people who know what they are talking about.

And the people who want you to know they are talking.

Volume has become more important than intelligence in any discussion, especially on the world wide web. While the internet allows for the free exchange of ideas and information, it has also become a perpetual outrage machine where all-caps, I-know-i’m-right loudness outweighs reasoned, intelligent debate. But critical thinking—if nothing else—requires a careful examination of all sides of an issue. The loudest,  person in the room is usually the dumbest because stupidity’s best friend is arms-folded belligerence. Intelligence requires the acceptance of nuance.

But it seems there are no more shades of gray. The internet has erased it and replaced it with chest-thumping self-righteousness that screams “look at me.” Social media does not allow for shades of gray. It necessitates blasting outrage in 140 characters or less. There is no emoji for emotional conflict. Intellectual subtlety never trends. Nuance is dead.

I said I wasn’t going to write about Nate Parker because I didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. I have anticipated the release of “Birth of a Nation since my favorite movie critic saw it at Sundance in January. I was excited to see a major motion picture release telling the story of Nat Turner in a movie written, produced and directed by a Black man. I relished the opportunity to see our story told without a white savior put on the screen by someone who didn’t care if bloody machetes in Black hands gave white people the heebie jeebies. I though this was important. I had already made plans to see it on the release date, which is also my birthday.

Then I heard about the rape.

Maybe I was sensitive because I am the only boy raised by a single mother with three sisters. I remembered sitting on a bed in a room with one of my sisters and two female cousins explaining to them why the one-in-four women have been raped statistic is misleading, and listening to all three of them tell me about times they were sexually assaulted. All of them. I read the transcript of the next-day-phone call between Nate Parker and his victim and thought about what I’d do if my daughter called me and told me this happened to her. I know “what-if-it-was-your-daughter” sounds cliché, but I couldn’t rid myself of the thought that a man could do something to my daughter in one night that would make her think the pain of existing was forever unbearable. And even if I stopped her, and got her counseling and loved her, she’d keep trying and keep trying until she succeeded—because of what two men did on one night.

I didn’t want to write about Nate Parker.

I didn’t want to write about Nate Parker because there was nothing for me to say. The internet was already awash in flamethrowers willing to brand anyone who still wanted to see the movie as a card-carrying member of the “rape culture.” They castigated anyone who was hesitant to join the cyberspace lynch mob gathering their torches and pitchforks as a woman-hating rape apologist.

Similarly, my disgust with Nate Parker put me in allegiance with the nefarious conspirators who want to destroy Black men. The defenders had already built a protective fence around him as a victim of the lying ass media who didn’t want this story to be told. If I believed them, I was on the side of the evil oppressors.

Here’s the problem with all that: Two things can be true. Ignorance is absolute. Stupidity is black and white. Everything else is shades of gray.

I believe Bill Cosby is a serial rapist and I believe he is one of the funniest storytellers who ever walked the earth. I believe R. Kelly is a pedophile, and the remix to Ignition is second only to Back Dat Azz Up on my list of guilty pleasure party songs. But if you listened to the right now call-out culture, Cosby was never that funny, and R. Kelly can sing a little bit.

I believe the world needs to see the story of Nat Turner.

I believe Nate Parker is a rapist.

But the death of nuance insists that we make absolute declarations. I’ve scrolled past twitter posts by people who threaten to punch Nate Parker in the mouth if they see him, as if they aren’t surrounded by men every day who have done the same thing or worse. They should just start punching all men. They are bound to be fractionally correct. Ask my sisters. Talk to my cousins. I can’t. It makes my stomach hurt.

The internet allows for the pretentious ignorance of unshaded self-righteousness. Most of those people don’t care about the issue or the specifics of the case. They don’t want to stand against male privilege or stop date rape,  they just want the people in their timeline to think they do. They don’t want an in-depth discussion where men can come away with an understanding consent. They want credit.

I also can’t ignore the fact that Nate Parker is a Black man in a world built to kick him in the mouth with steel-toed boots. As a film buff I am made aware of the inequity in Hollywood and the world when Woody Allen receives his biennial Academy Award nomination. I note that Brian Singer, who has a long history of systematic pedophilia, is one of the most sought after commodities in the entertainment industry while we get to watch a slow-motion, finger-pointing combination of his own people and a Hollywood quicksand devour Nate Parker.

Nuance requires seeing both sides, even if they are disquieting. Intelligence requires asking the questions, even if there are no clean-handed answers.

Is Nate Parker a different person than he was 15 years ago? If so, is it convenient that he got the opportunity to become that person instead of spending his time in a jail cell? Does his despicable acts negate the worth of his art? Is everyone who sits down to see one of the highest-reviewed movies of the year a woman hating enabler of rape culture? Are the people and entities who refuse to see, show or review Birth of a Nation falling for the narrative that seeks to sabotage everything Black? Should I participate in a high-tech lynching that conflates a person’s art with deeds the system of justice found him not guilty of a decade and a half ago? Should I allow a man who committed one of the most vile acts against another human to line his pockets with my money and live a worry-free life? By doing so am I excusing violence against women?

There are no clear answers, but the people who ask the questions or have a different opinion than you aren’t necessarily rape apologists or self-hating sheep. Maybe they are just conflicted by the nuance. Maybe they’re critical thinkers. Maybe they are just smart.

There are people who will read this and say I am yet another anti-feminist defender of patriarchy and misogyny making excuses for men who abuse and violate the woman I should be protecting.

There are also people who will accuse me of piling on Nate Parker and joining the masses in the public slander of another Black man by throwing him under the bus and backing over his wiggling body.

I’m cool with that.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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