Kim Crenshaw: I’m Kimberlé Crenshaw, and this is Intersectionality Matters.
On March 26th, the African American Policy forum organized a panel in partnership with the Hammer Museum, “Black Women and the #MeToo Movement.”
(EVENT RECORDING) Kim Crenshaw: Good evening everyone. Let me get to it, this is a long overdue conversation about an issue that doesn't get the attention it deserves either in the Black community or in the broader community, and that frankly is the sexual vulnerability and victimization of African American women.
Kim Crenshaw: The panel was part of AAPF’s annual week on the status of Black women and girls, Her Dream Deferred. Every March since 2015, we’ve devoted the last week of March to lifting up the particular experiences and barriers facing Black women. This year’s Her Dream Deferred took place in LA, so with Hollywood as a backdrop, the experiences of Black women in entertainment became a centerpiece of the week.
Kim Crenshaw: There is a deep history behind this Me Too movement that is all too often erased when the movement becomes part of the political mainstream. One of the things that AAPF has been committed to for the last several years is lifting up the voices and the experiences of black women, girls, and femmes, and also fighting the gentrification of issues like Me Too.
The panel brought together six incredible women, who we’ll hear from throughout this episode: actor and Times Up WOC activist Rashida Jones, supermodel and Bill Cosby accuser Beverly Johnson, cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux, historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers, #MuteRKelly co-founder Kenyette Tisha Barnes, who you’ll remember from Episode 2 of Intersectionality Matters, and Dee Barnes, my co-host for today’s episode.
(EVENT RECORDING) Dee Barnes: Show of hands, if you guys are familiar with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Well, my story is Dr. Dre and Andre Young. Andre Young is a friend of mine, he was a friend of mine, big Brother, would've followed him anywhere, trusted him.
Kim Crenshaw: Dee Barnes is a recording artist and television personality known for her performance in West Coast hip hop duo Body and Soul, as well as for her role as former host of Fox’s video music show Pump It Up.
(EVENT RECORDING) Dee Barnes: We did an interview with the group NWA, by this time Ice Cube had left the group so there was a lot of tension there. But the producers mixed an interview together, which showed Ice Cube in a rebuttal against NWA, and the retribution was on me. They felt it was a personal attack because I had known them.
Kim Crenshaw: She is also known for surviving the brutal violence of Dr. Dre, also known as Andre Young, who publicly attacked Dee in 1991 over a perceived slight on Dee’s show, Pump it Up.
(EVENT RECORDING) Dee Barnes: There was a record release party, a Def Jam Record Release Party, full of industry people, lots of drinks, free drinks, and he was there, Dre was there. But I wasn't in fear because I felt he would never do that to me.
Kim Crenshaw: Since the attack 28 years ago, Dee has been the punchline of numerous jokes and song lyrics, and has essentially been blacklisted from the industry that she built a career in. Dee bravely spoke out about the harrowing attack a few weeks ago at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
(EVENT RECORDING) Dee Barnes: I ran into the women's restroom and he followed me in there, trapped me in the bathroom, I was on the ground. He had his knee in my chest, foot against the door to keep people from coming in, so he was on top of me. One of the things that people never ever ask me is what happened to you in that bathroom? They just assume that it was just a physical assault.
If you guys have recently seen The Defiant Ones where he said he was out of his fucking mind, he was. He was definitely out of his mind, but he knew exactly what he was doing.
Kim Crenshaw: A few weeks after the event, Dee joined me at UCLA to catch up, and reflect on some of the highlights from that evening. After joining me in one of my law school seminars, the two of us sat down in the studio to delve further into her story and rebroadcast some of what had happened during the panel. Here’s what we talked about:
Kim Crenshaw: Today I'm delighted to bring Dee Barnes on as co-host for this episode of Intersectionality Matters. Now I have to tell you I'm a little nervous because she has way, way more experience than I do hosting. Dee is a former VeeJay and a host of Fox's Pump It Up which is legendary in the hip hop world. Hey Dee.
Dee Barnes: Hey Kim, what's up? What's up world?
Kim Crenshaw: So Dee, it was such an honor when-
Dee Barnes: The honor was mine, let me tell you, to be amongst those women, those powerful women. All of you guys together and sharing our experiences, it was amazing.
Kim Crenshaw: First of all I was pinching myself because you answered the call. My girl Jamilah was ....
Dee Barnes: Oh Jamilah, shout out to Jamilah. She pulled me in, she pulled me in.
Kim Crenshaw: Jamilah Lemieux, so we were wanting to have this conversation for a while particularly bringing together some of the sisters who had had abusive experiences with well known, beloved members of the African American community. But you know, the thought that we could get you all was like how's that going to happen. So I said to Jamilah, "You know, can you get Dee?" And she said, "Oh man, yeah." I guess you all are Twitter friends.
Dee Barnes: Yeah, we're Twitter friends. We were introduced by a mutual friend and when she messaged me that you guys were pulling me in, I was like, I was overwhelmed because I felt like this was an opportunity for me to step out there on faith and to express something that for the first time that's going to be listened, that people are going to listen to. Because I've told my story before and at different times. You know when you think about, everybody brings up the time, it's been over, close to 30 years for the incident, but what's really like 28.
Kim Crenshaw: It's still raw though, it's still fresh.
Dee Barnes: It's still raw and it's very fresh and it's even more relevant. So the time is now, the time's up.
Kim Crenshaw: Yeah, you're right, exactly. So you had said that, you told the story a few times, but not ... I mean why do you think there haven't been more moments where you've been called into this conversation, especially after #MeToo finally arrived in the entertainment industry. Why weren't you the first person on the list of people like, "Yeah, you know what? We need to call up Dee Barnes."
Dee Barnes: Let me tell you, I think it's what you just said a few minutes ago because it's still resonating with me. You said, "Unpacking layers of denial." That could be my mixtape. Girl, that could be my mixtape, unpacking layers of denial because that's what it is. People are in denial about what happened to me. And one of the things that I say, and I brought up before, when he followed me into that bathroom and continued to assault, no one asked me, "What happened to you in that bathroom?" So I think maybe because they didn't want to know.
Kim Crenshaw: Yeah, well let's roll a little bit of the conversation that happened, because we started with asking the women who were part of the conversation to share just some part of the story they felt comfortable with. And here is what you shared that night.
(EVENT RECORDING) Dee Barnes: If you guys are familiar with, recently a video that just came out where this man was kicking this woman on a train and everybody stood around and watched, I can relate. Everyone stood around and watched, no-
Kimberlé Crenshaw : No one stepped in, no one tried.
Dee Barnes: No one ... There was one person that stepped in, he worked for the company. He wound up ... he worked with them, he tried to step in and the bodyguard that was there, was holding off people with a gun. He pistol whipped the guy that tried to help me, knocked out two teeth. This was a brutal, this was not a smack.
Kimberle Crenshaw: Do you think it was planned?
Dee Barnes: I don't think it was planned. What do they call those, crime of passion, act of rage? It was that, it was rage it was absolute rage that he had against me in particular because he felt it was a personal violation, that I had humiliated him.
Kim Crenshaw: Okay, so Dee that was you telling the story of what had happened to you. What was that experience like for you to be in that space with those women, talking about these issues?
Dee Barnes: I mean such a gift, such a blessing. I want to first thank you for even inviting me into that circle. To sit there in between Beverly Jonson to my right, Kenyette to my left, one dealing with Bill Cosby and the other one dealing with R Kelly, and then have me in the middle there, however it was set up, was so powerful for me. It was so validating. It was a moment for me, a moment of getting closer to that closure, getting closer to that wholeness. It was very healing. And I hadn't had that opportunity before. I told the story, like I said, in front of the camera three different times. All of it wasn't released. And I talked on some heavy topics and they were never really accepted or recepted. I mean and to have that time and that space to release that was amazing and powerful and emotional. You saw I got emotional.
Kim Crenshaw: It was.
Dee Barnes: I got emotional because it was a happy moment for me, not happy in the sense that I'm reliving this horrific moment in my life, but that I've come this far and the journey was, like this continuous, it was another moment of growth. And I wouldn't have had that opportunity if it wasn't for you ladies.
Kim Crenshaw: And you were so courageous that night to talk about the ongoing consequences. I mean this was almost 30 years ago, but the material dimensions were very real and still are very real.
Dee Barnes: I mean to think back now, I never looked at it like I'm about to risk it all. Not in a million, that was not where my mindset was. My mindset was on justice, not just justice for me, but I couldn't live with myself if I just kind of dealt with my own pain, trauma, and not think about those that come behind me.
Kim Crenshaw: And when you say, "Risk it all," your decision to go public with what had happened.
Dee Barnes: That wasn't a decision, it was a no brainer. It was, my decision was to seek justice, to go forward with this. I have to report this to the police, and we all know the police is not a friendly part of our community. The irony of the person that I was involving the police in wrote a song called Fuck the Police. Look at the irony of that. So I called the police on Mr. Fuck the Police. See, you know hip hop is a code of the streets so to speak. And so what I did was considered like snitching, but why is it considered snitching when we want people to be held accountable for their actions.
Kim Crenshaw: Exactly, and who is putting into place the mechanisms for accountability, because that whole critique of snitching when there is nothing there. And just to put a point on it, was anything ever done inside the community, inside the hip hop community, inside the black community, to hold him accountable for violence that ... It didn't even happen behind closed doors. I mean there was no question about he said, she said. He said, he did, everybody saw it.
Dee Barnes: Right, and bragged about it. I wasn't just someone, I was on TV every week, on a network.
Kim Crenshaw: Didn't matter.
Dee Barnes: I mean what other network do you know that would allow something to happen to the talent and just ...
Kim Crenshaw: There was no institution, no informal group that were prepared to say, "Yo, you know what, it can't go down like that." Yet, you're supposed to abstain from seeking justice in any way.
Dee Barnes: Exactly, I'm supposed to be quiet. See, and that's the thing, that code of silence. I'm not saying he didn't see any backlash, probably privately, but nothing publicly.
Kim Crenshaw: And did you receive support?
Dee Barnes: When the incident happened it was very public. Support, same thing, very privately, not publicly. And really one of the first people to publicly support me was dream hampton. She wrote the article on it, calling out the guys on their violence and the incident.
Kim Crenshaw: And let's just say, dream hampton is a common thread throughout all of these conversations. Dream Hampton is the producer of Surviving R Kelly. So she's been on the right side and been taking hits for ...
Dee Barnes: For her activism.
Kim Crenshaw: For exposing this dimension of black women's vulnerability. She refused to be quiet.
Dee Barnes: She refused to be silent.
Dee Barnes: You refused to be quiet, Beverly Johnson refused to be quiet, Kenyette Barnes. So it's a small, there's a small community of women who are refusing to be quiet and a lot of the experiences that you all have talked about, particularly that night, have been some of the consequences of refusal to be silent. I mean for any woman that comes out speaking her truth, there's always backlash, but it's a special kind of animosity towards black women.
Kim Crenshaw: And you know your sister, and I'm saying that in jest, Kenyette Barnes.
Dee Barnes: Yes, that's what people think right now because we have the same last name. And they are attacking her.
Kim Crenshaw: I asked her about, "Who are the people who have been coming after you?" And surprisingly I guess to some, but not to others of us, it was other women. It was other sisters, it was other black women. So she talked a little bit about that, let's hear about some of that.
(EVENT RECORDING) Kenyette Barnes: It's that degree of vitriol that happens just because you want to stand in a space to hold people accountable. Yes, to that question about black women who-- sometimes our aunties wear lipsticks and sometimes they're wolves. And you gotta be able to discern. I teach my 13 year old daughter discernment. Everyone who comes to you is not going to look like a monster. They're going to look like you in most cases. It is discernment, it is listening with your gut, it is listening with your intuition. It is when that little twinge happens and you know it's not right, that's when you get out the situation.
I have walked out of many conversations of black women who profess to be about black women and girls -- anytime you walk into a space with black women and we're talking about sexual violence, human trafficking, especially sex trafficking or anything of that nature, and they lead with good gotta have better self esteem. That to me is the red flag because it has completely ... That is victim blaming in another term. To take the responsibility of sexual violence off the predator and put it on a child. That is what that call for self esteem is really about. I've walked out of so many meetings because they want black girls to learn self esteem and wear longer skirts and not show cleavage and not twerk. A twerk has never gotten any ... A twerk has never raped anybody. Rapist rape people.
Kim Crenshaw: So that's Kenyette Barnes, founder of Mute R Kelly. Dee, I wonder whether your experience was like that as well, and what do you make of that? And first of all, what does it do to you when you can't count on other sisters who knows this stuff is not fabricated? I mean in your case it's not the case that people thought, "Dre? We never thought he would take a hand to a woman." It's not like it was a shock or anything like that.
Dee Barnes: Exactly, yeah it's mind boggling to me. I don't understand how, like I've seen a lot with Kenyette. A lot of women are attacking her, defending R Kelly. Like I said, social media plays a different role in it. My incident happened so long ago, it was before really the whole social media. There weren't all these different apps where you could speak on it. For a woman it seems to affect her whole life, not just a career, her whole life. You know, financially, for perfect example all the women with Weinstein. If he didn't get what he wanted, he blocked them completely and told people specifically to not hire them, they are problems. See women get the title of difficult.
Kim Crenshaw: Difficult.