The Problem With How We’re Talking About The Nia Long & Ime Udoka Cheating Scandal

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
For as long as I can remember, Nia Long has been the woman of everyone’s dreams. She’s played some of the most adored characters in Black cinema, and has repeatedly had her bad bitch status canonised in hip-hop lyrics.
So it wasn’t a surprise when news of her longtime partner's infidelity broke and the internet lost its collective shit. Ime Udoka, the now-suspended head coach of Boston Celtics was revealed to have been in an “intimate consensual relationship with a member of the franchise’s staff.” The details of the relationship — and how messy it's going to get — are still murky but what we know for sure is that Udoka cheated.
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Outrage over a cheating scandal like this is to be expected; infidelity hurts people and destroys families, and Nia Long is a Black national treasure. What’s problematic is the fact that so far, much of the public’s reaction hasn’t been about the fact that Udoka cheated, but rather who he cheated on. 
With Long being so beloved within the culture, it felt like a slight against the entire community for Udoka to so recklessly step outside of his marriage. Black twitter went off when the news hit, so much so that even a sitting congressman felt the need to weigh in. “Sending nothing but love to Nia Long,” Jamaal Bowman of New York’s 16th congressional district wrote in a Friday tweet. “We’re not letting a man, who didn’t recognise the luxury her presence was, dim all her beauty and glory.”

Desirable women absolutely get cheated on too, and suggesting any differently is hugely problematic.

The issue with this sentiment is that while it appears to flatter Long, desirable women absolutely get cheated on too, and suggesting any differently is hugely problematic. The conversation that is spurred whenever this happens to an attractive woman suggests that women who aren’t considered conventionally desirable, somehow deserve it… Like they’re paying the price for the cardinal sin of not appealing to the wider male gaze.
Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images.
We’ve seen this reaction to cheating scandals time and time again with other famously gorgeous women like Halle Berry and Beyoncé (Berry’s ex Eric Benet became a punchline for his infidelity and Bey’s husband Jay-Z wrote a whole album about his — so did she). Most recently, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine was also recently exposed by several women for sending creepy DMs all while he was either dating or married to his current wife Behati Prinsloo, a slight that seemed somehow worse because Prinsloo is a Victoria's Secret model. 
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Berry, for her part, is extremely self-aware about the ways her beauty is thought to preclude her from any kind of suffering — including in relationships. “Let me tell you something, being thought of as a beautiful woman has spared me nothing in life,” she said. “No heartache, no trouble. Love has been difficult. Beauty is essentially meaningless and it is always transitory.”
And she’s right. Because lest we forget, there is a woman who has likely just had her world turned upside down at the centre of these stories. Infidelity can be devastating, and focusing on its victims’ beauty leaves very little room for people to look at Nia Long or Beyoncé as humans who are likely staring down a long, hard road to healing. 
“The outpouring love and support from family, friends and the community during this difficult time means so much to me,” Long said in a statement to Us Weekly on Friday. “I ask that my privacy be respected as I process the recent events. Above all, I am a mother and will continue to focus on my children.”

The conversation that is spurred whenever [cheating] happens to an attractive woman suggests that women who aren’t considered conventionally desirable, somehow deserve it… Like they’re paying the price for the cardinal sin of not appealing to the wider male gaze.

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This conversation also raises important questions about the consequences of beauty standards that exist within the Black community, and who we think is deserving (or not deserving) of certain kinds of treatment. 
Women like Long, who have always been considered beauty icons in the community, enjoy the privileges of being desired, sought after, and given preferential treatment socially. Meanwhile, disabled women, plus-size women, dark-skinned women, women who don’t have “good hair” or who in some other way, don’t fit into eurocentric beauty standards, are often forced to endure exclusion, colourism, not to mention the host of other systemic issues not tied to their pursuit of romantic love or social acceptance.
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I still think a lot about how little empathy the world showed Megan Thee Stallion after she was allegedly shot by Tory Lanez, in large part because she’s a tall, powerful woman in an industry dominated by men.
Darker skinned Black women also face similar dehumanisation, simply because of how they look. “Dark skin still not only comes with the expectation of lower class but lessened beauty, not to mention uncleanliness, lesser intelligence and a diminished attractiveness,” said writer Dream McClinton in her compelling 2019 essay about dating as a dark-skinned Black woman. 
And for Black women in particular, the social consequences of being thought of as “ugly” or “undesirable” go far beyond not being chosen first by men. It can also mean that the world considers women who they see as more “beautiful”, to be more worthy of love, care and empathy. 
Nia Long didn’t deserve to get cheated on, period… and it’s not because she’s beautiful. All women who have experienced what she did deserve the same level of care and concern in their own moments of pain.

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