Over the past week, I’ve tried multiple times to make sense of what America’s favorite bestie duo Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King — or Kale and Okrah, as an angry mob has newly christened them — have done to make people so damn mad. Yes, I am aware that King asked former WNBA player Lisa Leslie about the time former NBA champion Kobe Bryant, who recently died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, was accused of rape. The line of questioning was deemed so offensive that rapper Snoop Dogg reacted with a social media tirade, telling King to “back off bitch, before we come get you” and advocating to “free Bill Cosby.”
Initially, many people supported the rapper. King got so many death threats she had to hire personal security. Later, several public figures including Cory Booker and Susan Rice spoke out in King’s defence, and the hashtag #IstandwithGayle began trending last Monday. Snoop posted another video in response to critics, and last Wednesday, he posted one last video apologising to King “for being disrespectful.”
Was King wrong to ask Leslie about Bryant’s rape allegations? By the time King brought it up to Leslie, every major newspaper in the country had published an article grappling with how to shape Bryant’s legacy in a #MeToo era. The topic was notably raised when a Washington Post reporter re-introduced it into the national conversation by tweeting an article with the details of Bryant’s encounter with a Colorado woman on the day of his death. But even if you think King was entirely wrong anyway, the vitriolic response didn’t remotely match the offence. It’s clear the anger has to do with more than a bunch of ill-timed questions about a beloved man’s legacy.
A lot of people— men, and women — don’t want to talk about sexual violence and rape. And they will go to the metaphorical end of the Earth to stop women from talking about it, too. In Black culture, that plays out in a number of troubling ways. If it’s not deflection in the form of conspiracy theories to bring down black men, or an attention shift to discuss predators of other races (like Harvey Weinstein), it’s an attempt to berate those who bring it up — particularly black women — into silent submission. Why? Who knows. Maybe they don’t think rape is a big deal; maybe they’ve survived it and the conversation is triggering. Maybe they’ve been rapists or complicit to rape. Maybe they just don’t like women.
There have been a number of detractions from the discussion about rape. Some have said there is media bias and black men are being made the face of sexual violence. To which I ask, do you only read black news? Weinstein is covered in detail by every mainstream publication daily. While media bias absolutely exists, and is a problem, I’m unclear why people who are genuinely upset about the representation of black people have decided to hang their hats on equal representation and treatment for alleged sexual predators. Wouldn’t a fight for more representation of single fathers, or black teachers, or missing black girls be more helpful to the community than less coverage of alleged predators? Or are folks more concerned about the legacy of deceased men and black icons than the safety of living black women and girls? People weren’t even this mad when boxer Gervonta Davis was captured on video last week yoking his child’s mother from her seat and dog-walking her out of a charity basketball game.
The reasons for people’s anger with King and Winfrey just don’t make sense. At the top of the list of their alleged high crimes is the idea that they are engaged in some Pinky and The Brain-like conspiracy to bring black men down — reinforced by the false idea that Winfrey made documentaries on Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons. In reality, Oprah never created or produced a Jackson documentary. She interviewed the subjects of Leaving Neverland as a journalist. As for the Simmons documentary, she stepped down as executive producer citing creative differences.
In 2019, Gayle King, also a veteran journalist, interviewed R. Kelly after Lifetime aired a three-part documentary accusing him of raping girls and holding women hostage. R. Kelly vehemently denied the allegations during his interview with King, and has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges brought against him. Months later, during a discussion of the legacy of a deceased athlete, King asked about a rape case that created a media firestorm and was a turning point in Kobe Bryant’s career. At best, you’ve got two journalists inquiring about the alleged sexual violence of three high-profile black men. Does this sound like a conspiracy to you?
For some it does. The common retort: “Why do they only cover black men? Why don’t they interview Weinstein?"
“They” are two different people, who are not responsible for each other’s actions. Winfrey and King are journalists who have covered a myriad of stories over their decades-long careers and interviewed people of all colours. Winfrey, most notably had a talk show that aired for 25 years, during which she was often criticised for covering too many white people. So now she covers mostly black people, and that’s a problem?
King has interviewed Weinstein’s lawyer. Why not Weinstein himself? Probably because he is currently on trial for assault in New York and facing charges in Los Angeles, and isn’t doing interviews.
Another popular deflection is the timing; when to discuss alleged rape in any way. With Cosby, who is serving a 10-year sentence after being convicted on three charges of felony aggravated indecent, and Simmons (who continues to deny the sexual assault allegations), the question is, “What took so long?” With Bryant, it’s now “too soon” to even discuss. However, when he was actually charged back in 2003, fans asked, “Why are we even discussing this?”
No matter when King asked that question, she was going to be accused of hating men. And she would have been called out of her name either way, because for too many people there is never a right time to talk about rape.
Spare us the outraged videos and Twitter-finger invectives. Instead of all these excuses about timing, decorum, Weinstein, and whatever other reasons people use to avoid discussing black men and rape, people should just be honest. Just say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Better yet, say, “I don’t care what happens to women and girls.” Exit the conversation and spare us all your drama.