Damn, Clifford. Yeah, that’s right. Clifford. When somebody acts out the way T.I. was acting about his daughter, Deyjah’s, virginity back in November 2019, we have to address him with the government name. Clifford.
Damn, damn, damn.
I idolized T.I. as a kid. I’ve actually met him several times. Once was in this really awkward interaction involving a chair. I had ‘Trap Muzik’ in my CD player literally every day of seventh grade. A successful Black artist from the west-side of Atlanta. Somebody I wanted to be. Somebody worth listening to.
I joined a fraternity in college, so I knew a lot of men. Still do. And the more men you know, the more men you know who are likely harming women. I don’t want to sound like every other “back in my day” headass frat star — but I was pretty well-known. I got popular doing community service, partying, and traveling around the nation. But it’s not like I was the coolest or most fun to be around. I like to think people respected me because I brought meaningful and genuine interactions to spaces where people’s (low) expectation is ignorance, alcohol, and debauchery.
Two years after I finished college, my sister enrolled. We didn’t go to the same school, but it didn’t matter. Everybody knew me, so everybody knew her — and thus began the policing of her interactions by and with all of my fraternity brothers across the nation.
She couldn’t go anywhere, meet anyone, or get to know any male within three degrees of separation of me (especially if he was in the fraternity) without it getting back to me. It stifled her. It frustrated her. We talked about it often. She once spent an entire night at a party getting to know an attractive, well-built, Ivy League athlete only to discover that he knew me well, and for him to discover her relation to me. As he hastily closed the conversation, he shook her hand firmly and departed. “Nice to meet you. Take care.”
I never asked for it to happen. Not once.
I never made a single call to anyone to ask if a man would keep an eye out on my sister, or keep tabs on her. I never tried to intimidate anyone into “treating her right.”
I want to address the cishet Black men out there, though I hope these words can provoke thoughts within any man that has romantic and/or sexual relationships with women. There’s surely a code by which Black men abide, especially those who are collegial in one way or another. It says when your friend is absent, but a woman close to him isn’t, you’ll protect her and treat her as your own. You’ll make sure she’s safe, cared for, treated well. That’s exactly what T.I. said on the Red Table Talk follow-up to the initial uproar after his comments — that he doesn’t “see how [‘protecting’ his daughter] is looked at as so wrong,” especially when Black women in America are “the most unprotected, unattended, and disregarded women on the planet.”
It’s so insidious, isn’t it? The sentiment is rooted in real pain and half-truths, so we have to listen. We have to consider the logic, no matter what undergirds it. But what undergirds it is what makes the code easy to manipulate. When Black women trust Black men to protect them, they are offering us a powerful role in their lives, in exchange for support. It’s risky for them. And if our concept of protection is inextricably tied to the idea that consensual power transfer somehow gives us ownership and agency over someone and the decisions they make with their body … well now, we are all in grave, grave trouble.
We, as Black men, are failing and harming Black women — our family, our friends, and those whom we don’t know, when we act like T.I. We are encouraging women to allow us to make decisions about their protection and wellbeing — only to abuse that power, betray their trust, and take advantage of their willingness to be vulnerable with us. .
Back to my sister. Was I proud that (as far as I could tell) men I knew didn’t approach her with harassment and objectification? Yes, I was. I was proud that any small thing I had done in the past could keep someone I love safe. There are men blatantly disregarding the sexual agency of women. Then, there are men like the man I was — men who know other men take advantage of women, but are only concerned with how they can protect the women closest to them.
It’s a bittersweet gray area. Was I doing anything good? Maybe. Was I propagating some harmful ways of thinking and being for men in the process? Probably. I decided around my sister’s junior year that I had to be a third type of man — one that speaks out above and against other men when he sees or hears disrespect and disregard taking place — no matter the woman at whom it’s directed. I decided to be a man who treats all women with dignity and respect, refusing to view them as beings whose proximity to another man determines their worth.
We (men) have to do so much more. Be so much more. Firstly, we have to rid ourselves of the assumption that women are primarily the objects of men’s sexual desires. Male gaze and prevailing narratives in the media oversexualize women at every turn, so this active unlearning, this disruption of harmful narratives that we must complete, is no small task. There are so many opportunities — expectations that men pay for dates, breastfeeding in public, decorum in casual relationships — for us to consider our positions and change our actions. Challenge other men with archaic thinking and be resolute in your advocacy for what women deserve.
We have to raise our children — especially our sons — differently, maybe even differently than we were raised. We have to talk to them. Really talk to them. And build enough trust with them so that they will be willing to come talk to us about scary or confusing topics. We have to teach them about consent and humanity, and when it’s time, healthy and safe dynamics regarding sex and sexuality.
Women should be free to make their choices about how to interact with us, irrespective of us, without fear of backlash or shame. Clifford said he wanted to protect his daughter from “slimy, grimy … little boys who want to come and defile and destroy the sanctity that I have.” It’s us. We are the slimy, grimy little boys. And we bear no claim to a woman’s essence, sanctity, freedom — however she chooses to identify it — regardless of our relationship to her or to the men in her life. The best way, the crucial way that men can begin to protect women is by being different, better men.
Men, we have misunderstood and misrepresented the purpose of our variable in this great equation. We are late. But we are not too late. Respect the fact that women own their power. And use the power you own for something greater than policing matters we have no right to control.