Talk show host Wendy Williams has a long history of being problematic. Years before her success as a television host, she dominated New York City radio as a shock jock obsessed with celebrity gossip and provocative chitchat.
She spat vitriol that scathed her targets and caused many of them to retaliate, most notably Sean “Diddy” Combs back in 1998, after she spread rumors that he was gay. The hip-hop mogul flexed his influence so hard, Williams was blackballed in her industry, bringing her career to a full stop for a number of years. But it was as clear then as it is today that she gives zero fucks about what rolls off her tongue.
“I’m sick of this #MeToo movement,” she said during her show’s “Hot Topics” segment. “I love that people are speaking up for the first time and coming out and everything, but now it’s got—I look at all men like, ‘You’re a #MeToo.’ All of them. All of them, which is not fair.”
And in response to the recent #MuteRKelly campaign, Williams had this to say: “What is this, 10 years too late? It’s not going to work. Black people aren’t really good at protesting. Not since the King march ... R. Kelly wasn’t a ‘me too.’ Aaliyah voluntarily married him when she was 15 years old. Her parents voluntarily let her do it.”
Williams’ recent comments in response to the #MeToo and #MuteRKelly campaigns are, in my opinion, her most vile and disgusting to date. Not only did she de-emphasize the activists’ initiative to aggressively protest at R. Kelly performances (at whatever point in time), but she argued on the crooner’s behalf. Williams basically absolved Kelly, co-signed his statutory conduct and lambasted the young women who were linked to him.
Her level of victim-blaming is both disturbing and reckless. Williams chided late songstress Aaliyah—and, inaccurately, her parents—for consenting to marriage with the R&B pervert. She also claimed that the teen girls who are currently part of Kelly’s harem are willing participants—and faulted their parents for that, too. And perhaps worst of all, the host also told her viewers that the 13-year-old girl allegedly featured in Kelly’s sex tape—whom he purportedly urinated on—“was down with it.” All because Williams is “sick of the #MeToo movement.”
Frankly, I am sick of Wendy Williams.
Williams’ statements and defense of R. Kelly are a slap in the face to female survivors of sexual abuse, vulnerable girls and the movements that advocate for them. She is one of many black women whose thinking is so patriarchal, they engage in a brand of misogynoir that is not only foul AF, but downright dangerous.
“It’s internalized racism and internalized misogyny,” Stacey Patton told The Glow Up. Patton is assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Morgan State University and the author of Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America. She said:
There’s a long tradition of this, deeply tied to the history of slavery and racism. One of the core features of the racialization of black bodies is to create this narrative that they’re sexual deviants. Black [women] have participated in that discourse, softly believing that if they adhere to rules about what it means to be a virtuous woman, that somehow it makes us more acceptable to society. So we can’t, even in our imagination, believe young black girls can be victimized in this way.
Williams’ narrative reeks of toxic femininity. In many black communities and households alike, young girls are emotionally victimized—largely by women, long before they encounter men. They are unfairly sexualized according to their attitudes, bodies and mannerisms. Some of us may be familiar with the term “acting womanish” being directed at black girls. For those who are not, Dorothy Randall Tsuruta made it plain in her article for the Western Journal of Black Studies, where she explained:
[The] culturally-derived concept, womanish (“mannish” for boys) is rooted in the social practice of Black adults, especially Black women, setting boundaries for Black girls.
Though writer Alice Walker is sympathetic in redefining the expression to embolden young girls with womanish characteristics, many women remain stuck on its original connotations. They wax old toxic philosophies onto innocent girls—much as Williams does, when she faults underage girls for their engagement with Kelly—knowing full well that the law and power dynamics involved clearly define them as prey.
“We can’t divorce that shaming of young black girls from the [parent] shaming we see online,” Patton said, speaking of the extremes some women will go to to guilt their daughters.
Nothing good comes from this toxic policing of our girls. It upholds the patriarchal idea that black girls are fast-ass Jezebels who are sexually mature beyond their years and need to be subdued. It denies them the opportunity to be exactly who they are—young girls. This castigation chips away their confidence, diminishes their self-esteem and stunts their agency. It robs them of the tools needed to protect themselves from being exploited—sexually or otherwise.
Williams’ dismissal of black women’s agency is akin to silencing them. In a broader context, it contributes to the erasure of black women—as if patriarchy, white feminism and the world at-large don’t already have that task covered.
We’ve seen this before—when the FBI, white liberals and activist groups tried to suppress the female voices of #BlackLivesMatter by co-opting their agenda. More recently, we saw it when ESPN suspended Jemele Hill for “a second violation of social media guidelines”—also known as expressing her views as a black woman about a “white supremacist” president. The attempt to quiet black women is overwhelming, and where we don’t need it is in spaces or conversations among our own.
The #MuteRKelly campaign is long overdue. For over 20 years, Kelly has reportedly engaged in felonious sex with underage women and allegedly continues to do so with impunity. This is mainly because the black community has not held Kelly or other sexual miscreants like him accountable. The fact that the #MuteRKelly campaign’s creators, Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, have come through to do the extreme lifting that no one else bothered to do speaks volumes to their commitment to black woman and girls. That Williams denigrates their efforts by stating, “It’s not going to work,” further confirms that she does not value the voices of black women or their resistance.
Odeleye considers the slight a plus, telling The Glow Up:
By bringing up the #MuteRKelly discussion on the national stage, Wendy Williams helped spread the message that there are black women nationwide standing united to end the sexual, physical and mental abuse of our young black women. . .Wherever R. Kelly is performing, we’ll be there. We won’t rest until we have, at the very least, ended his career. We are working with the victims, victims’ families and attorneys to bring yet another criminal case against him. We plan to be a needle in his side until he’s in the poor house, a mental facility or a jail cell.
Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement, also feels that Kelly’s time is up and that he should not be “conveniently” left out of conversations on sexual assault, especially among black women.
“Black women are just as vocal about giving R. Kelly a chance. I’ve seen Facebook statuses that say, ‘I don’t care who [R. Kelly] is fucking, I’m going to see him tonight—I’m buying my ticket,’” Burke stated in a phone interview with The Glow Up.
The Me Too movement founded by Burke in 2006 is not be confused with the latest #MeToo movement tied to the sexual harassment and rape of women in Hollywood. Although the two intersect today, initially they did not. Burke’s movement was specifically started for underserved black girls from low-income communities who were sexually victimized and in need of supportive healing.
In a series of tweets, Burke responded to Williams’ inflammatory comments:
“Sexual violence knows no race, color, class or gender, but the response to sexual violence does,” Burke said in our interview. “The response to sexual violence is highly gendered and highly racialized and definitely defined by class.”
Yeah, that part.
It is this nuance that allows R. Kelly to get off scot-free. Williams is reckless and clearly driven by her black female antagonism in not making these distinctions. That Williams (and black women of the same ilk) can afford to be so “sick of” #MeToo is really quite disconcerting. In the same vein as Kelly, she is both a trigger and the gun, busting shots at black women, exploiting them and denying their humanity. Like R. Kelly, Wendy is out here wildin’, and she, too, needs to be put on mute.