BLACK VOICES

On Terry Crews And Imperfect Allies

The "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" actor sees himself as an ally of those who've also been victims of sexual assault. But does the Me Too movement need friends like him?

In an ideal world, none of us is forced to undergo our metamorphosis in public. But with the merger of our private and public lives through our use of social media, sometimes our most devastating personal experiences — and the resulting changes within us — become theater for those who follow us. For example, it is common to see announcements about deaths in the family, health complications or divorces on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

So when actor Terry Crews came forward in 2018 with allegations he’d been sexually assaulted by a powerful Hollywood agent, his story became fuel for others. Some dismissed Crews’ claims and questioned how a man of his stature could be victimized in such a way. But others — a more thoughtful and seemingly more numerous bunch, mostly women — came to his defense and saw in him a perfect ally for the movement to end toxic masculinity.

Despite that, Crews’ behavior lately has called into question the eagerness with which we christen some people “allies,” and he has justified the caution some women feel in welcoming men in feminist movements.

In recent weeks, Crews has taken to Twitter to question whether women in same-sex relationships can properly nourish children. (He later apologized.) More recently, Crews apologized to the men who mocked his initial claims of sexual assault, suggesting they were justified in doubting him and should have been spared from criticism.

“I understand the hurt and confusion of being shamed,” the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor added. “[A]nd I never should have done that to you.”

For many women who initially came to his defense, this amounted to a betrayal. At a time when the Me Too movement was gaining traction, swaths of women — several of them also sexual assault victims — tenderly welcomed him into the fold. It took just over a year, however, for Crews to appropriate the language of that movement to exonerate men whose behavior prompted it to begin with.

Terry Crews was a victim of sexual assault, and that is a reality none can deny. But he is also a man, and men in America boast great power and privilege. If anything, his capitulation to hyper-masculine ideals has proved that true allyship is not a momentary endeavor. It’s not expressed simply through one’s declarations on “Good Morning America” or a shared experience. It’s not even expressed — dare I say — through op-eds like this one, which lambastes other men for their sexism. True allyship is sustained over time and sensitive to the desires of its subjects. Terry Crews is currently failing in that regard, and in the process he is exposing the sense of futility many women feel in finding men worthy of the movement.

It is generally understood that imperfect allies are necessary for progress to occur, but there is not much use for an imperceptive ally.

In moments like this, it is almost cathartic to imagine the bygone era in which words like “wack” were perfect shorthand for describing trifling behavior. Then, perhaps, a mere “Terry, that’s wack” would be just cutting enough to inspire change from him. No one wishes to be considered wack, of course.

But in lieu of such tools of dissuasion, Terry Crews’ recent behavior warrants more direct action. Women don’t have time to wait on his enlightenment, and black women specifically don’t have time to nurture another man who’s chosen to misdirect his internalized trauma at them.

It is entirely possible, then, that the best option for all involves the movement for women’s empowerment chugging along without Crews; it is likely best for their self-preservation and certainly best for his ego.

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