On January 26, 2020, upon hearing of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash, I posted a zealous comment on my Insta-story (which was subsequently shared to my Facebook story as well) in which I harangued him for having raped a woman back in 2003. It was a knee-jerk reaction and, if we are being honest, it was meant as a diatribe to the men who quickly post RIP about a fallen basketball star without any critical thought about the legacy their heroes leave to the women they have victimized.
Having placated my sanctimonious desire to flip a proverbial middle-finger to the men who would cry over a man they’ve never met, but who wouldn’t raise their voices if a woman was disrespected by one of their boys, I didn’t give it a second thought. I carry anger and grief over my own assaults; for the justice I will never have, for the apologies I will never get, and for the humiliation of the times that the people who were supposed to protect me, or at the very least, who should have believed me, didn’t. When I heard of Kobe’s death and the way everyone sanctified him, calling him a generational talent (which he was) or a pillar in his community (which he also was), EVEN THOUGH he raped someone, I was overcome with grief, anger, and disappointment all over again. While I was well-aware of the contributions he made to his community, to me, he was just another rapist.
I looked to the pages of women I admire, many of them Black and non-Black WOC academics and activists whose work focuses largely on racial dynamics from a feminist perspective, hoping for some validation. I wanted to see posts where they echoed my sentiment that the world was better off, and I felt betrayed when so many of them expressed condolences for Kobe’s passing. But the more I read their reactions, the more I understood why: to these women, he wasn’t just a rapist. The ones who acknowledged his rape also defended his memory, making mention of his public apology to his victim and his concession to her demands, which included a public acknowledgement that she did not lie and was not coming forward intending to get money.
These WOC activists acknowledged his wrongdoing and had somehow managed to reconcile that with their beloved community member, acknowledged his humanity, and had moved forward with their lives. That reconciliation does not make you a rape-apologist; it makes you someone who understands the duality that even good men can cause harm, and how even the worst men are capable of doing some good; where Kobe Bryant sits within that paradigm depends on how you choose to remember him, but neither the good nor the bad can be undone.
Then I saw a friend of mine, a white woman, post her comment that “all I see is a world with one less rapist in it” and it shook me. My mind immediately raced to Emmet Till. While the two situations are arguably not the same in that the circumstances are different—Emmet, a young boy, having been falsely accused by a white woman and was lynched; and Kobe, a famous and wealthy professional athlete who abused his power over a hotel employee and forcibly raped her— the reaction from the white community has been the same: one of celebration over a dead black body, and I, a non-Black, light-skinned Latinx woman, was actively participating in celebrating the loss of a beloved community member.
Now, I am not, in any uncertain terms, saying that holding Black or non-Black men of colour accountable for rape is racist. Don’t get it twisted: rape is a heinous and reprehensible thing that deserves swift and obstinate condemnation; however, I also recognize that we have been abused (and raped) by people we love, and we also love people who have abused and raped others (whether we are aware of it or not). People can recover from both the perpetration and victimization of rape; Kobe Bryant was no exception.
The thing is that rape survivors are not a monolith. Some survivors will grieve the loss of an important figure despite their personal trauma, and this does not mean that they condone their transgressions. But when that person represents something to a community that is at a disadvantage due to continuously having so much taken from them, particularly fathers and male community-leaders, we must think critically about the way we talk about it. When I think about my friend’s comment, I think about some of the people who wouldn’t hesitate to slap a “like” on it, but turn around and watch old Louis C.K. reruns or delight in retelling one of his jokes; about the people who think Nazis are hilarious and talk about it in front of POC as if it were “edgy” without any consideration for the weight of those jokes; or the people who perpetuate rape culture by policing a woman’s relationships with other men. I can guarantee that despite failing to hold these people accountable, people who have shared in the callous celebration of losing Kobe, myself included, would consider themselves “good intersectional-feminist allies.” The hubris in titles like “ally” makes us too comfortable in our sanctimony, blind to how far we must go in terms of critically assessing our commitment to intersectionality and protecting survivors, while also being good community members and strong allies to Black and non-Black POC communities.
The most harrowing expression of grief came from another friend of mine who has permitted me to share part of her reaction to posts not dissimilar from mine:
I don’t believe we forgot he was a rapist, I do believe we forgot about the significance of his entire life… I am so mad that we forgot about radical justice and I am sooooo mad that you think that reminding us of the fact that he raped someone is appropriate just because he might be missed. I had not forgotten. I am still angry. I want to work through it without every fair skinned voice in the game taking a pot shot. We have lost more than you have and you stay in silent denial of the rapists on your block. I am angry that people labeled Black are never allowed to reckon with our people’s pain in a way that might heal in the face of white judgement: in a way that echoes the segregation we have begun to embrace for want of warmth and reason from your ranks. Try judging in silence like we do every day and saving it for your loved ones who if the world were as unjust for you, would be the only one’s who’d listen, if you were lucky. You can’t imagine what it means to see these multiple moments rip through the trunk of your resilience. You can’t fathom the shock. I can’t fathom the loss. So vent all day but if you stay capitalistic you stay hypocritical while the people who built this platform, ultimately, for free, have to deal with your blind faith in dominance and righteousness over and over and over until you decide to rest. As you should, as you have needed to. Our rest [does] not look like another Black man’s death… You’re too quiet when it’s not safe for you. Too calm when you can’t see the carnage and to precious about your opinions when you don’t know what a dead leader even feels like. I get it. He was a rapist and much, much more as well. Abolish the system that allows it and let the man rest in peace.
The lesson for me has been that this was a moment where it was inappropriate for non-Black community members to chime in when Black communities have already lost so much. I am issuing this statement and acknowledgement of wrongdoing because this was a moment when non-Black people needed to hold space for a community to grieve. My reaction was callous, unforgiving, and in poor taste; for that, I apologize.
To anyone grieving this loss, including the sea of ain’t-shit-men, I see you, and your grief humbles me. I’m sorry it took so long for me to soften to it, and I promise to hold space for you as well as for victims of sexual assault when I am emotionally capable of doing so.
We are more than our past traumas and our past transgressions. We can cause harm in one way and do a lot of good in another, and both can happen at the same time. Restorative justice allows for both of those things to remain true so let’s be cognizant of that in the spirit of compassion for the people who remember Kobe as more than who he was in 2003.