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Stop Making Jesse Williams’ Wife a Victim

Unlike what seems like every other person on the planet, Shondaland doesn’t hold a permanent reservation on my Thursday nights. Sans a couple years when I was obsessed with Scandal, I have never watched her shows. That includes Grey’s Anatomy, so when women started swooning over the new doctor played by the virtually unknown Jesse Williams, I had to see the man making so many women hot and bothered.

Well, I did and I was unimpressed. I thought Williams was just another light skinned man with “pretty” eyes who would help fuel the eternal comeback that light skinned brothers are supposed to be making. I also noticed that a lot of non-Black women fetishized him, and that only contributed to the “meh” I was feeling.

And then, I came across an essay Williams wrote on Django Unchained. He was the first person to share and articulate my thoughts on that racists’ wet dream heralded by Black folks as a masterpiece. All of a sudden, those eyes got a little prettier. Then, during the trial of Michael Dunn who had murdered Jordan Davis, I watched Williams speak directly, unapologetically and unflinchingly to white America about the racism it enables that breeds murderers like Dunn, and was almost in full swoon mode.

But before I went full groupie, I had to find out about his wife because I’m not politically correct and Black men who claim to fight for Black people are sometimes married to skinny white women whom they let swerve all out of their lanes, too often signaling that their fight is for Black people doesn’t include Black women. So I googled and found Aryn-Drake Lee. Once I saw this Black woman, with thick natural hair and some meat on her bones, I had the green light to fully embrace Williams as my new crush.

Time after time, Williams stood for Black people uncompromisingly. He stood in the truth even as the white people who adored his non-threatening, swirling, just-Black-enough-to-fetishize-but-not-Black-enough-to-make-you-lock-your-car-doors character every week on Grey’s tweeted that he should just be a pretty face and leave the “race-baiting” alone. He flicked it up with Ellen Pompeo and then turned around to continue letting all the good white folks know that they hold the reigns of a system that preys on Black bodies and hunts us for sport.

Then the nail in the thirst coffin came at last year’s BET Awards when Williams received the Humanitarian Award and gave an acceptance speech that not only didn’t stray from his reputation of telling the entire truth about racism in this country, but uplifted, embraced and shouted out the Black women who have always held the Black community together. That night, even with his white mother sitting in the audience, he did what too many Black men whose voices have been amplified in the Black liberation area don’t: He declared that you can’t be pro-Black if you aren’t pro-Black woman.

I’ve since periodically declared my love for the man sisters affectionately called “Butterscotch Bae” publicly. So yesterday, when news broke that Williams, whom I believed the perfect example of how a Black man should fight for all of us (Williams has also been refreshingly vocal about LGBT rights), and Aryn Drake-Lee were divorcing, it was a hard pill to swallow. I was rooting for them.

Rumors that Williams cheating with Minka Kelly, the kind of skinny white woman I mentioned before, didn’t help. I don’t want to believe Williams cheated on his wife. I’m always here for Black women, and no matter how fantastic of an activist he is, Williams doesn’t get a pass to mistreat a sister. So I expected the Black Twitterverse to go in a the thought that a man we’ve all but exalted as the hero we’ve been waiting for going the Kanye route (“…and when he get on he leave your ass for a white girl!”), but what I’m not here for is painting Williams’ wife as a victim based on speculation.

I’m not here for assuming that this well-educated, attractive Black woman couldn’t have been the one to initiate the divorce. I’m not here for assuming that just because millions of women would climb Mt. Everest to have a chance to be with her husband, that Drake-Lee can’t just be sick of his light wavy ass. I’m not here for assuming that maybe the divorce is amicable as they said and that they’ve just grown apart. I’m not here for trotting out the same tired trope about him blowing up and leaving her for a white girl, as if her devotion to him is unshakable and maybe she just doesn’t want to be married to him anymore.

When we grab the pitchforks and go after Williams as the lowdown dog who couldn’t wait to “upgrade” to a white girl and leave the Black woman who stood by him, what we’re really doing is endorsing the narrative that Black women’s self-validation is tied to whether a desirable Black man see their value. We’re saying that we knew he could never really have wanted this Black woman who looks like the Black women we see everyday. We’re believing that it was he who was the catch and that she was simply rewarded for her blind loyalty with such a wonderful man. We’re making her a victim we don’t know her to be.

And, yeah, maybe Jesse ain’t shit as a husband. Perhaps he did cheat on his wife and cause the breakup of his marriage. Maybe his ascension to superstardom did activate the disloyalty, unfaithfulness and misogyny lying dormant in him, but without this sister sounding the alarm that he is all those things, I’m not ready to weaken and victimize her. I’m not trotting out the Waiting to Exhale DVD and cracking open a bottle of wine throwing her a pity party she probably doesn’t even want.

I’m still believing that she’s dope and that any man would be lucky to win her heart. I’m still standing by the fact that Black girls who look like Black girls can get fed-up with, lose interest in and choose to divorce a man other women would die to have. I’m still assuming that maybe shit just didn’t work out and not that this beautiful sister is sitting at home distraught, crying her eyes out over losing Butterscotch Bae.


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Kinfolk Kollective avatar About the author: LaSha is a writer who’s obsessed with Black people. Find her work here of course, but also on Ebony, The Guardian, Essence, Salon, Everyday Feminism, Teen Vogue, HuffPo and For Harriett. She’s loves trap music & 90s R&B, watches Jeopardy faithfully and believes fried chicken is her soulmate. The clapback queen is loud and clear about loving her kids above all else and kinda digs her Yankee husband too. Anti-Blackness gives her hives. Get at her @lashawrites on Twitter.

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