It’s Time to Unfollow Terry Crews

logo

Stacy Lee Kong

Jan 06 2021

7 mins read

0

Caption

How did Terry Crews go from feminist fave to that dude who sends weird tweets cautioning against racial justice? No, seriously—I’m asking. Because his recent tweets about Black supremacy and #blacklivesbetter don’t seem to match the person I thought he was.

In 2014, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star literally wrote the book (or at least, a book) on toxic masculinity. Manhood: How To Be A Better Man Or Live With One was a memoir about his “lifelong quest to become a good man, loving husband, and responsible father,” as the publisher’s synopsis puts it. To promote it, he did many, many interviews about his evolving understanding of masculinity, why he’s a proud feminist and the importance of consent, and was soon being billed as an unlikely feminist and very welcome ally by everyone from Hello Giggles (“[his quotes] had us emphatically nodding ‘yes!’”) to Ms. (“We heart you, Terry Crews. Keeping spreading the good word”).

Caption

In 2017, not long after allegations against Harvey Weinstein helped turn Tarana Burke’s #MeToo hashtag into a global movement, Crews came forward about his own assault, revealing that a Hollywood executive groped him at a party the previous year. It was powerful to see a Black man speak out about being assaulted, and later, to hear him credit the women who told their stories first for giving him the courage to come forward. (Almost two years after first speaking out, he told a crowd at Essence Festival, “when the women of the #MeToo movement came forward, I viewed that like a hole in the fence. I watched those women escape and I ran right after them. That is when I came public. With the inspiration and from the courage they showed, actually gave me the courage to come forward with my story.”)

So… how do we reconcile that person with one who tweets, “We must ensure #blacklivesmatter doesn’t morph into #blacklivesbetter,” as Crews did this week? I’m honestly not sure that we can. His tweet was not only a profound misunderstanding of what #blacklivesmatter means, it could also be read as conciliatory gesture toward white people, one that seeks to reassure them that their positions of power are safe despite the current movement toward racial justice. And that is super weird for a Black man, especially one who has seemed so dedicated to social justice.

Though maybe it’s not so surprising. Crews has been saying awful things on Twitter for months now. A few weeks ago, he tried to limit the impact of Black Lives Matter and cautioned Black people against going too far when he tweeted, “defeating White supremacy without White people creates Black supremacy.

Equality is the truth. Like it or not, we are all in this together.”

When Gabrielle Union was fired from America’s Got Talent, reportedly because she called out sexism and racism on set, Crews’ response was to praise the show, saying, “I can’t speak for sexism, because I’m not a woman… But I can speak on behalf of any racism comments. That was never my experience on America’s Got Talent.” He went on the say the show was “the most diverse place [he has] ever been in [his] 20 years of entertainment.”

This was disappointing on a number of levels: Union was very supportive of Crews when he spoke out about his assault, so it wasn’t great to see that he felt zero obligation to support her—or even just to refrain from actively discrediting her. It was another reminder that while Black women had been there for him, he didn’t exactly respect them in. In March 2019, he tweeted that children who are raised without both maternal and paternal love are “severely malnourished.” When Black women and LGBTQ+ people tried to explain the problems with that perspective, he didn’t listen. As Wear Your Voice pointed out at the time, “it was Black women and LGBTQ+ folks who most consistently and tirelessly stood up for him, and it was this same community who so gingerly tried to call him in about his problematic comments, only to be ignored even while he continued to declare his support for us.”

The other troubling thing about his behaviour toward Union was that he clearly didn’t understand how a space could be safe for him but not for people with less privilege or different intersections.

And then there’s the part where he didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem to care about the widespread impact of his words. Crews has 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Thousands of people engage with his tweets, and here he is, legitimizing the All Lives Matter crowd. Sure, he doesn’t actually say that. But it’s implied in his discomfort with the Black Lives Matter movement, and his insistence that asking for equality is the same as demanding special treatment. This isn’t just a different opinion—it’s actually dangerous. By casting doubt on Black liberation as a concept, he’s opening the door for racists to use his words to actually support white supremacy.

On a more practical level, he’s also modeling exactly the wrong behaviour. And I don’t just mean the weird, anti-Black things he says. It’s also about the way he engages with criticism—or rather, how he doesn’t. Crews consistently centres whiteness online, a wave of people reply to tell him he’s wrong and he reacts by asserting that it doesn’t matter if people like him, or if he “loses it all.” First of all, this is an obvious lie. He’s an actor and reality TV show host, which isn’t exactly the career path of a person who doesn’t care what people think about him, nor one who’s completely detached from material wealth. I’m also not sure people actually are telling him he’ll lose his career over his opinions—while he gets plenty of jokes and snarky responses, he also receives the type of thoughtful, gentle feedback that Black women rarely receive on the internet. And most importantly, this is a distraction from the actual issue, which is Crews’ flawed understanding of racial justice and his refusal to entertain other perspectives, especially from people who just know more than he does.

This isn’t just about Crews, of course. It’s about deciding what we expend our mental energy on, especially right now when there is so much that deserves our attention. There’s plenty of value in engaging with celebrity behaviour (duh, as if I would think otherwise!). But how helpful is the cycle of outrage we find ourselves in every time he tweets something contentious? I’d argue not very. That pattern is not just exhausting, it’s a waste of our time. We have the same conversation after each ill-advised tweet—and no matter how hard his peers, friends and followers try to explain why he should rethink his perspective, he doesn’t listen. I strongly believe that when we know better, we do better. But Crews keeps showing us that he’s resistant to learning… so maybe it’s time we stop engaging altogether.

And Did You Hear About…

This pretty convincing argument for retiring the term “Karen.”

Kellyanne Conway’s very liberal 15-year-old daughter.

Prachi Gupta’s piece on her experience as a woman of colour in media—and the ways Black and brown women are expected to (and reflexively do) feel grateful to exist in white spaces.

The smart way the latest adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club uses nostalgia.

This very thoughtful article on “Black voice” in American cartoons.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter