Sex & Gender

the root journalist says she was sexually harassed by jesse jackson & john singleton

November 6, 2017
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The latest in what seems like a never-ending line of women who have come public about sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in the workplace is The Root’s Danielle Young who alleges that Rev. Jesse Jackson and filmmaker John Singleton sexually harassed her in workplace settings.

“In all truth, I was originally never going to tell this story,” Young writes. “Because for the longest time, I didn’t even know if there was a story. I didn’t take what had happened to me seriously.”

And so many women don’t. But it is serious.

In the deeply personal essay, Young details each of the interactions with Singleton and Jackson, in which both men made inappororitae comments and gestures about Young’s appearance and, horrifyingly, the feel of her body. The interaction with Rev. Jackson occurred after a business meeting in which Jackson was the keynote speaker. Upon approaching the Civil Rights icon when the speech ended, “His eyes scanned my entire body. All of a sudden, I felt naked in my sweater and jeans. As I walked within arm’s reach of him, Jackson reached out a hand and grabbed my thigh, saying, “I like all of that right there!” and gave my thigh a tight squeeze.”

And though the interaction was uncomfortable and unwanted, Young says what I believe many of us feel, which is the pressure to play along, despite the inner alarm bells. At risk of seeming “hysterical”? Or in fear or embarrassing the man or yourself by reading “too much” into something that makes us uncomfortable?

Young’s alleged interaction with director John Singleton unfolded similarly. A few months ago, Young attended the American Black Film Festival where she landed an interview with Singleton and the cast of his upcoming show, Snowfall. An occasion that should have been a benchmark for Young, a young black woman from North Carolina who, against the odds, had earned a space in media where she was killing it, turned into a disappointing and disillusioning experience.

“My family and I watched John Singleton’s films and I never dreamed of meeting him, much less talking to him. It’s never lost on me that I get to be in the same room with people I love and respect.”

“When I walked into the room, I heard Singleton say something, and I heard enough of it to know it was about me. But I ignored it,” Young explains. “I conducted the interview, and afterward I went over to Singleton to grab my mic and he grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward him, saying, “Bring that juiciness over here.”

He was sitting in a director’s chair, so when he pulled me, I fell forward and stopped myself by placing my hands on his legs. He then leaned forward and kissed me on my cheek. I said, “Oh, oh, OK,” and stood up, embarrassed because everyone was definitely still in the room.”

Before leaving the room, Young alleges that Singleton—confused that Young didn’t ask for a photo—offered one to her. She said yes and when he did “he grabbed me around my waist and pulled me into him, saying, “Oooh, I’m gonna grab on tight to you.””

“I laughed, because that’s what I do when I am uncomfortable, and snapped the photo. When I posted the photo on Instagram, I admitted to his sexual advances, but I kept it light with humor. A therapist would tell me that’s a defense mechanism.”

There are those who will, surely, think of these scenarios as small potatoes; like Young admits to having done for so long. But Young’s bravery in coming forward with these allegation against Rev. Jackson and Singleton can be used, I hope, as reassurance for other women and femmes that their instincts about harassment are valid.

Because it’s not okay for anyone to touch you without your permission.
It’s even less okay for male acquaintances and colleagues to physically handle women in any situation without explicit permission or invitation.