Powerful white men collectively tend to meet consequence with the same foreignness my country Black ass greets those casseroles I only used to hear about on old, white nuclear family-focused sitcoms.
That’s largely related to the fact that they so often never have to deal with the repercussions of their actions — certainly not with respect to sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and other predatory behavior. But it feels like, for the first time ever, these men are finally facing some of their accusers and being told by them and the lot of us, “No, that’s not okay.” Although men of all of races and ethnicities are guilty of these offenses, there are certain responses that reek of a particular strain of hubris best described as “mighty white.”
Take, for instance, Jeffrey Tambor’s announcement that he’s quitting Transparent in light of recent allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him. The first came from his former assistant and transgender actress Van Barnes. In a private Facebook post published earlier this month, Barnes claimed that Tambor sexually harassed and groped her. A little over a week later, Tambor’s trans co-star Trace Lysette released a statement alleging that Tambor “made many sexual advances and comments at me, but one time it got physical.” Lysette described those physical actions as Tambor pressing up against her and proceeded to do “quick, discreet thrusts back and forth” in between filming.
In response to the allegations, Tambor acknowledged that he “can be volatile and ill-tempered” but went on to say “I have never been a predator — ever.” Tambor described Barnes specifically as a “former disgruntled assisted of mine” while noting that he was “appalled and distressed by the baseless accusation.” Amazon subsequently began an investigation and reports claimed that Transparent writers were exploring continuing the series without its award-winning star. Tambor has since given the writers that opportunity with his exit, but he did so in a way that portrays himself as a victim.
In a statement, Tambor wrote: “I’ve already made clear my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive, but the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue. Given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent.”
The use of the phrase “politicized atmosphere” is undoubtedly a dig from Tambor at his accusers, but it also reveals that ultimately, Tambor doesn’t truly understand what is happening. He continues to see himself as a victim rather than earnestly acknowledge that whether he understood it at the time or not, he behaved in ways that made his women co-workers feel uncomfortable, powerless, and tormented. If one is to make a sincere act of contrition, one has to plainfully make clear that they see the errors of their ways. Tambor has demonstrated that he does not.
His statement reminds me of another from veteran journalist Charlie Rose, who has been axed by CBS News and PBS after a Washington Post exposé revealed that eight women accused Rose of sexual harassment — including groping, lewd calls, and walking around nude around his female colleagues. Like Tambor, Rose denied the allegations, claiming he felt he “was pursuing shared feelings” but went on to add that he apparently now has “a profound new respect for women and their lives.” Rose did offer somewhat of an actual apology, but the fact he felt compelled to defend himself and portray what was clearly shown not to be consensual as such is frustrating.
Of course, there are worse examples such as the statement made from Harvey Weinstein, who tried to initially spin his faux mea culpa as a means to take on the NRA while also denying his many, many accusers. Or Kevin Spacey trying to conflate his sexuality with accusations involving pedophilia. Or Louis C.K., who got a lot of praise for his apology in that he noted that the reporting of his behavior was accurate, but if you read his remarks again, you’ll see the comedian never truly apologized to his accusers.
Then there are the men standing on the sideline who are doing their part to make sure we learn nothing from what’s happening in our culture right now.
Dylan Byers, a senior reporter at CNN, wrote in a since-deleted tweet: “Beyond the pain/humiliation women have endured (which is of course the paramount issue), it’s worth taking stock of the incredible drain of talent from media/entertainment taking place right now. Never has so much talent left the industry all at once.”
If Byers really felt the pain and humiliation of the women speaking truth to power were paramount, he wouldn’t concern himself with the white men who chased away talent from media and entertainment with their predatory behavior. After being rightly criticized, Byers later tweeted: “I’ve deleted my previous tweet. It was poorly worded and didn’t properly convey my intended observation.”
An apology without an apology is a meaningless gesture. Byers meant what he said and no rewording would alter the crux of his sentiment: he’s worried about these white men being held accountable before anyone else. Worry about the women. Worry about the non-whites. Worry about any other group besides white men for whom the world so often caters to at the expense of everyone else. The pampered men will be fine; remember, they’re rich.
After all, Mel Gibson is already back to being the star of family films despite his own history of making racist, anti-Semitic comments in the past. Who is to say these men won’t rebound? In the end, they’re white men, and you can never count them out. We should all work to prevent that, though.
Because we are not living in a “politicized atmosphere” as Tambor and others like him would have you believe. We are living in a period of reckoning. It is long overdue, but in order to make sure that this change stays, we have to hold these men accountable. That means owning up to one’s actions and doing the work to make amends and help break the cycle. This time right now is not about the accused, their feelings, and their befuddlement at the world no longer bending to their will. This is about their victims and the culture that creates them. Some of us get that, but it’s painfully clear which of us still don’t.