Real Common fans can name at least five of his songs off the rip. Here's my shot at it. In no particular order of faves, there's "The Light", "Come Close" (which has one of the sweetest visuals ever), "Go!", "Geto Heaven" and I Used to Love H.E.R." But if there's a song that particularly hits home, it would have to be "Retrospect for Life". I've shared my abortion story on the site before. If you're not familiar with this particular Common tune, the relevance it has to my story is this line—"From now on, I'm gonna use self-control instead of birth control/'Cause $315 ain't worth your soul". No matter what or how you feel about abortion, you can't tell me that line doesn't cause you to pause and think. Maybe even ponder or reflect.
Yeah, Common is definitely one of the reasons why I feel some type of way when people generalize rap music or don't give hip-hop the honor that is due. He's a living and breathing example that there's more to the genre than misogyny, money and mayhem. These young kids betta recognize.
Anyway, although over the past several years, it's more likely that you'll see Common on a movie screen than hear him over the airwaves, (for starters) if you follow his Twitter page, you'll see that he remains quite conscious. He's a huge supporter of Chicago (where he's from) youth and prison reform. And, aside from all of the other titles that he can put behind his name—artist, advocate, philanthropist, etc.—he can now add another: author. Let Love Have the Last Word is his new memoir and in true Common form, the book is already gaining national momentum in everything from music mags and on gossip blogs to malls and churches. He wrote:
"At some point I felt Brandon's hand on me. I pushed him away. I don't remember saying a whole lot besides 'No, no, no...' He kept saying, 'It's okay, It's okay,' as he pulled down my shorts and molested me. After he stopped, he asked me to perform it on him. I kept repeating 'No' and pushing him away. I felt a deep and sudden shame for what happened."
Although I've yet to read the book myself, I did catch his under-two-minute interview on TMZ that featured him addressing that he was molested at the age of 9. His standout quote—"It's something that I know a lot of people experience; especially Black young men…and the only way we stop the cycle is to talk about it and that's why I chose to say something." After doing that, I did some digging around and also discovered that it wasn't until he did some self-work with actor and friend Laura Dern that the memory of what happened came back to him.
As someone who is also a survivor of sexual abuse, I must admit that the first thing that came to my mind—with a great amount of irritation, I might add—was, "Lord. Who hasn't been molested?!" Then I thought about the sobering stats that reportedly 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some sort of sexual abuse before turning the age of 18. The next thing I thought about is how more and more Black male celebrities are speaking on the issue (Charlamagne, Lil Wayne and even R. Kelly come to mind). The next thing that came to me was, what continues to be one of the hardest scenes to watch in the movie Antwone Fisher; you know, when, as a little boy, Antwone runs out of his babysitter's house, half-dressed, after a grown woman molested him in her basement.
And then I thought about the more-than-on-two-hands Black men I can count who've shared with me that they too were sexually abused when they were young.
Two stories that particularly stand out are two attractive and accomplished Black men I know that I've personally had "So, what's up with you and Black women?!" conversations with. What I mean by that is it's very common for me to see them (at least openly) dating anything and everything but a sistah. As a Black woman, on the surface (and even a couple of layers underneath that), it has caused me to feel some type of way. However, they both are blaring reminders of why we shouldn't be so quick to judge or determine someone's reasons or motives for what they do.
When I asked one of them why he was rarely seen with Black women (sometimes but not much), in a low voice, almost as if I was talking to a little boy, he said to me, "I mean, the woman who molested me was a Black woman." And when I said to the other—someone who admitted he has never had a romantic relationship with a Black woman—that I hoped he'd at least be open to experiencing that kind of intimacy someday, he shared with me that between his parents basically being swingers (sometimes even putting him out of his own bed in the middle of the night so that they could use it for their sexcapades as he laid on the floor) and both of his brothers raping him for years while he was growing up, "I wish I could see that happening, but I honestly don't associate the words 'Black' and 'love' together."
I was molested by a Black man and I still have every intention on marrying a Black man, so please look as deep as you can into where both of those men were coming from. I know for a fact that they weren't demonizing Black people or Black love; they were just sharing their truth.
And I'm sharing it now because both of their journeys are reminders that love and life can be complex; that sometimes what we do—or don't do—is tied to other things than ignorance, shallowness or even personal preference. Sometimes, it's tied to pain.
Profound, unnerving, and in some ways, totally debilitating pain (a read worth checking out when you get a chance is "Why We Need to Pay More Attention to the Sexual Abuse of Black Boys"). This takes me full circle back to Common. When he shared his reason for why he decided to share something so private as his own childhood molestation, he was spot-on when he said that 1) it happens a lot to Black men and 2) it's important to talk about it.
As a Black woman who strives to support the Black men who have entrusted me enough to share their own stories of sexual abuse (for the record, the two examples I just provided have publicly talked about their experiences before now), I feel that Common's courage is a reminder that this is as good of a time as any to encourage every Black woman reading this to do a few things.
One, if there's a Black man in your life whose relationship with Black women, in general or his emotional or sexual perspectives as it specifically relates to Black women somehow "rub you some sort of way", don't be so quick to stereotype him or even write him off. There are plenty of studies to support that any type of childhood abuse has a way of stunting emotional development and maturity; especially until a victim/survivor gets some help in that area. He may not be relationship material at the moment (maybe even ever as it relates to you specifically), but he may just need a friend. Or, at the very least, someone praying for him and sending good energy his way.
Sometimes what we chalk up to as being "immature" or even "shallow" is walking pain personified.
Two, for Black men who are, shoot, heroic enough to share with you what they've been through as it relates to sexual childhood abuse, molestation or even assault as adults, please purpose in your mind to be a safe place to listen and a soft place to land. It really is sad that there continues to be so much ignorance and/or low-level tolerance surrounding men and sexuality that a lot of them don't even get that a grown woman or man messing with them as children is just as horrific as a grown man or woman messing with a little girl. Or, that they are no less of a man by talking about how they were taken advantage of as little boys. LITTLE. BOYS.
And finally, if you are currently in a relationship with a Black man who's recently shared with you that molestation is a part of his history, encourage him to seek out a counselor; not because something is "wrong" with him (check out "Chances Are You're Not 'Damaged', Just Broken"), but so he can "unpack" how his experiences have impacted him. Also, if the two of you are considering marriage or already married, consider getting into couples counseling as well. Sexual abuse has a way of altering the way we process things on so many levels, including relationally and sexually. Oh, and please be patient with his journey.
Again, as a survivor myself, I know that childhood molestation is not something you "get over"; it's more like something that you work through. Love, acceptance and support make it so much easier.
See Common? It's only been a day since your book has hit the scene and you're already sparking conversation and inspiring change. Personally, I believe that your words have had a way of doing that for a while now.
As an appreciator of your music and a bigger one of your strength, I'm grateful to and I salute you for that. Well done, sir. This Black woman—as I sure do many others—totally have your back.
Pre-order Let Love Have the Last Word here.
Featured image by GMA