I rarely get wrapped up in the world of entertainment “news” and gossip but something about this rash of recent, high-profile celebrity divorces has me upset. In 2011, we saw racks on racks of celeb divorces – Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson; Ashton and Demi; J.Lo and Marc Anthony; Mel Gibson and Robyn Moore; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver; Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries; and Katy Perry and Russell Brand. While those couples certainly have problems of their own, they’ve gone largely overlooked by black folks. However, black gossip blogs, urban radio and predominately black social media circles have not been shy about commenting on the divorces of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant and Deion and Pilar Sanders. What’s disturbing is how the women in these situations are vilified, hated, and critiqued.
According to most reports, Vanessa and Pilar are gold-diggers, plain and simple. No matter how long they were married to these men, whether they’ve borne children, how many indignities they’ve suffered or even how successful they are in their own right, when a woman of color divorces a man of means, she is to be questioned, criticized, and looked upon with suspicion while he is offered protection and cover from the public. Both the Bryant’s and the Sanders’ divorces are still being sorted out but what I’ve seen and heard about these and other black celeb divorces is indicative of a deep-seated contempt for women in general, limited faith in the courts to protect black men, and common misconceptions about how the legal process of divorce operates overall. To illustrate my point, I’d like to take y’all back to the divorce of Nas and Kelis and the circus of hate that surrounded their split.
When Nas and Kelis were dating, everyone was in love with the new couple. Hip-Hop fans, while sometimes critical of “God’s Son,” have by and large maintained a healthy respect for Nas as an artist. Kelis drew praise for her early work, which was always a little left, and became even more popular after her Tasty album, revealing a sexier, more accessible image. The two created a hip-hop fairy tale, along with another couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In 2005, there was no mention of Kelis getting Nas for his money during his platinum-selling Street’s Disciple LP era. However, when it was announced the couple was splitting after five years of marriage despite a son on the way, Knight, opinion changed and sides were chosen with overwhelming support thrown behind Nas.
The Twitter trending topic #IHopeKelis, appeared in 2010 shortly before the couple’s divorce was finalized producing tweets like these:
- @lilduval: One more: #ihopekelis knows she is a BASIC BITCH!
- @Klassik_Kira: #IhopeKelis Pussy fall off!!!! She ought not be able to trap not NO OTHER MAN!!! harsh but I’m soooo serious!–}
- @followteddyted: #ihopekelis burns in hell for stealing nas money
- @KidWitLeRoysGlo So iz no1 gonna stop kelis or is god jus gnna let that happen to hiz son smfh
Just like the Bryant’s and Sanders’, Kelis and Nas were divorced citing irreconcilable differences – a broad legal term which can include conflict of personality, resentment, distrust, constant bickering or financial difficulties. As defined by the State of California,
Irreconcilable differences are those grounds which are determined by the court to be substantial reasons for not continuing the marriage and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved.
Divorce is a sticky situation that the courts really would rather not get involved in but like any contract, matters of marriage sometimes require the assistance of an authoritative body to enforce agreements and make aggrieved parties whole. While there is some room for the judge or arbitrator’s discretion, divorce settlements are what happens when the law meets accounting, the economics of divorce are based in a series of codified formulas. Accountants and attorneys for both parties submit financial affidavits valuing their client’s net worth and income potential, which impacts the final determination.
So if it all comes down to a few calculations, why do we so readily point the blame at women, accusing them of trying to get over? It’s because for all our talk about the value of marriage, we don’t truly believe that being someone’s partner in life, love, and parenting is worth very much compared to multimillion dollar endorsement deals. The idea underlying over a hundred years of law concerning divorce is that each spouse is able to be his or her very best self because of the other spouse’s contribution and care. Kobe Bryant is presumably better able to handle his empire secure in the knowledge that Vanessa is raising their children, taking care of their home, loving him, taking care of herself and generally providing for his comfort, so what’s his during the marriage is hers, too. When the marriage dissolves she’s not getting half of “his money” but rather half of theirs.
Vanessa, Pilar, Kelis, Shaunie O’Neal, Kimora Lee Simmons, Christina Milian — I don’t know the motivations of any of these women but neither do most of the folks who feel entitled to publicly shame them with the label of bitches, hos, and gold-diggers. I can understand the desire to protect black men who have long suffered injustices as the hands of the legal system and the feeling that we’re witnessing another attempt to emasculate, bankrupt and humiliate a prominent black male figure. I can understand it but I don’t buy it. Not when those same people fail to stand up for black women who have also been subject to unfair treatment under the law based in racism and sexism. Ultimately, I fear that the average Joe (and women who seek to separate themselves from the stigma of shame by shaming other sisters) see themselves in these larger-than-life celebrities and internalize their losses as a personal attack. My message to those folks is that no matter what, when Vanessa gets half of “Kobe’s money” or Pilar gets “Deion’s house” it’s not the same as half of your $30K salary or your third floor brownstone apartment. Stop taking these celebrity divorces so personally and please reserve your harsh judgment of the women involved absent fact, proof, or motive.
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