Writer and producer Danielle Young was excited when she got the chance to meet one of her heroes, civil rights icon Jesse Jackson, at a keynote speech he was giving three years ago on the responsibility of black journalists.
But then came the chance for her and others to shake Rev. Jackson’s hand, say a few words and pose for a photo with him.
“Simple enough, right?” writes Young in an essay published Monday for the online magazine The Root.
Not at all, Young found. She said that as she walked toward Jackson, smiling, he smiled back and “his eyes scanned my entire body.”
She suddenly felt “naked” in her sweater and jeans. As she got within arm’s reach, she said, “Jackson reached out a hand and grabbed my thigh, saying, ‘I like all of that right there!'”
He then gave her thigh a tight squeeze, she said.
A flurry of upsetting, confusing and sometimes contradictory feelings rose up in Young that persist to this day. She believes her experience is worth addressing in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which has plunged Americans into soul-searching conversations about workplace sexual harassment.
On one hand, Young said Jackson only squeezed her thigh. It was something “so casual,” it was “hardly a blip on anyone’s radar,” including her own, she said.
She added that it’s certainly nothing that measures up to what Weinstein’s dozens of alleged victims had to endure — allegations that include being cornered in hotel rooms, threatened with career ruin, sexual assault and raped.
But Young said she still felt shocked, uncomfortable and deflated that this man who had marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was treating her in a demeaning, entitled way. A co-worker later confirmed that Jackson had been “inappropriate” with all the women in that conference room.
“We brushed the (expletive) off and chalked it up to him just being a dirty old man,” the co-worker told Young.
But Young said the Weinstein scandal, and the accounts of some of his alleged victims, made her realize that the way Jackson seemed to feel entitled to ogle and touch her without her permission weren’t just the annoying but generally harmless actions of a “dirty old man.”
They’re sexual harassment, said Young. In her essay, she also describes an incident several months ago, during an interview with director John Singleton at the American Black Film Festival. Although Young was there as a professional journalist, the director of “Snowfall” still decided it was OK to grab her wrist, pulled her towards him, kiss her cheek and say, “Bring that juiciness over here.”
Singleton declined to respond to The Root’s request for comment on Young’s accusations, but Jackson offered the following following statement via a representative: “Although Rev. Jackson does not recall the meeting three years ago, he profoundly and sincerely regrets any pain Ms. Young may have experienced.”
Young pointed out that black women have been especially conditioned in American society to be “A-OK with a touch here, a squeeze there, a dirty look, or even an unwanted grab. You’re supposed to laugh–act grateful, even–for the attention.”
She has come to realize that it’s important for women to speak out against men who simply “can’t keep their hands to themselves.”
“Because that’s where it starts,” Young said. “My silence gave Jackson permission to continue grabbing at the next pair of thick thighs he liked. I’m hoping that my voice does the opposite.”
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