We ride for the South. Don't you?
On March 21, the Scalawag team was told one of its former editors and frequent collaborators, Robert L. Reece, coerced Jazmine Walker, a former partner, into unwanted sex. We learned this news when Jazmine—in rebuttal to a troubling article Robert published in Vox titled "How Men Are Adjusting to the #MeToo Era"—took to Twitter to write that Robert raped her, emotionally abused her, and failed to reckon with the harm he caused her. Since then, Jazmine has written on Twitter and told Scalawag that multiple other Black women have contacted her to share similar experiences of harassment or sexual and emotional abuse from Robert, who is also Black.
On his Twitter account, Robert wrote he has been sexually coercive in the past, specifically with an ex. Robert told Scalawag he believed Jazmine's account of the assault and its aftermath was inaccurate, and that he had evidence to disprove stories relating to other women. He declined to provide such evidence.
In her tweets, Jazmine shared corroborative screenshots of a text exchange with Robert, as well as what she says is an account from another woman of sexual and emotional abuse perpetrated by Robert that led to suicidal thoughts.
Robert is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. He was an editor at Scalawag from early 2015 through the end of 2016, and played a major role in shaping Scalawag, its voice, and its mission. He continued to write for Scalawag after stepping down from the Editorial Board and occasionally participated in editorial meetings in 2017. He was slated to have a piece published in our upcoming print issue. Jazmine is Organizational Development Manager at the National Network of Abortion Funds, and co-host of The Black Joy Mixtape, a podcast devoted to Black feminist politics and pop culture. Members of the Scalawag team have friendships and long-term connections with them both.
We condemn, in the strongest terms, Robert's apparent pattern of abuses. We also condemn his Vox article, which provides assailants a convenient language for trivializing the harm they cause others and minimizing their complicity in rape culture. We uplift Jazmine's experiences, the experiences of the women who shared their stories with Jazmine, and their courage for seeking accountability.
Furthermore, we must also hold ourselves accountable. In late 2016, we learned that two Black women writers who our editors hoped would contribute to Scalawag declined because of Robert's role on the Editorial Board. As Scalawag sought to understand why, one writer said that Robert's actions harmed her career. Further, that specific harm also dissuaded the second writer from working with us. Both said the experience convinced them that Robert's professed commitments to Black feminism were not substantiated by his interactions with them. A group of Scalawag team members looked into and discussed these issues at the time. During those conversations, a member of that Scalawag group reported that Robert had made an inappropriate sexual advance towards her several months before. We did not take further action then, with Robert or with our fuller team; in doing so, we failed to fully serve our team and community. We apologize. We made the wrong judgment call, and we regret our inaction.
We have made an editorial decision not to publish a piece that Robert wrote for our next print issue, and we will not be working with him again. While we end our relationship with Robert, we must also reckon with the larger culture of rape and anti-Black misogyny in which we are all submerged and implicated, which can never be fully confronted through individual acts of accountability. We believe it is inappropriate to treat any individual abuser as a scapegoat bearing all the sins shaped by a harmful culture. Our work, therefore, must be shaped by broader visions of cultural change—to our policies, practices, and relationships both inside and outside the Scalawag team.
In the context of the #MeToo movement, the media is frequently a forum in which sexual assault is exposed, adjudicated, and punished. Particularly in the context of this specific moment, we also recognize that though this movement was originated with a Black woman activist, Tarana Burke, it has in its current form rarely centered the lived experiences of Black women, whose bodily autonomy—and indeed whose humanity—is infrequently recognized, much less respected, in our public discourse.
As an organization committed to resisting oppression, this means we must reckon with our own relationships to systems of power. We're thinking critically about who wields power and who doesn't, and how our public platform can both enable harm or help amplify those who are actively working to resist harm in our communities. This is especially important because we do not want our voice as a Southern, non-profit news organization grappling with liberation politics to be used as a shelter from which writers and editors can perform a kind of "woke" etiquette, whether on anti-racist politics or on misogyny, for their own advancement, when their actions appear to be inconsistent with the values they express. As Black women in particular have reminded us, it is so easy for men to claim feminism and say the right things about misogyny and rape culture, but until their deeds match their stated intentions, we have good reason to be cautious, if not outright skeptical.
Our vision of justice as an organization extends far beyond individualist ethics and legal frameworks. Being a justice-oriented publication and organization means more than issuing a public statement. It means doing the ongoing work of leveraging our tools and resources to move towards what does not yet exist in our society; and supporting the initiatives of survivors and affected communities working to hold abusers accountable and determine meaningful avenues of redress.
To these ends, you can expect two responses from us in the short and medium term. First, we will publish a more direct response to Robert's Vox article this week, jointly authored by a group of social scientists at various academic institutions across the South. Second, we will be working as a team, with appropriate consultation, to develop policies and practices within our organization that reflect some of the more survivor-centered, justice-oriented procedures that other organizations similarly committed to transformative justice are also working to build. These are just our first steps. We hope you will walk with us as Scalawag itself works to realize these values in all we do.