Aretha Franklin’s funeral was peak blackness. A nine hour service, some of the greatest hats ever created and wigs that got progressively more crooked as the service went on. At points, I thought I could almost smell the cookout that the congregation was going to afterwards. Franklin’s funeral presented so many beautiful parts of black culture.
Sadly, it also showed off a particularly ugly side as well.
If ever a picture spoke a thousand words, this is it. Look at where his hand is. That placement doesn’t happen by accident. Look at how her body is leaning away from his. You don’t need to be a doctor of social anthropology (or, you know, a person that spends their lives working in close proximity with people – Ed) to see that she is repulsed by his groping. If he is comfortable doing this in front of millions of people, it makes you wonder what he does with his congregation when the cameras are not rolling.
Notice, too, that they are standing in front of a pulpit that says “ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM”. Bishop Charles Ellis is on home turf. His job means that many believe that he has a moral authority. He provides spiritual guidance to thousands and he is supposed to model good behaviour. There is a reflex to believe and trust people in uniform. It’s why police in the UK can kill and face no charges and churches can have a history of abuse and reject calls to reform.
The most troubling part of this is the bishop’s apology which, in part, reads:
“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast…I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her.”
“Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologise.”
Maybe? MAYBE? I despise apologies that equivocate. It serves to, in a passive aggressive way, highlight that the apology is not genuine. His use of “maybe” shows that his apology isn’t heartfelt and he doubts he’s done anything wrong. Again, this is problematic; he has only been called out because he did what he did in front of cameras. He lacks an understanding that his intent is not as important as his impact. He’s a bishop that seems deficient in empathy, doesn’t have appropriate boundaries and sees no issue with groping a young woman in full view of cameras. If he is an advert for the church, then it’s no wonder that congregation numbers are dropping.
Grande has faced some backlash for wearing a dress that was deemed inappropriate in an ugly case of “whataboutism”. First of all:
Is Franklin’s attire “inappropriate”? If you think the answer is yes, do you think it would justify the host groping her? (If only the bishop had watched “Soul Train”, he could have seen that you can hug without groping – Ed) I use this picture because I think one of the people that would have had no issue with what Grande was wearing was the woman that she was there to honour.
I said at the top that the bishop’s actions are a negative example of black culture. Although abuse in the church has no colour, I struggle to see the bishop’s actions separately from some of the negative parts of black culture. Think of the defence of convicted sex offender Bill Cosby. Large sections of the black community defend him to this day.
The suggestion that any criticism of a black man is automatically a “witch hunt” is particularly damaging in an age where there are genuine issues that black men are facing.
The bishop’s groping wouldn’t be out of place in many hip hop videos. It isn’t out of place when parts of the community refer to women as “hoes” and “ratchets”. Bishop Ellis should know this. How many people have come to see him complaining about the same behaviour that he displayed? How many perpetrators have said to him, “maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar, but again, I apologise”? In those moments, did he chastise them for not being forceful enough in their apologies? Would his sympathy lie with the victim or the perpetrator who apologises for “maybe” going too far? Judging by his actions at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, the answer is clear.