Can We Critique Shaun King Without Feeding Into Racist Schadenfreude?

Shaun King has emerged on the forefront of the new civil rights movement as one of the most visible champions of social justice. Although he has been in the trenches since high school, his arduous work to break story after story on racial injustices took him to a national level of fame that has intrinsically tied his face to social activism–and with his growing platform, King has been central to several unfortunate controversies.

In August, right on the coattails of the Rachel Dolezal debacle, several media outlets “outed” King as a white male masquerading as black, which forced him to open the proverbial closet and toss all his family’s skeletons to the ground for public scrutiny, admitting that he was the product of an extramarital affair. The dust seemed to settle while King spearheaded the founding of Justice Together (JT), a coalition dedicated to ending police brutality. The plan was to gather as much funding as possible and with it launch chapters in all 50 states, in over 300 campuses, and for the most part, JT appeared to be coming along wonderfully, until several directors and volunteers of the coalition revealed otherwise.

On November 7th, #ShaunKingLetMeDown popped up on Twitter in regards to rumors that JT was now kaput and the funds missing. It picked up steam when popular activist Deray McKeeson took to twitter (completely unrelated to the #ShaunKingLetMeDown, as far as I can tell) to inform the masses that he would no longer be on the board of JT.

Scandal and betrayal were afoot. Accusations towards King, which included mismanagement, mishandling, fraud, and money mongering, set off a firestorm that had the hashtag trending on twitter by that night.

The main allegations included:

  1. King has allegedly been using funds raised for victims of police brutality to support his and his family’s lifestyle.
  2. King has allegedly stolen money from several high profile families including the Garners and the Rices.
  3. King has allegedly mistreated thousands of employees and volunteers of JT. Most of them tell a similar story of dedicating time and service only to find themselves with no direction, an almost aggressive lack of communication, and no true leadership.
  4. The funds for JT seem to have disappeared into one small office in Georgia, currently being run by a small circle of King’s most trusted confidants.

Unfortunately (or inevitably), somewhere along the way #ShaunKingLetMeDown was hijacked by racists who were clearly excited to add their own bottle of kerosene to what they perceived as a burning house. The sheer volume of allegations were almost hysterical, reminiscent of some new-age Cointelpro infiltration.

Now, searching #ShaunKingLetMeDown will lead readers to a long list white faces whose insults of King include calling him “racist”, a “race baiter”, and a “supporter of Obama” while praising Glenn Beck and Donald Trump in their next few tweets. Many supporters of #ShaunKingLetMeDown had gone so far to again rebrand King as a white man, “making the blacks and liberals look stupid” while filling his gullet with dirty sexy money. Not to mention that many media outlets that have bothered to report on any Shaun King discrepancies appear to be incredibly biased as well as inflammatory, more interested in discrediting the entire social justice movement (my personal favorite was from a blogger who exclaimed, “It doesn’t matter if I’m the Grand Wizard! He’s still a fraud!”–Uh, ok dude).

King and a few of his supporters were able to clear up a few some discrepancies. The entire statement can be read here, but below are a few points to take away from it. To begin:

  1. King has raised over $500,000 for families that are the victims of police brutality.
  2. Both the Garner Camp and Rice camp have confirmed that King did not steal money from them.
  3. King claims to have not received one penny from any public speeches or appearances that he’s done.
  4. King’s supposed “flamboyant” lifestyle is nothing more than a family that has moved multiple times in the last year to assure their own safety from the spike in death threats they receive daily.

The other part of the unfortunate truth remains that Shaun King has gravely mishandled JT and is being held accountable for it.  The hashtag was indeed started by a woman of color, who was invited to join JT. She described King as being admirable, yes, but in constant need of self-promotion, Twitter followers, and “calling out the haters”. Most alarming is the revelation that King allegedly would not communicate with any of his directors in JT and then one day, without any real explanation, let them all go. Furthermore, note that this is not the first time King has been criticized for mismanagement. Note that King’s visibility has been—at best—contentious. Note that the most valid criticisms of King have emerged from the mouths of Black women feminists, who have reported being silenced, deleted, and blocked by King for challenging him with their concerns.

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Black women have constantly had an asterisk next to their concerns and issues, as if to address them would somehow minimize the Black community’s push for social justice. As a result, the small variety of voices that have been heard have very small space to maneuver. Going against the grain can result in being ignored or if not being ignored, dismissed as “bitter”, “emotional”, and “counterproductive” to the cause. This constant diminishment is very much so misogyny, and while Shaun King has not given me a reason to believe he’s a misogynist or a raving white-but-black-passing charlatan quietly buying a villa in Italy with the money he scammed out of JT, there is reason to believe that he has 100% got some ‘splainin’ to do.

King did release a statement on November 6th (a day before #ShaunKingLetMeDown surfaced) informing the masses that JT was not ending, but instead being reorganized. King explained that some experts as well as his closest confidants advised him that the initial model of opening chapters nationwide was high-risk and overly ambitious. As a result, he decided to revamp the model, starting with one chapter based in Georgia and slowly roll out from there. The initial (and legitimate) blowback King received afterward came from a culmination of JT reps voicing their concern that King had failed them in several ways: failing to communicate with them on a timely basis, failing to include them in his plans for reorganization, and failing to remain transparent on how JT funding has been distributed.

Here is King’s breakdown on how much funding has been raised for JT.

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While King has admitted to poor communication on his end, claiming that his recent public trysts with the media, his family’s safety as well as repeated troll infiltrations into several of his groups—one group that I can personally attest to being in until it was disbanded due to an overwhelming intrusion of anti-Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-Ferguson users—has caused him to become paranoid and reclusive. The question of how exactly the funding is being spent still remains. In addition, some observers are asking why and how so much power and trust has been put into King in the first place, as many are involved in the matters.

With all the messiness at hand, the last few days have been harrowing. While those involved demanded answers of each other on public platforms, others looked on with glee, attempting to use the infighting to diminish and discredit the overall efforts to dismantle police brutality and other products of systematic racism and anti-blackness.

The idea that an oppressed community must display absolute perfection to be taken serious has been too pervasive in the white supremacist paradigm. While we must hold each other accountable for maximizing our impact, should we also consider that social activists are such ample targets? As coalitions like JT and BLM continue to grow, there should be a better way to critique and grow without presenting an Achilles heel to those who wish our absolute silence.