By now you’ve read several think pieces about Monique Pressley, the Black woman attorney, minister, and HBCU grad defending Bill Cosby and slaying members of the media left and right. She has her own firm and has already drawn comparison’s to our lord and savior Olivia Pope– she’s part attorney, party PR specialist, and according to many news outlets, wholly “badass.”
There is a growing camp of folks however, many whom I admire and respect, who are saying– waitaminute not so fast. Pressley might be brilliant, but she ain’t ish for defending Bill’s trifling ass. Then there is another group that says yes Monique! Yes Howard! Yes Black lawyers in DC doing the damn thing! These people see Pressley as an immense source of pride and bragging rights to some degree.
But you know what, here is the thing, everybody is wrong. Monique Pressley is a capable, intelligent, and talented attorney who happens to also be a Black woman, and that makes her remarkably average. Why? Because we do this every single day. Black women are smart and capable and the best at what they are doing all the damn time. Black women lawyers (and I’m not just saying this because I am one of them) are some of the most hard working, laser focused, brilliant minds of our time. Charlotte Ray? Marian Wright Edelman? Sadie TM Alexander? Barbra Jordan? Constance Baker Motley? Michelle Obama? Kimberly Crenshaw? Patricia J. Williams?
Pressley may be defending someone I don’t support, but she comes from a long line of brilliant Black women doing the work– especially when it’s ugly. Out of the context of law, if we were to put Pressley next to other Black women– those who held their tongue when their fatherless sons asked questions about a mythical Dad, the ones who sacrificed life, liberty, and limb for the safety and security of men who have harassed, assaulted, and deserted them, the ones who are continually great despite teachers, employers, and guardians tearing them down at every turn–she’d be no different. Pressley is remarkably average– because just like other Black women, she bears the burden of being great at a shitty job, of doing the work that no one is willing to do but someone has to, and doing that work well.
Pressley, again, like any other Black woman, is ultimately at fault for the bad behavior of a man– it is her accomplishments and legacy that are tainted because she is defending a predator. And still, even if I look at Pressley’s problematic comments from a segment on HuffPo: “I’m not speculating, I’m not thinking, I’m not opining, I’m not waxing poetic. But what I’m saying is women have responsibility. We have responsibility for our bodies, we have responsibility for our decisions, we have responsibility for the ways that we conduct ourselves.” I can’t help but to see an extraordinarily ordinary Black woman– bearing the burden of the behavior of others under the guise of personal responsibility. We do it everyday on our jobs, in our romantic partnerships, in our relationships with family, and in every other facet of our lives. We are ultimately culpable for our single parenthood, for our children’s bad behavior, for our sexuality and sensuality, for the way we are treated because of our physical appearance, or for our professional failures in the midst of supremely unhealthy work environments. We are so guilty in fact, that it is that guilt that often times propels us to do the work.
Monique Pressley is a brilliant, talented attorney who I disagree with vehemently… but she is also unfortunately just like us.