Episode 2 – The Aftermath

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Cindi: Hey, We’re going to be talking about sexual misconduct and violence in this series and in today’s episode. Please take care of yourself while you’re listening. 

Cindi: This is “Because of Anita,” a four-part series about Anita Hill, and the legacy of her testimony.   

Salamishah: I’m Salamishah Tillet. 

Cindi: And I’m Cindi Leive.  

VICE PRESIDENT QUAYLE: On this vote, the yeas are 52 and the nays are 48. The nomination of Clarence Thomas of Georgia to be Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court is hereby confirmed.

Salamishah: The morning after Clarence Thomas was confirmed I remember being in the car and listening to REM’s song The End of the World As We Know It. And I remember thinking it was such an apropos song. It was so devastating. It was so tragic because I felt like in that one moment of his confirmation, some dystopia that I dreaded had come to fruition. 

Cindi: Yeah, that moment definitely knocked the wind out of me, too. I remember being so viscerally angry at how Anita Hill was dismissed. But there was also, in retrospect, so much that I just didn’t understand. 

I was looking at the hearings and what came out of them through my personal lens as a white woman, I was working as a junior editor at Glamour magazine and surrounded by a mostly white staff. So when Clarence Thomas used the term “high-tech lynching”, it made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t fully understand its implications. And I definitely didn’t understand that even if the hearings were painful for me to watch, they were painful on a whole other level for black women.

Salamishah: It was painful. I mean, I think when he uses that phrase high tech lynching, he puts black people in a position to choose between him and Anita Hill. 

Conversations that black people have amongst each other in private, not in front of white people, about gender and race, were now on the public stage. And in that moment, I think so many black women around the country realize that we all were Anita Hill. 

Cindi:  So that’s why it’s so important for us to do this episode. You’ll hear from three guests, all black women who are affected by the hearings in strikingly different ways.  

For Carol Moseley Braun, the hearings were galvanizing. 

Carol Moseley Braun: I started the campaign for the United States Senate. That was my first response. And so. quite frankly, the women here in Illinois they showed up in my office. They proceeded to start writing checks. They made phone calls. They did the volunteer grunt work that goes into getting elected and to winning a campaign. 

Cindi: For Drew Dixon, the hearings felt like a warning.

Drew Dixon: Anita Hill impacted me not just in a sort of general abstract way, what happened to her crushed me in the years that followed and absolutely informed my choices every day that I tolerated the sexual harassment that culminated in a rape at Def Jam.

Salamishah: But we’re going to start with Barbara Ransby.  

Barbara Ransby: The spectacle of the hearings was particularly gut wrenching and the humiliation of someone like Anita Hill, who could have been our friend, our colleague, our neighbor, our sister, was just galling. 

Salamishah: Barbara Ransby lives in Chicago, where she’s a writer, activist and professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. 

In 1991, Ransby was one of the women behind the historic ad that ran in the NYTimes in support of Anita Hill soon after the hearings. 

There’s a framed copy of that ad hanging in my hallway. It’s a full page spread, a silhouette of a black woman with names of hundreds of Black women in fine print behind her. The type across the top says: “African-American Women in Defense of Ourselves.” It’s a really powerful greeting for everyone who comes into my home and everyone who leaves. 

Salamishah: But to understand why it means so much to me, let me take you back to 1991.  

In the early 90s, the headlines were full  of African American men who were being victimized by the state.  A couple of years before Anita Hill’s testimony, Donald Trump had taken out a full page ad against the boys who became known as the Central Park Five, who were wrongly convicted of rape. Two years after that, the world watched as a man named Rodney King was brutally attacked by the police in Los Angeles.  It was a horrible time…

Barbara Ransby: This idea that Black men were being wrongly accused of course, comes against the backdrop of many Black men being wrongly accused. so that is a real part of our history. Another real part of our history is that Black women have been victims of both harassment, rape and violence from white men and from Black men. And so, in a sense, Clarence Thomas used the larger trajectory of African-American history to his advantage to undermine or attempt to undermine the credibility of Anita  Hill, to say he was a victim of a high tech lynching. 

And that, again, was particularly outrageous to us as feminists. That no Black woman could make the allegation of rape without carrying on her back the weight of white supremacist practices and racism in this country, which all Black people have been victims of over time. So I think Anita Hill was caught in that skewed framing of race and gender when, of course, we all have multiple identities. But we wanted to make some intervention to have our voices as Black women be legible, myself and uh also Elsa Barkley Brown, Deborah King or other academics were talking about what could we do? 

Cindi: I love this phrase that you’re using this image of an intervention that you were trying to intervene. What was the narrative that you were trying to intervene in? And then when did you and your collaborators start having a discussion about what ultimately became the ad? 

Barbara Ransby: Well, you know, the intervention was to make our voices heard and to make our collective Black women’s voices heard. And our experiences, which were experiences of women who had experienced sexual harassment and in some cases sexual assault and violence, but women who are also experiencing racism and the reductionist view of those categories and those forms of oppression was what we were trying to intervene to both complicate and give voice to. 

And there was this collective cry of, yes, we were feeling the same things. Yes, we want to contribute. Yes. Add my name. So the three of us crafted a statement that we, felt reflected the conversations we were having and put out the call for people to respond. We wanted 1000 signatures. We got sixteen hundred and raised fifty thousand dollars, which at that time, felt like quite a lot of money. The mechanics of mobilizing the African-American women in defense of ourselves ad campaign was, you know, it was more than a notion and we enlisted a number of people. I remember my at the time, seven year old son was was opening envelopes, you know, that we had collected from the mail.I mean, we didn’t have a graphic designer. We had all the names. We had them typed in. We decided to put the statement in the middle and have all the names around it. That was our sophisticated design strategy. Um And then I took a Sharpie marker and did a squiggly line with dots in it as the border just to make it look a little bit, you know, a little bit more, um I don’t know, visually uh appealing, I don’t know if it accomplished that or not [laughs]

Salamishah: What does it mean to have this as part of the public record? Why is it important to have Black women’s organizing on behalf of Anita Hill or in defense of each other as part of the public record? 

Barbara Ransby: We wanted there to be a record of Black women’s and Black feminist voices on this. And so you know, I’m a historian by training, so you know, historical silences and historical voices are important. And so often when we look back to tell the story of the past, we are operating at a deficit. The extant voices are the ones that you know of, people who could leave diaries, who could who had letters, who were literate, who could make a public statement. And so had we not done that, you know, another generation from now would have said, you know, Black women are represented by whoever was writing in The New York Times or Black women are represented by whatever the media summary of the events were. And we just didn’t see ourselves in those official representations and we wanted our own and so it has become a part of the official record. 

Cindi: When you talk about not seeing yourselves, I think of the op-ed that the Black scholar Orlando Patterson published in the New York Times just after the hearings. Do you remember that?

Barbara Ransby: [laughs] Oh my goodness. Basically, he made the case that even if this had happened, to Anita Hill, that there was an understanding between Black men and women that there was a certain kind of flirtation, and that essentially sexual harassment was innocent and in a sense, authentic Black women knew how to thwart those advances and shouldn’t have aired dirty laundry in public. So the debate was heated and that was a particular low point. 

Cindi: About a month after Patterson’s column ran, Ransby, King and Brown’s ad appeared in the Sunday New York Times. It took up a full page. And it’s last sentence read, “No one will speak for us but ourselves.”  

Barbara Ransby: You know, oppressed people and aggrieved people always try to push back in one way or another. We don’t always document it. But in this case, at least, our outrage was documented. And, you know, look, an ad is not going to change the world, but it is one tactic of mobilizing people and it’s one tactic of making connections and giving voice. If that’s all we ever do, it’s woefully inadequate. But it is, you know, one drop in the bucket in terms of tactics and strategies for change. 

Salamishah: Thousands of people saw that ad. And one of them was Anita Hill. She later said it was one of the few things in those early weeks that made her feel less isolated.    

The ad was just one of the ways women mobilized in the wake of Anita Hill’s testimony. There was also—politics. Right so, having watched their Senators ignore charges of sexual harassment, a lot of women told themselves, ‘Maybe I should have that job.’

And so in the next election cycle, 1992, it got called the Year of the Woman.

Cindi: I was a magazine editor in New York, and I begged my boss to let me assign a reporter to cover those races. Everyone talked about it like it was a huge wave of women vying for house seats—in retrospect there weren’t that many, it was more like a ripple, but the numbers were so catastrophically low to begin with that honestly, any improvement looked like a takeover. 

A lot of women were actually annoyed by that “Year of the Woman” stuff. One Senator at the time, Barbara Mikulski, joked that it was like calling it the year of the caribou, or the year of the asparagus – you know, some outlandish anomaly, rather than just half the population actually believing they deserved to be represented. Which was what Carol Moseley Braun had in mind.  

Carol Moseley Braun: I watched the hearings, of course. And like everybody else, I was touched by it. It was really clear to me that she was A, telling the truth and B, that that was an experience that every woman I knew, black or white, had had some variation of an experience with. 

Salamishah: In 1991, Moseley Braun was the Recorder of Deeds in Cook County, Illinois. Before that, she had served 5 terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. Her Senator was a Democrat, but had voted to confirm Thomas.   

Carol Moseley Braun: I’m sufficiently old school that I had reached out to our incumbent United States senator to tell him how much I objected to his vocal support for Thomas. And I remember talking about the civil rights movement and all that Thurgood Marshall meant to young people like me, — I was young then, but anyway — when I tell you he just did not get it, I mean, the more I talked about civil rights, the more this guy was just removed and detached from the argument I was making. And so I thought to myself, this guy just does not get it. He just will not understand why this is a problem. and that was when I began to kind of formulate a plan to, you know, run for the office. It’s just that simple.

Cindi: [laughs] 

Carol Mosely Braun: That was my first response. 

Salamishah: At the time Moseley Braun decided to run, there were just two women in the US Senate, that’s exactly two percent of that body. Both of them were white. No Black woman had ever been elected to the Senate. But Moseley Braun was ready. 

Carol Moseley Braun: People thought I was delusional and crazy for getting out there. But I thought, you know, I got as many qualifications as any of the guys who were running for the Senate all over the country. 

I mean, I’m a lawyer, a University of Chicago trained lawyer. I’ve been assistant United States attorney. I had worked my way up through the state legislature to the county office. I mean, I had the credentials and the qualifications to do the job. And I knew what I was getting into. So having said that, my attitude was, you know, if I’m qualified, then why wouldn’t I do this? 

Cindi: Once you’re through the election and you arrive in Washington, what was that feeling of sort of kinship and immediacy with the incoming women senators, or did that not really exist? 

Carol Moseley Braun: I think some lifetime relationships were forged in that crucible. And that’s what it was, because it – particularly for me, it was very difficult 

I ran into both racism and sexism.  I mean, I had a job to do. and I just set about doing it, that’s all.

Cindi: Senator Joe Biden had a specific request for Moseley Braun. He wanted her to join the Senate Judiciary Committee—yup, the same committee that had questioned Anita Hill a year earlier.  

Carol Moseley Braun: Joe Biden had talked me into being on the Judiciary Committee, by the way. I did not want to go on that committee originally, but anyway I said you just want Anita  Hill on the other side of the table. I thought that was a hilarious joke, but he did not, um uh. And so I literally optics on it was that Anita Hill was now on the other side of the table. And that was fine by me. 

Cindi: In her first months in the Senate, Moseley Braun faced off against Senator Jesse Helms, the long time and powerful Republican senator from North Carolina. She had noticed a line in a Senate bill that protected a design patent held by the United Daughters of the Confederacy for an image of the Confederate flag. She objected—and ended up taking on Senator Helms.  

Carol Moseley Braun: That bill, had been passed and confirmed by the Senate for a generation, almost, I mean, had been routinely renewed, my staffer came up to me with a note that said Jesse Helms has just taken to the Senate floor with the Confederate flag. So I then hightailed it out of the committee hearing and went across the campus to the Senate floor and proceeded to filibuster that renewal for the patent on the Confederate flag. 


Cindi: She won that fight, and stopped the patent renewal. Then, when she and Senator Helms ran into each other in an elevator after the vote, he sang a song to her – or at her. The song? I Wish “I Was in Dixie Land,” a favorite of the confederacy.  

Carol Moseley Braun: We’re on the elevator and he turns around and says, ‘I’m going to sing this Dixie until she cries. I want to make her cry and I’m going to sing Dixie until she cries.’ And I said, ‘Senator, you could sing Rock of Ages and it would make me cry,’ 

Salamishah: mmm

Carol Mosely Braun: He wasn’t used to dealing with somebody who grew up on the south side of Chicago and knows about signifying. OK, [laughs] so. 

Salamishah: [laughs]

Salamishah: Today, there are 143 women in Congress – just over a quarter of the members. This shift in balance began back in 1991, with Hill’s testimony.  

Carol Moseley Braun: And that was the beginning, frankly, of a popular awakening that we are now seeing the fruits of. The fact is that the status of and condition of women, violence against women, this was never an issue before. And a generation ago, when I first started out in politics, it was not even discussed. And so now, because of Anita Hill, it’s not only discussed, but we’re actually seeing things happen because of it. 

Cindi: In this episode, we’re hearing from Black women about how Anita Hill’s testimony affected them, and the choices they made. Carol Moseley Braun and Barbara Ransby were both motivated to take political action. To make public change. 

Salamishah: But for a lot of women, the impact of Anita Hill was far more personal. More private, right? So less a spark, more of a warning. And many of those women have not shared their stories. 

That’s something I wanted to talk about with Drew Dixon. Because when I heard her story of sexual assault, it resonated with my own. ..

Salamishah: In the early 1990s, Dixon was an executive at Def Jam, THE hip hop label of the era. She helped launch the careers of Method Man and, later, Lauryn Hill. She was a taste-maker. 

But in 1995, Dixon says, she was raped by her boss at Def Jam, Russell Simmons. He denies the allegations.

Cindi: Dixon kept quiet about that assault  for years. Decades. And she says it was partly because of the long shadow of what had happened to Anita Hill. 

Drew Dixon: Anita Hill impacted me not just in a sort of general abstract way, what happened to her inspired me for the few days that I thought it would matter and then sort of crushed me in the years that followed and absolutely informed my choices every day that I tolerated the sexual harassment that culminated in a rape at Def Jam. Anita Hill was on my mind the whole time. 

Cindi: Like so many of us, Dixon had watched the hearings on TV. She was in college, at Stanford.   

Drew Dixon: I was riveted. I watched the Anita Hill hearings, you know, from the beginning to the end with my roommate, another Black woman who’s now an OB/GYN in Oakland. And it was really transformational. We had a little square chunky TV in our kind of dining living kitchen area, which was also my room separated by like a curtain. [laughs] 

Cindi: [laughs]

Drew Dixon: I’m not even sure how we fit the hearings into our schedules as students. I just know that we were riveted and that it sort of stopped time for me to see this woman who I identified with so much. I identified with her as a Black woman. I identified with her as a serious intellectual, academic, professional woman. And I identified with her feeling of isolation in this sea of predominantly men in their suits in this old traditional institution. You know, as a Black woman at Stanford, sitting often in lecture halls surrounded by lots of white men, I could relate to just what she was carrying, what all of us are carrying as Black women when we enter these spaces 

Drew Dixon: And so just everything about Anita Hill felt familiar to me. And I was just stunned that she was calling it out, frankly, because it’s kind of like the air, who notices the air? I’d been breathing that sort of toxic, masculine, patriarchal air my whole life and just assumed I had to kind of tolerate it. And I was just stunned that she had the courage to call it out. 

Cindi: So thinking again about this experience, of you’re you’re watching her and it sounds like her testimony and her voice so powerfully affected you… 

Drew Dixon: Her presence affected me, her persona affected me, her dignity affected me, her very – just her undeniable sort of integrity and intelligence and grace affected me. And then for her to have to say such odious things, in sort of this austere space where she was so full of grace. But then she had to talk about pubic hair and, you know the genitalia of her boss, who was being nominated for the Supreme Court, -the juxtaposition of the language that she was forced to use and her just dignified carriage was striking, was jaw dropping. The work she was doing for all of us as Black people, as black women and as women in general with the suit and the hair and the carriage. It’s all work that is invisible to men, probably, and to white men, I’m sure. The work that you do even before you open your mouth in terms of the choices you make about how you look and how you carry yourself when you enter those rooms. I could feel it. I could feel the work she was doing just by sitting there and being so dignified. The Black community had more sympathy for this black man who was going to roll back so many of the advances we’ve made as Black people. But they cared more about protecting him than protecting her, even when it didn’t serve our interest as black people that I knew good and well to keep my mouth shut about Russell Simmons because no one thought I should even be making rap records in the first place. 

Salamishah: She says one of the reasons she remained quiet was because of the stereotypes around Black mens’ sexuality, and how those myths had been used to take down Black men.  It was a choice that weighed heavily on her. 

Drew Dixon: The stereotype of the violent, predatory, hyper sexualized Black man is something I thought about every single day for the 22 years, frankly, that I didn’t come forward. I did not want to throw a match on that gasoline that is used to destroy the lives and to take away the liberty of so many innocent Black men and boys. The Central Park five happened also right before I got to New York, before I got the job at Def Jam,   the O.J. Bronco car chase, you know, cut across my TV screen when I was watching the Knicks and it dominated the headlines for my entire career at Def Jam.

Drew Dixon: I was in the Def Jam offices and we all cheered when the verdict was announced. And I thought the building was going to come down because we all cheered so hard. And three weeks later, I was raped by Russell Simmons he’s the king of hip hop. And I was very clear about how that could be weaponized against Black people. And that would give mainstream media another black boogeyman. And that would also be weaponized against hip hop. And I thought that the importance of protecting innocent Black men and boys from that dangerous mythology was worth my silence. 

Salamishah: You know, as a fellow rape survivor who’s been sexually assaulted by Black men and I’ve always been struck by how Black women are very aware of this, the myth of the black male rapist and protecting Black men from a a very cruel and-and racist judicial system. But the myth of Black women, um as you know, the flip side of that was the Black Jezebel the Black whore um like overly licentious black women. And I was wondering if you saw that in Anita Hill in terms of the way people framed her and then did that impact how you thought people would see you?

Drew Dixon: Well, first of all, I’m sorry. And I want to acknowledge what you shared with me. So thank you for sharing that with me. 

Salamishah: Thank you. 

Drew Dixon: You’re absolutely right. Black women walk around protecting Black men all day, every day, and they know it. They count on it. They benefit from it. They do not reciprocate. For me, in real time as a senior at Stanford, I related to Anita Hill. I was proud of Anita Hill. I believed Anita Hill and I thought it would matter. And when it didn’t matter, there’s a level on which I think I just detached and buried it and took the hard lesson. And that’s kind of all I retained was the lesson that no one cared. And I didn’t examine it further.

Cindi: After Dixon was assaulted, she says she was completely exhausted. She knew she had to leave Def Jam.

Drew Dixon: I mean, I had like a nervous breakdown. I’d been raped. I cut off all my hair. I went and told my mentor, I think maybe the next day. And then I didn’t leave my apartment for like a month. And then I went back to work for a couple weeks. And when I was in the office, Russell asked me to sit on his lap and it was so demoralizing that I think that’s when I left and actually had all my hair cut off. And then I submitted a handwritten letter of resignation with, like, cross outs, like I didn’t even have the physical strength to crumple it up and start a new paper.

Cindi: Dixon didn’t speak publicly about what had happened with Russell Simmons.

Drew Dixon: I didn’t want to be the Anita Hill of hip hop. I didn’t. I saw how that worked out for her. My sense was that the Black community was embarrassed by Anita Hill and impatient with Anita Hill. And that’s what I remembered. That’s what sort of baked itself into my bone marrow. And that’s what I carried with me into my career. 

Cindi: Dixon tried to stay in the music industry she loved. But it was impossible, she says, to find a safe space to work.  After leaving Def Jam, she went to Arista Records, where her boss was L.A. Reid. Who, she says, sexually harassed her. 

Drew Dixon: The harassment was pervasive and it was an, a roadblock and it was a stranglehold and it ended my career. And so I just want to be really clear that sexual harassment, when it is weaponized, to reroute you and reroute you and reroute you until you comply is violent and should not be overlooked because it is juxtaposed in my story with rape. It was violent and career ending and devastating. 

Cindi: You know, you talked about this feeling and this sort of awareness of how Anita Hill was viewed as being baked into your bone marrow and so it stayed there, it sounds like, for many years, but I want to fast forward to 2017, when you started to make different choices and spoke first to The New York Times and then to the On The Record documentary about what Russell Simmons did. And I’m curious how much were you thinking, You know, I hope that this thing that I’ve been dreading, that I will not be supported, is not actually the case? 

Drew Dixon: I really have carried Anita Hill with me since those hearings, and especially because I then went on in my own career to experience sexual harassment. And I carried her with me when I decided to come forward. And it occurred to me, you know, I don’t know what Anita Hill’s professional trajectory would have been if she hadn’t come forward, but as far as I know, she’s alive and well and living somewhere with her integrity. And I’ll take it. I’ll take it. If they hate me, they hate me. If they misunderstand me, they misunderstand me. If they don’t believe me, that’s on them. Because this is not just my truth. It is the truth. And I know I love my people. And if they don’t know that, that’s their problem. I am just going to tell the truth. 

Salamishah: Neither Russell Simmons nor LA Reid have admitted any wrongdoing, and neither has been charged with a crime. As for Drew Dixon, the On the Record documentary came out in 2020, and today, she is producing music, and writing.  

Like Anita Hill, she says she’s okay.

Drew Dixon: Because of Anita, I had the vocabulary and the framework to even understand the nature of the harm that was being done to me and because of Anita, I knew that even if my career was ruined, which had it already been effectively ruined, and even if I was blackballed and ostracized and unemployable and untouchable, I would survive. I would live. I would find my people, I would find my place, and I would have my peace and I would be OK. 

Cindi: In our next episode, a conversation between two women who are, effectively, a club of two. Professor Anita Hill herself sits down with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified 27 years after her. It’s their first public conversation. And it’s powerful.  

Salamishah: I’m Salamishah Tillet. 

And I’m Cindi Leive. 

Because of Anita is a production of Pineapple Street Studios and The Meteor. 

Salamishah: Our senior producer is Kat Aaron and our managing producer is Agerenesh Ashagre. 

Cindi: This show was also produced by Justine Daum. Our associate producers are Janelle Anderson, and Xandra Ellin. 

Our editor is Leila Day. 

Our project lead for The Meteor is Rebecca Halperin. 

Fact-checking by Ivette Manners. 

Salamishah: Our engineers are Davy Sumner and Raj Makhija and Hannis Brown. 

Special thanks to Joel Lovell and Maddy Sprung-Keyser at Pineapple Street.

This episode features original composition by Davy Sumner, Raj Makhija and Hannis Brown.

Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions.

Cindi:  Our show art is by Pentagram and our additional art is by Pixelittle.

Our executive producers at the Meteor are us, Salamishah Tillet and Cindi Leive. Our C-O-O at the Meteor is Kara Kearns. And our executive producers at Pineapple Street are Max Linsky and Jenna Weiss Berman. 

Salamishah:Thank you to Dr. Barbara Ransby, Ambassador Carol Mosely Braun, and Drew Dixon for joining us for this episode.