How International Peace Day Promoted Violence Against Women and Demonstrated We Need Accountability

Just when I was gearing up for an inspiring international Peace Day, I stumbled across the Twitter stream of the United Nations announcing the Peace One Day concert headlining Akon.

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My stomach dropped, my throat closed, and I was furious. I had this image playing in my head of the past decade of controversies surrounding Akon, the most disturbing of which was a public sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Trinidad. For those who do not remember the 2007 incident, Akon was performing in a club where he brought a 15-year-old on stage for a “dance contest,” told her she would win a trip to Africa and then dragged her around the stage, simulating rough sex with her (video here *trigger warning*). The whole time, the girl is crying out and yelling as he throws her around and hits her head on the floor. The girl later spoke to Trinidad news and described being taken by surprised and feeling “bad” as she climbed off stage but so congratulated by others that she doubted her feelings. She felt ashamed and was viciously victim-blamed. When Akon came under fire, he lost his Verizon sponsorship and issued a whimpering apology video where he said “Sorry, blame it on me.” 

However, violence continued to be a trend. He later came under fire for punching a female fan across the face and another time bodily grabbing and throwing a 15-year-old boy off stage. The boy was injured and pressed charges to which Akon pled guilty.

Violent behavior was not his only source of controversy. In 2010, he was banned from Sri Lanka for the music video of the song “Sexy Bitch” where a statue of Buddha was featured in the background of a pool party of scantily clad women (at 1:39), offending many of the nation’s religious and sparking protests. The government told the BBC, “Considering the controversial video images, offensive song lyrics and strong protests coming from various cultural, religious groups and organisations in the country, the government was compelled to take this decision.” Akon meekly replied that he is a “spiritual man” and was “saddened” by this response. He pled ignorant, saying he actually didn’t realize the large statue of Buddha was there. In his reply, he did not address the song’s other problems, including its offensive lyrics and sexist video.

Then, I’ll admit, Akon went almost silent, and I almost forgot about him. Sure, he released one video two years ago calledHurt Somebodywhere he said, “Let me get up out of here/ Before I hurt somebody/ Or I have to hurt somebody” but mostly he was quiet.

He did a few features, includingOne in the chamberwhere his refrain is, “Still went out and banged her, yeah I banged her,” and then released “Dirty work” that was reminiscent of his earlier song “Smack that” with the usual degrading lyrics: “Ass up/ Face down/ Perfect body and she lay it to the ground/ Stacked up/ Waist down/ Wanted to throw it like a pitcher on a mound.” Still, he remained relatively low profile, and there were other artists to worry about who have been most actively promoting misogyny through music in recent years.

So this Tweet from the United Nations was the first I had really noticed of Akon in a long time. Yet, what could he possibly sing about that promotes peace? He certainly can’t sing any of his own songs or play any of his own videos, which are rife with violence, misogynistic lyrics and objectification of women.

What made me most frustrated and sad was the air of calm acceptance and complicity with which he was chosen to sing as a headliner for a concert on international Peace Day in a country that is considered “the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman,” where an estimated 48 women are raped every hour. The choice is baffling, as he himself was once surrounded by sexual assault controversy and continues to create degrading and violent music, a barrage of songs that primarily objectify and demean female subjects.

The fact that he was chosen for a symbolic and important concert on Peace Day is an international tragedy. It is a symbol to the women of the world that our assaults, our degradation, our sexualization and our objectification does not matter. The men who do those things to us publicly are exalted, redeemed and promoted while we watch in horror.

Where was my peace on this world Peace Day?

Without holding celebrities accountable for their actions, their music, their videos, we become the silent crowd that watches as a woman gets beaten and nearly killed on a public sidewalk. We are almost as good as the assailants themselves. The choices we make matter, and there won’t be peace until we stop celebrating the artists that destroy the worth of other human beings in every song they make. I hope that we can continue to fight for an end to violence and degradation in music and in the world so that Peace Day can truly be the important symbol it is meant to be. Shame on Peace One Day for this choice of artist and shame on the United Nations for promoting it… As a woman, I felt alienated and alone on a day when I should have felt uplifted and restored.

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