On Friday, three days after Gawker ran Dee Barnes’s essay “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up,” the New York Times ran a piece that included an official apology from Dr. Dre addressed to “the woman I’ve hurt.” Barnes’s response to Dre’s apology is below.
Bravo, Andre. Humility is true self-knowledge.
I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives...Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.
I hope he meant it. I hope he represents these words in his life. I hope that after all these years, he really is a changed man.
Dr. Dre has matured, and the women he’s hurt, including myself, have endured. I’m proud to be able to say goodbye to the man who at one point was straight outta fucks to give, as he consistently dismissed and disrespected any mention of his assault history. Goodbye to the man who didn’t deny it and even bragged, “I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing–I just threw her through a door.”
Goodbye to a general public that accepted these indiscretions without so much as a second thought. When news of the apology broke, my social media feeds were immediately flooded with responses ranging from good to bad to ugly. I saw comments like, “That was the worst apology,” “Fake apology,” and, “He did not have the decency to state your names and do it face to face after all those years—that’s the least he could do.”
I understand people’s apprehension. The stakes are high now and money talks, loud. Is this is a PR move by Universal, which released Straight Outta Compton? After all, the film just crossed the $100 million mark its second weekend in theaters. Is it damage control by Apple, which can no longer ignore that if you take the “Beats by Dre” logo and remove the “S,” you get a double entendre describing several woman he just apologized to? Is Dre himself really remorseful or just saving face? To me, the answers to these questions matter less than the fact that Dre stepped up and performed his social responsibility by finally taking accountability for his actions. Who cares why he apologized? The point is that he did.
I know what it’s like to speak out and have your intentions criticized. While my essay about my experiences with Dre and N.W.A. received a lot of positive support, I was also repeatedly asked, “Why now?” To be clear, I spoke out after a Rolling Stone interview promoting Straight Outta Compton—released August 12, 2015, just two days before the movie’s opening weekend—named me as the TV host assaulted in a 1991 “incident.” This is the first time Dre supposedly “apologized” in public to the women he hurt. He vaguely acknowledged his “fucking horrible mistakes.” But he didn’t actually apologize: “I would say all the allegations aren’t true–some of them are.” And that is why I spoke out. That is “why now.”
Then last week, the L.A.Times published an article about an early draft of the Straight Outta Compton screenplay that included a depiction of my brutal encounter with Dr. Dre, in which my character throws a drink in his face after being confronted. It’s only after the drink is thrown that the Dre character retaliates with physical violence. That is a fabrication intended to excuse his actions.
I’ve also received harshly worded comments stating that the biopic is not the Dr. Dre story, it’s N.W.A.’s. But when other members of the group publicly condoned the assault, their confirmation made it officially an N.W.A. issue. Eazy E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella verbally bashed me after Dre did it violently. It was nothing short of character assassination.
In 1999, eight years after the incident, Dr. Dre added insult to injury by producing and releasing the Eminem single “Guilty Conscience.” This song was no “fucking mistake.” Em’s rap brought up Dre’s violent past while accusing him of hypocrisy: “You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes?” Eminem also rapped: “Mr. Dre, Mr. N.W.A., Mr. A.K. coming Straight Outta Compton, y’all better make way. How in the fuck are you gonna tell this man not to be violent?”
The story goes that Dre “fell out of his chair laughing” when he heard the reference. I have been routinely accused of “living in the past” and of not letting this go, but it was Dr. Dre himself who was living in the past and couldn’t let it go so he created a permanent reminder of the “Dee Barnes incident.” And Eminem is not the only one; there are numerous songs that mention the incident, enough that essentially turned me into a, uh, punchline. Of the women assaulted by Dre, I was the only one to press criminal charges against him. I’m also the only one whose name later came up in one of his songs. “Guilty Conscience” and the other songs containing the reference are products of clear and obvious misogyny on a cultural level and for what? Jokes?
The hypocrisy of it all is appalling. This is bigger than me, and bigger than hip-hop. This is about respect and awareness. As a result of speaking on my personal experience with violence, I have been vilified. Women survivors of violence are expected neither to be seen nor heard, and the pressure increases when it involves celebrities. No one wants to see their heroes criticized. And if they are African American, the community at large becomes suspicious of an underlying motive to tear down a successful black man. Excusing pop culture icons from scrutiny over their history of violence against women because they are elevated to “hero” status is wrong on so many levels. Creating notable, brilliant art does not absolve you of your faults. In the past, great art was enough to exalt men of their bad behavior, but in 2015 it’s no longer the case. Survivors have a right and an obligation to speak up (#NoSilenceOnDomesticViolence). We are too loud, too correct, too numerous to be ignored.
[Dee Barnes image courtesy of Dee Barnes; Dr. Dre image via Getty. Collage by Tara Jacoby.]