On November 18th Medium published an opinion piece on why it is problematic to continue listening to and supporting R & B singer R. Kelly. In “It Is Not Okay to Listen to Accused Serial Rapist R. Kelly” Nathan Slavik powerfully enunciates the allegations against Kelly, asking the reader to visualize the ordeal of the multiple girls who have come forward with accounts of Kelly’s sexual predation.
Coming of age in the 1990s meant that I grew up with R. Kelly’s music. And though I have many memories attached to his earlier work, I now feel nauseous when I hear his voice. I stopped listening to Kelly years ago. Being aware that Kelly repeatedly sought out girls only two years older than my child means my conscience will not allow me to enjoy his work.
Slavik’s piece did not alter my view on Kelly, but it did serve to spark a fruitful dialogue on the topic with a good friend of mine. He asked if I read it.
“It’s been making the rounds in my circle”, he continued, “and what amazes me is that most of the pushback and anger directed at critics of R. Kelly is coming from African-American women!”
I understood his exasperation with these women. Season One of “The Boondocks” has an episode on the allegations made against Kelly, and in this case the line between truth and fiction was blurred.
In my life I’ve witnessed AA women spew fiery words in defense on behalf of R. Kelly. The ardent defense of Kelly from African-American girls and women, the very demographic he preyed on, has often left me appalled. An example of this occurred earlier this year.
In late January I stood in the break room at work, making small talk with two other AA women about our plans for the upcoming weekend.
“Girl I’m going to see R. Kelly on Saturday and I CANNOT WAIT”, Angie said as she added sugar to her tea.
“Oh you’re going too? Good, we can ride together! Ooooh I really hope he does some of his older stuff at the concert! I bumped ’12 Play” and ‘TP2’ all the time”, Tracy replied, humming the tune to “Bump N Grind” and rocking side to side.
“Yes we can see you’re excited”, Angie said as she laughed at Tracy’s antics. “What about you D? What are you getting into this weekend?”
I gripped my coffee mug, wondering if my facial expression betrayed my thoughts. My jovial mood was dissipating, along with the camaraderie and sisterhood I previously felt with these women. There was much I wanted to say to them, but work was not the time or the place to do so. Instead I told them I had no plans and quickly returned to my desk.
The R. Kelly concert took place that weekend. Between the clips from the concert gleefully posted by my cousins who attended and listening to Tracy and Angie talk about how fine Kelly was I wanted to cry. It would be one thing for non-Blacks to show a lack of sensitivity to the treatment of Black girls. Even the indifference that Black men express towards the violence inflicted by their peers on Black girls and women no longer enrages me. I’ve become so desensitized to it that their carelessness isn’t a shock to me. But seeing Black women exhibit that same kind of callous disregard truly hurt and felt like betrayal.
After sharing this story with my friend and listening to his own experiences dealing with R. Kelly stans he posed the following question to me: why, in your opinion, have AA women stood by Kelly and why has he been enabled? I felt this was a great question and was moved to write about it.
In my view there are two issues at play here: internalized misogyny among AA women and the enabling of predatory males in the community at large.
Online and offline I have frequently discussed gender relations within my community and vented my frustration with the abuse that AA girls and women suffer at the hands of AA men. While I stand by that I cannot deny the unpleasant fact that there are AA women who have internalized misogyny to such a degree that they operate as sentinels for patriarchy. Instead of condemning AA men who beat and/or rape girls and women they defend them. They then shift the burden of responsibility to the victim.
Pubescent AA girls are especially in danger of going through this due to the “fast-tailed girls” mentality that is prevalent in our community. When their physical development begins to take course they are viewed as diabolical temptresses and expected to possess the emotional maturity and decision-making skills of an adult woman twice their age. The grown men who deliberately seek them out for exploitation are rarely held accountable and ostracized for their predatory behavior.
This brings us to the issue of enabling predators. I find R. Kelly’s pattern of behavior to be both troubling and sickening. But upon deep reflection I cannot say I am that shocked that so many are willing to sweep his deeds under the rug, for this is what frequently happens in segments of our community when grown men are known to rape teenage girls. I think of the 13-year-old girl I knew in 1991 who had a 19 year-old “boyfriend”. He was aware of her age and having sex with her. When her family found out their solution was to give her a brutal beating, believing that violence would stop her from being “fast”. Yet they didn’t bother to find the adult man and deal with him at all!
I think of the reaction to a video posted to World Star Hip-Hop(a site I LOATHE btw) in April 2014 of a 13-year-old AA girl being beaten and called derogatory names by her family. The girl had allegedly been away from home for three days, and those who approved of her family’s actions pointed to this to justify the child being beaten and called a hoe. I vociferously disagreed. Part of what vexed me was the fact that those who were calling for the 13-year-old to be punished and held accountable had nothing to say about the grown man who spent those three days with her
I believe that the answer to my friends’ question is in these examples, for when people in our community turn a blind eye to R. Kelly’s sins they are not do not believe that what they are doing is immoral. The enabling and support given to R. Kelly is a symptom of a deeper problem. He is a monster but one that we know well. I believe that many do not condemn him because they have predators like him in their circle. They cannot question and criticize him because doing so means they would have to confront the monsters they may know personally. However if we want to address the sexual abuse of our girls and women we must summon the fortitude to do so.
Further Recommended Reading-“What’s Hidden in Plain Sight: A Look at Childhood Sexual Abuse”