I Don’t See Nothin’ Wrong: R. Kelly, America’s Blind Eye, and the Fight for Black Girls

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Thought For the Day:

“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Albert Einstein

Question For the Day:

Do you turn a blind eye in the name of good music?

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be at a party when “Step in the Name of Love” by R. Kelly dropped, then you know what living feels like.  That song….smh. Matter of fact, the whole Chocolate Factory album stayed on repeat for me for months after I purchased it. But I’ve been bumpin’ R. Kelly since I was a Howard co-ed when “Honey Love” had me feeling some type of way!  And let’s not even get into “Down Low,” “I Wish,” “When a Woman’s Fed Up” and the whole 12 Play album… Needless to say, I am a fan of R. Kelly’s music.  And because I am, I held off on this pesky “pedophile” business for as long as I could.

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I agreed it was strange when he married a 15 year old Aaliyah. Then there was the infamous “tape.” Now, I haven’t seen it, cause watching a grown man have sex with and urinate on an underaged girl, somehow doesn’t tickle my fancy, whether it’s Kelly or not.  But, since I wasn’t there and hadn’t seen it, what did I know about the tape’s authenticity? Maybe he was set up? Photo shopped perhaps? Stranger things have happened, especially considering how Black men in the limelight are generally targeted.

But then there was that BET exclusive interview with Toure’ after his 2008 child pornography trial that had me befuddled.  In the interview, he was asked about sexual abuse allegations made by several staffers and his own brother to which Kelly responded, “Don’t listen to the people that was fired… (makes sense) …and don’t listen to the people that was hired.” (Huh?) But the real head scratcher in that interview was when Toure’ asked him point blank, “Do you like teenage girls?” to which Kelly’s first response was, “When you say teenage, how old we talkin’?” (Say what, now?)

But raised eyebrow and all, I stayed bumpin’ me some R. Kelly because he’s a musical genius and had earned his self-proclaimed title as the “Pied Piper of R&B.” By the way, I don’t know if anybody knows the original story of the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” which is a folk legend from the early 1900s about a piper (musician) who was dressed in flashy multicolored (pied) clothes who was hired by a town to lure rats away with his magical musical pipe. When the town doesn’t pay him what he feels he deserves, he retaliates by using his instrument’s power to lure their children away instead. Now of all the titles R Kelly could have chosen for himself, he settled on the “Pied Piper of R&B.” Just let that marinate for a second. I’ll wait……

However, none of this really fazed me until I read an article just last year in Rolling Stone magazine entitled “Surviving R. Kelly” written by one of his accusers Kitti Jones. Ms. Jones’ personal account was so heart-breaking that I finally snapped out of my trance and realized just how far the Pied Piper’s music had lured me away from my sense of decency.

In the article, Ms. Jones talked about vile sexual acts, and young girls being bound by leashes and called “pets.” She claims Kelly prided himself on “training his bitches” to please him sexually and would ensure that they were under his total control. They could not communicate with their families, could not speak to or look at other men, had to wear unassuming jogging suits, and would even be starved for days into compliance.  If any of the ladies broke Kelly’s rules, they would be punished.  I actually got a queasy feeling in my stomach after reading that article and it drove me to an epiphany.

Why was I, a social work professional who works with domestic abuse victims and sexual assault survivors, so quick to invalidate the claims of so many women? How had I not even considered the possibility that at least ONE of the dozens of accusations made against this man might be true.  And why was it so easy for me to assume that all of these women, BLACK women, were liars, gold-diggers and young “fast things” instead of possible victims? As a Black woman myself who knows what it feels like to be undermined and devalued, why was I one of the first in line to do the same to the next Black woman? How many more headlines would have to surface before I realized that by continuing to blindly support this man, I may be further victimizing myself as a woman of color.

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I could sit here and try to debate the validity of all the claims made against him.  I could note all the alleged payouts he’s made to young girls and their families, the allegations of his abuse and misogynistic treatment of women by his employees, family, ex-girlfriends, and ex-wife. I could add a link to very recent audio where he was caught on tape telling a young girl who’d left his compound that she would “have to be punished” if she returned.  I could even note his own song titles including “It Seems Like You’re Ready,” “You Remind Me of My Jeep,” “Keep it on the Down Low,” “Throw this Money on You,” “R&B Thug” and of course the hit he penned for his 15 year old bride Aaliyah, “Age Aint Nothin’ But a Number.”

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But as dirty as he appears, the fact of the matter is, he was not proven guilty.  There is no indictment that would give anyone hardcore proof that he is truly a pedophile. But it would be a pretty complex conspiracy if all of his accusers, their families, his ex-wife, staffers, and his own relative were all in cahoots to destroy him, as Kelly suggests.  At minimum, his judgement is questionable and we as consumers of his music have the right to know what conduct our money is supporting.

And if he’s out of line, we as the people who support his career have to be willing to call him out and not just resort to the old default retort of “it’s racism.”  Yes, racism is real. And yes, Black men are targets. However, bad behavior has never been a respecter of color. And please don’t give me that tired line of “Well, Hugh Hefner did it all the time, and nobody said anything.” (And?!)  It’s high time we as Black people move away from gauging our own morality against the actions of the most immoral White people we can think of.   If you ask me, I believe Kelly is likely guilty. But what I also believe is that the proof of his guilt is less of an issue than the emotional damage being done to the women he’s (allegedly) hurt when we insist upon defending his innocence.  The real tragedy is the fact that women of color who report instances of abuse are routinely discredited, mocked, ignored and readily dismissed.

Most folks blamed Ray Rice’s wife for how he slapped and spit on her in that elevator back in 2014. Another Love TKO: 5 Lies that Keep Women in Abusive Relationships People wondered what smart comment Rihanna must have made to Chris Brown to deserve that mangled face seen around the world.  And Sandra Bland was labeled deranged and uncontrollable when she accused a police officer of misconduct prior to her mysterious “suicide” in a Texas jail cell.  Arrested Development (What Happened to Sandra Bland?)  If R. Kelly is unequivocally innocent, then what does that say about the character of all the young Black women who have stated otherwise?

The bottom line is this, my friends. Black Lives Matter and that includes the lives of Black women. In our fight against inequality and injustice, let’s not create a culture of discrimination within our own community that ostracizes and marginalizes the women who are responsible for it’s survival.  If a Black woman says that she’s been hurt, we owe her the benefit of the doubt. If we’re adamant about R Kelly having the right to be innocent until proven guilty, then let’s extend that same right to the women who’ve made accusations against him.  Instead of immediately questioning their character, let’s be as willing to defend their reputations and contributions to this world as we are to defend his.  No matter how good Kelly’s music may be, the dignity of Black women will always be worth more. #MuteRKelly #BlackGirlsMatter #BlackLivesMatter #ProtectBlackGirls

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

1 Timothy 5:20

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