We had almost forgotten, but the recent and sickening allegations against R. Kelly shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given what we already know about him. It is reported that the singer is keeping a number of women prisoner in a cult at various homes of his across America. Parents say their daughters have completely cut off contact with them.
Former employees of Kelly’s allege that he controls these women physically and sexually, dictates when they shower and when they sleep, forces them to wear baggy clothes while in public so they don’t look too “appealing”, and makes them call him “Daddy”. An explosive Buzzfeed article describes a pattern of meeting young women at concerts and keeping in touch with them via communications kept secret from their families, before they eventually move in with him and lose contact with the outside world entirely.
It’s been over 20 years since then grown-ass man R. Kelly married a 15-year old Aaliyah, and apparently time heals all wounds because somehow that’s been largely forgotten. It also wasn’t enough when he faced criminal trial for 14 counts of child pornography and a video of him golden-showering a 14 year old girl. The bizarreness of his urine kink managed to overshadow the actual rape allegations, but countless reports over the last two decades detail the open secret of Kelly’s preying on young women with impunity.
“There are people on this earth that are willing to turn a blind eye to sins, provided the sinner can make a hot jam”
And yet, bewilderingly, unfathomably, R. Kelly still – still! – has fans, the support of other artists and is still cashing cheques. And unsurprisingly many of his supporters are black. As the stellar episode of The Boondocks showed us 12 years ago in The Trial of R Kelly, there are people on this earth that are willing to turn a blind eye to sins, provided the sinner can make a hot jam. The episode reflected an unpleasant reality that’s as true now as it was then. How are there are still people defending Chris Brown? Floyd Mayweather? Bill Cosby?
At least with Cosby there’s a sense that whether or not he’s ever brought to justice, his career is over – but this is not so with R Kelly. None of these allegations have stopped Kelly headlining festivals and collaborating with artists like Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper; although it’ll be interesting to see what the industry reaction is this time around. Odds are he’ll keep a low profile for a while and then we’ll hear those familiar dulcet tones on the hook of a new record.
It repulses me, but I can’t say it surprises me too much, when black men defend other black men who have been accused of crimes against women. After all, it doesn’t affect them – just ask any of the myriad rappers (or Usher) that have worked with Chris Brown over the past few years, apparently unphased by his catalogue of abuse against various women. But, how is it that some of R Kelly staunchest defenders are black women?
“When situations like this arise, as a black woman, you’re almost required to choose between your gender and your race”
When situations like this arise, as a black woman, you’re almost required to choose between your gender and your race. There’s a kind of “we won’t let them take one of ours” mentality among some black women, which allows them to defend black men accused of crimes, against perceived white attacks. When the Cosby allegations exploded in 2014, many black people accused the white establishment of simply trying to tear down one of our idols, just like they did with O.J. (yes, there are still people out there who think O.J. was innocent.) The instinct to protect husbands, sons and fathers comes into play immediately. Until eventually they remember that the people these men have victimised are black women, just like them.
The spectacle of scores of young black women defending Chris Brown after he brutalised Rihanna, many exclaiming “He can still get it”, was spine-chilling. Although, it should teach us something about the willingness to turn a blind eye, provided the abuser is a big star.
I myself have been guilty for too long of laughing at the likes of the Trapped in the Closet saga. We’ve never truly reckoned with the reality of R. Kelly the rapist and R. Kelly the paedophile – we know about it, and we don’t like it, but we ignore it. He’s considered a comedy character, a ridiculous clown who wrote some smooth rhythms in the 90s and is now just an eccentric with some unsavoury allegations hanging around him. And I can’t help but think this in part has something to do with who his victims are.
“All this shows us, as if we needed another reminder, is that black girls are never allowed to be victims”
If he was accused of raping white teenagers for two decades, would we be so dismissive? Would it be played for laughs? All this shows us, as if we needed another reminder, is that black girls are never allowed to be victims – and that no one acknowledges black girlhood or fights to preserve black innocence like they do white innocence. The very concept of “virginal” purity is one of whiteness – so where do black teenage rape victims come in? Where victims are deemed unworthy, it makes extremely easy to laugh at and then dismiss them.
Jim DeRogatis of the Village Voice, who has been covering Kelly’s sexual acts with teenage girls for years, concluded “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are ‘bitches, hos, and gold-diggers,’ plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point: one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different.”
As long as we continue to minimise or ignore his crimes, what reason does R Kelly have to ever stop?
The R Kelly allegations represent a perfect storm; talented black artist insulated by his peers, black complicity and white indifference. As long as artists continue to co-sign him, he’s going nowhere – and as long as we keep laughing at the Dave Chappelle skit of R Kelly pissing on girls, we’re helping him to get away with it. We can’t keep letting this shit slide just because we like their music. It speaks to a larger hypocrisy – how can be we angry about Trump speaking of grabbing pussies when we know R Kelly is a rapist and yet still play ‘She’s Got That Vibe’ at parties?