Can feminists enjoy R. Kelly's music? Short answer: No
No one should listen to R. Kelly.
From the most radical feminist down to the most rachet, everyone should, by now, be in agreement that R. Kelly and his music, no matter how amazing and soulful, should not be supported.
This week the Village Voice reported in great detail the decade-old child rape allegations that lead to R. Kelly’s brief trial in 2008. That trial, where the charges were not rape but charges of child pornography, ended in a not guilty verdict. In the Voice, reporter Jim DeRogatis, who first broke the case and the allegations, said he doesn’t understand why so many still support R. Kelly and his music, after knowing that he raped dozens of girls.
“The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him Daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his “gift.” It’s a rape that you’re watching. So we’re not talking about rock star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits!…There were girls who just told one simple story, and there were a lot of girls who told stories that lasted hours which still make me sick to my stomach. It never was one girl on one tape. Or one girl and Aaliyah,” DeRogatis says in the stomach-churning interview.
And then he said, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”
The question then becomes why even knowing that R. Kelly did, people, college educated, home trained, well-meaning people, and yes even Chicago churchgoing people still support R. Kelly?
Dr. Salamishah Tillet, Co-Founder of A Long Walk Home, a non-profit that uses art to end violence against girls and women, working to empower those same African-American teen girls from Chicago, vulnerable to R. Kelly’s sexual assaults, to be leaders in the movement to end gender violence told theGrio.com, “One of the things that stood out to me from the Village Voice interview was the insight that he provided about R. Kelly’s music fans. Part of what I don’t think people are aware of is that with the blurred lines that he explores in his music, that he is appealing to sexual predators.” In the Voice piece, DeRogatis notes that “I don’t know what the percentage is — some percentage of fans are liking Kelly’s music because they know.”
And to blame it on the girls and call them “fast” or imply they are complicit in their own rapes “is one of the most dangerous rape myths out there,” says Dr. Tillet.
“I don’t know what it takes for people to not support R. Kelly. As an individual consumer it’s easy to not buy his album. And yet the majority of people can’t do that. And what frightens me is that if people can’t make that small choice then it really frightens me about where we are as a society to fight against violence against girls and women,” says Dr. Tillet.
And the artists collaborating with him even to this day (looking at you Lady Gaga!) should be held accountable as well. “Are young black girls in Lady Gaga’s definition of feminism?” asks Tillet.
Writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton told theGrio, “Michael Jackson paid a huge price in the black community for allegations of molesting boys. Had R. Kelly been accused of molesting one underage boy, this whole story would be different. We don’t care about teenage girls.”
For those who are still standing behind R. Kelly and his music in the face of all of these ugly allegations, it seems that the serial abuse of black girls does not rise to the level of losing the public support en masse. If you support R. Kelly’s music, you are sending the message that a nice melody and a catchy hook is enough to overlook child rape.
“No one is listening to David Duke, like, I know he’s racist but I love his speeches,” says Hampton.
Dr. Imani Perry, Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University told theGrio, “The relationship we have to celebrities and entertainers is always a slippery slope. There are plenty of entertainers who have done terrible things, and then there are plenty of entertainers who say terrible and offensive things which support or legitimize gender (and other forms of) injustice. We need to continue to challenge ourselves and our communities to push back against this whenever and wherever it occurs. I will admit that it is difficult to be consistently critical when it comes to entertainment and entertainers. But it should never be the case that entertainers are so idolized that they become absolved of serious wrongdoing. We have to call them out.”
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @ZerlinaMaxwell.