The dark legend of R. Kelly’s perversions have been quite well-known since Aaliyah was outfitted in baggy clothes and dark shades (and being creepily shadowed by Kelly in the background) on her debut album cover in 1994. Yet, after a string of salacious sexual allegations with underage women against Kelly and several exposés detailing his ongoing transgressions, he has remained untouchable and still collecting coin.
At this point, it’s not a question of why the allegations haven’t been given attention, exactly; it’s a matter of when the voices of Black girls will be heard.
The space for ongoing debate of whether to keep turning up R. Kelly’s debut studio album, 12 Play, has been extinguished by the extensive exposure of his abuse. While plenty of Chicago locals have always known of Kelly’s alleged criminal extracurricular activities, over the years, the casual pop culture fan, too, has found themselves fielding rumors or laughing at jokes (see: Boondocks) of the self-proclaimed Pied Piper’s fondness of women far too young to legally consent to a sexual relationship.
However, following the recent exhaustive investigations of Buzzfeed and Rolling Stone that air out Kelly’s egregious behavior, excuses in our community to support the decorated musician continue, despite his twisted sexual misconduct, have pointed to his unwavering talent for two-plus decades.
And while that may be a “good” reason for many, another glaring (and the most disgusting) explanation for why Kelly continues to flourish is due to the constant dismissal and neglect of Black girls’ suffering.
Since October, the windfall of brave women speaking out about their sexual assaults at the hands of powerful, wealthy men have been praised and celebrated. And in return, the titans of these respected industries have been ousted without question. Yet, Jerhonda Pace, who spoke on her sexual relationship with Kelly at 15 years old, has been silenced by the non-action of virtually everyone.
Jim DeRogatis for The New Yorker says it best: “While Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and other stars have promptly seen their careers implode after their alleged behavior was exposed, the music industry seems unconcerned about the charges against Kelly,” he writes. “His record label, Sony Music, refuses to comment, and Live Nation, the global concert promoter, continues to stage his shows.”
The same could be said for Russell Simmons whose news of sexually assaulting screenwriter Jenny Lumet has faded out quietly.
Mobilizing for Black women lives is a rarity, but when the fight for justice of a Black woman does arise, it should not come with a caveat. Thankfully there are countless organizations like The Black Women’s Defense League, which protested Kelly’s tour stop in Dallas just this week (Dec. 4), that are dedicated to standing up for our girls.
But if the consistent justice of Black women is contingent upon the takedown of powerful (talented!) Black men like Kelly, we might be better off waiting for Trump to dole out individual reparations.
Perhaps those who still support R. Kelly need reminding that his legacy will never be excellent enough to overshadow the crimes against our young queens. Or that, Black women are the backbone of our community and should be protected at all costs. Or that, every time we silence Black women the damage permeates to Black men and children, too.
Either way, it’s time for a complete, massive shift in our approach to Black women’s pain, and we can start with canceling the R&B superstar. As Treva Lindsey writes, “We must be fully committed to not canceling folks and to not silencing the unique struggles of Black women.”
It’s time to stop streaming the remix to “Ignition,” quit buying concert tickets, and stop teetering the line. Go ahead and throw the whole man away, as we’ve done in recent weeks to everyone else who has victimized non-Black women.
If you must, imagine your little sister, cousin or niece being corralled into one of R. Kelly’s cults and relinquish any reason you have to support this real-life, perpetual predator. Or, get comfortable with knowing you’re complicit in each and every one of his crimes.