“The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young Black women. Nobody.”
These words were delivered by Jim DeRogatis, music journalist, as he discussed his deep investigation into the many reported cases of R. Kelly stalking and raping an entire community of Black girls in Chicago, and the almost 15 years that had passed since that investigation. Kelly’s not only never being found guilty of his legally documented sexual assaults against minors, but he’s still producing heavily supported music (most recently next week’s The Buffet) and touring the world.
R. Kelly is a star. He is celebrated widely. He is a man that Black women trust, stand proudly on stage with and call “brother.” He is, most importantly, a man who has had repetitive, well-documented and authenticated sex with children and has called himself the “Pied Piper” to mock them. He is the epitome and true definition of the traditional and newly colloquial meaning of trash.
I suppose though, one (woman)’s trash is another (woman and man)’s treasure.
Such is the world, my grandmother would say.
DeRogatis spoke those words, the ones about society not giving a sh*t about Black girls and women, as he detailed (in an interview with writer Jessica Cooper for The Village Voice) one (of the dozens) of lawsuits brought against R. Kelly where a Black teen who was sexually assaulted by Kelly for some time was made to have an abortion.
He had sex with her repeatedly. He got her pregnant. He sent his goons to escort her to an abortion clinic and, essentially, forced her to terminate her pregnancy, against her will.
I wept when I read those words from Jim DeRogatis’s mouth, because he came to this conclusion about Black girls’ (and Black women’s) lack of worth in society not after investigating and writing about a case like that of police officer Daniel Holtzclaw—who has been charged with over 36 counts of sexual offenses against Black women, including forcible oral sodomy and first degree rape. DeRogatis (who is White) didn’t have this aha moment after celebrating Rosa Parks and realizing that the roots of her activism were centered around advocacy for Black women who survived sexual violence at the hands of armed White men who kidnapped them and raped them at gunpoint during the Jim Crow era.
The author did not write about how we literally piss on Black girls after taking in a history lesson concerning the treatment of enslaved Black girls and women through, maybe, the lens and firsthand account documented so eloquently by Harriet Jacobs.
No. DeRogatis learned this truth, this reality that haunts me even as I type, because he worked and worked and produced legal document after legal document, watched video after video (there were many videos of Kelly having sex with, and therefore sexually assaulting, minor girls, I hope you know), of R. Kelly using, abusing, and habitually practicing violence against Black girls. And we, as a community—as these girls’ own kin—cannot figure out how to stop pop, lock and dropping to his music.
DeRogatis witnessed that nobody came to the aid of R. Kelly’s countless victims, not even their own.
We will not let him go. We are holding on to R. Kelly the way we hold on to many of the Black men in our community who terrorize Black girls—some as fathers and uncles; some as men we trust who refuse to hear us when we say no to the sex they want from us; some as not-so-innocent bystanders who threaten us, and even kill us, when we don’t respond properly after being demanded to smile or succumb to their desires for us; some on the streets; some—even—while we grieve at funerals.
Shortly after being granted the honor of closing the Soul Train Awards to a roaring crowd and a stage full of folks dancing and cheering at Kelly’s staged “backyard party,” R. Kelly will fly into my hometown of Houston to, again, be the closing act of the concert following the SWAC Football Championship taking place December 5, an event with “family ticket pricing.” Earlier this year I joined a campaign to stop R. Kelly from performing in Houston. He’s coming back again. He truly is the Teflon Don.
The Black community supports R. Kelly and his illness as individuals and institutions. We continue to show love to R. Kelly, to line his pockets with money he can use to, maybe, pay for more abortions, or sneakers. (Many of his child-victims claim he would reward them after sex with sneakers and quality time hanging out with him in the studio.)
Even when we acknowledge the cases against R. Kelly, we find ways to blame his victims. They are, after all, not girls who are developing mentally, emotionally and physically as they move towards womanhood and who should be allowed space to experience their bodies and the pleasures they produce without being assaulted by grown men. They are #fasttailedgirls (a hashtag created by co-founder of Hoodfeminism and nataive Chicagoan Mikki Kendall).
Through this hashtag and its connected Twitter conversation, Kendall (@karnythia) and many others hoping to lend their voices to the pathology we’ve accepted regarding Black girls and sexual violence. (Like @thetrudz—who created an online document dedicated to the hashtag and conversation—and @dopegirlfresh.)
As a matter of fact, during that Twitter conversation, @dopegirlfresh sums up perfectly why we still support R. Kelly, why we refuse to see the girls he raped as victims, and why we practice silence and victim blaming when we encounter the R. Kellys closest to us:
the phrase #fasttailedgirls makes exceptions for abusers. it creates villains out of children, and absolves men w/ no self control.
— betty crotcher (@dopegirlfresh) November 30, 2013
The phrase (and the thinking behind it) also showed Jim DeRogatis, and the rest of the world, that “Nobody matters less to our society than young Black women. Nobody.”
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.