Earlier this week, the Village Voice published an interview with writer Jim DeRogatis, whose extensive coverage of the R. Kelly sexual assault scandal for the Chicago Sun-Times (and later, Vibe) was consumed nationwide…yet largely and willfully ignored by many who chose to dismiss the allegations against Kelly as rumors (#hatersalwaystryingtotakeablackmandownwhenhestryingtodosomethingpostivewithhislife) or who felt that the alleged victims should shoulder the onus of the blame (#fasttailedgirls) or who felt that what matters most is the singer’s musical capabilities (#girliwanttotossyoursalad). And those who may fall outside of those more tidy categories, those whose consumerism is not tempered by any need to be informed about the people whom they support; where knowing and not knowing might as well be the same thing. He makes great music, what exactly else are we supposed to be concerned with?
Positioned squarely in the middle of R. Kelly’s media blitz around his new record, Black Panties, the painful-to-read interview has forced some of those people to face the sheer volume of information THAT HAS BEEN AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC FOR OVER A DECADE regarding Kelly’s history with young girls in Chicago, where he was known to cruise parking lots and McDonald’s restaurants in search of prey. Nearly 20 years since the release of former-wife Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (and this unbelievable Video Soul interview) and 11 years after the Sun-Times broke the child pornography story, there are still those who vehemently defend the 46-year-old “Marry the Pussy” singer. Something I find to be absolutely heartbreaking.
Jim DeRogatis' reporting over the last 15 years has taught him something I've come to terms with for the past nearly-30: "nobody matters less to our society than young Black women."
There is no defense for Robert Kelly in 2013. And there is no defense for those who claim that there isn’t sufficient evidence to call this man an abuser of children, if not in his current life, then as recent as the early 2000s.
Save “let He who is without sin cast the first stone” for some minor offense. Do your sins include sexual acts with children? Because mine don’t. Do your sins include being an unrepentant repeat abuser of children? Because mine don’t. And have you honestly lived your life without judging or believing in punishment and repentance for doing bad things? If you answer ‘yes’ to that, I would assume that lying is one of the sins that you are guilty of. So line up and come get these stones to throw.
Save “They always trying to hold a Black celebrity down!” for an instance when there isn’t undeniable evidence of the crime that was circulated on Napster and in barbershops and chicken spots across the country.
Save “Where were their parents?” because anyone with half a brain knows how easy it is for a teenager to schedule time for behavior that one’s mom or dad would take issue with. We should absolutely question any parent who allowed their child to have unsupervised time with an adult male, but ultimately, R. Kelly is the one who is seen taking advantage of these young girls on tape and no one else.
Save “He was found not guilty!” Read up on how the case was tanked and tell me that it’s because the rape didn’t happen.
Save “You gotta hold those fast a** little girls accountable!” because there is a reason why there are laws stating that young girls—children—are unable to give consent to adults. And ask yourself why you are unable to see Black girl children as victims. And save the suggestion that only poorly raised or "fast" girls go off with older men. Please. I don't think I would have went for R. Kelly because I don't find him attractive. But let that had been Common or Q-Tip or Maxwell or someone I was attracted to, let some handsome, older man had told me and my braces that I should be a star and hey, you want to go shopping—I won't dare pretend that I know I wouldn't go for that. Men who are predators are looking for the teenager who will go for it. So you have "fast" girls, okay. What if the men ignored them and, instead, went for available, hot women?
Go look at a class of high school freshmen and then go look at a 27-year-old man. Go look at Aaliyah in 1994, all of 15 years old, and ask yourself why that image of her sitting next to an adult man with whom she was clearly intimately connected was not alarming to the masses. Go look at Kelly in the foreground of her debut album WHICH WAS CALLED AGE AINT NOTHING BUT A NUMBER.
Read Jim DeRogatis’ reporting and the court documents. Read them for yourself.
While I do look at people in wonder for having supported Kelly all these years despite so much information about his misdeeds, I have to acknowledge the fact that I am from Chicago and before there were headlines, there were rumors. As many others have stated, his routine was well known: Kenwood High School, McDonald’s parking lots. He approached one of my friends at mall when she was 11 or 12 and two others at 12 (at a movie theatre; he enticed them with a puppy). These were thin, young girls who did not look like grown women by any stretch of the imagination. My sister went to Kenwood and speaks of being curious as to why the then-20-something star would come up to the school and flirt with, if anyone at all, young looking freshman girls. The infamous tape circulated my senior year in high school; the girls seen there are my peers.
Obviously, not everyone from Chicago feels this way. I have friends, male and female who I can't have the R. Kelly conversation with. And as someone who wasn't really sexually active at the point when that video was released, I can't shake the visual of him urinating on a girl my age to integrate him into my bedroom playlist. Obviously, that's not something that some of my peers struggle with. But I do wonder, for those people who were coming of age as it all played out—for those who can name names of victims or potential victims, how is it so easy to cast that aside because "Bump and Grind"?
There was no gray area for me. I’ve been done with him for many years (and wrote about this a number of times on my now defunct blog, The Beautiful Struggler). I’m not some moral authority or perfect person, not by far, but I’m not new to feeling passionate about our responsibility, as adults, to withdraw our support from an adult male singer who sings about sex when we have enough evidence to support claims that he has raped teenaged girls. More than one. And since these allegations have risen, he has not served a day in prison, he has not been apologetic, and he has not publicly stated that he was getting help. Rather, he has been flippant and dismissive of those who attempt to hold him accountable. And frankly, after watching Kelly lie to Touré in that infamous BET interview (“When we say ‘teenagers,’ how old we talking?”), I think we can accept that our cultural permissiveness and his own demons have found this person in a place where he won’t be held accountable.
I have little to say of Pitchfork, Lady Gaga and the other White, hipster media and individuals who have helped to breathe life in to the resurgence of nasty Kellz and the 12 Play-redux he’s touting. I don’t expect them to care about Black girls. Honestly, I don’t expect most Black people to care about Black girls when it counts. Hoodies up, hoes down. But I’m still going to call everyone who failed these victims out, out, out. Because it’s not too late to turn your back on R. Kelly, it’s not too late to say “He was wrong and we were wrong.”
I'm not even directing this towards the Kelly stans, the people who have shouted his detractors down year after year. We know where you stand and that is shameful (and btw, let me know if you'd let your 14-year-old hang out with the singer, as you know that raising them "well" will protect them, right?) But what of the silent masses, the people who quietly vote with their iTunes account, with their concert ticket. I'm imploring you to connect with your humanity, which you are sacrificing for the 49:09 of pleasure you get from hearing this record, to take a stand for Black girls—even "fast" ones—who have been victimized.
So you, adult man or woman. You, parent. You, consumer. You, person who takes issue with the sexual abuse of children: Is it okay for R. Kelly to sing about sex when we know about his history with little girls or nah? You decide.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Tweet her: @jamilahlemieux
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