You’d be hard pressed to open a newspaper today without someone in a position of power and in the public eye having allegations of sexual violence made against them. Bringing sexual violence to the forefront in part thanks to collective social movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp and also UK SAYS NO MORE on this side of the pond. However, one celebrity that is yet to be held accountable and who many women have come out against over the years is Robert R Kelly. We may very well be at a turning point where justice will benefit those affected by his actions, but we can play our part so that he does not remain at large and succeed to evade accountability.
Last week in the US, Lifetime released a 6-part documentary called ‘Surviving R Kelly’ to address the serious allegations regarding his treatment of young women over the last two decades. The release of this highly-publicised documentary blew up conversations surrounding the singer and has brought into question, yet again, of his alleged crimes. These crimes include underage sex, rape, assault, child pornography, sexual abuse and imprisonment of women all of which he continues to deny.
We cannot ignore that a whole industry has protected him and shrouded his criminal behaviour as he continues his actions hidden in plain sight. Whether it is the song, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” about a young girl falling in love with an older man which was written by R Kelly and sung by Aaliyah, or the fact that he allegedly married Aaliyah in 1994 when she was only 15, for years R. Kelly “The Pied Piper of R&B” has unashamedly showcased his actions for all to see. In lieu of justice, all we have is a spike in online streaming of his music as he continues to perform concerts and tour globally and gain, instead, curiosity and infamy.
After twenty years it appears that the damage has already been done. Families have been torn apart and women have been seriously assaulted. Could the story have followed a very different path had his victims been white, wealthy and famous? There is little doubt in my eyes that the silence and delay in taking down R Kelly is due to the fact that those on the receiving end are young, black women. We should stop looking at the person who is making the accusations and instead focus on the cases that have been brought forward in themselves. The problem should not be the victim; the problem is the perpetrator.
R Kelly has trod the high lines of stardom that few black men will ever know and has brought many artists success, but it is also this promise of success for up and coming musicians and his level of celebrity that has brought him to the women whose trust he chooses to exploit. In an age where validation is increasingly sought through the appreciation and attention of our peers, those who have “made it” are in a unique and powerful position to take advantage.
The hashtag campaign #MuteRKelly started in 2017 by Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeyle, two black women from Atlanta, has been thoroughly instrumental in organising protests and cancelling R Kelly gigs. They have now turned their attention to music streaming platforms through their “ThumbItDown” campaign. Their tireless work has generated international interest, has been featured in the 2018 BBC documentary R Kelly: Sex, Girls and Videotapes and is backed by the highly popular #TimesUp campaign. Speaking out successfully against R Kelly is important, but we also need to ask whether society-at-large cares about the safety of young black women, or does it take black women to save other black women to protect them from perpetrators?
‘Surviving R Kelly’ is yet another exposé on the star in his twenty-year saga controlling black women. He may have power over his victims but there are ways in which we can ask ourselves #WhatICanDo and assert our collective power over him, whether it is through us choosing not to spend our money on his material or choosing not to stream his music online.
There is no level of superstardom or talent that renders someone untouchable. We need to continue working together to end domestic abuse and sexual violence.
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