In 1993, I was a 21 year old junior in college. Music has always been a big part of my life, and back then it was TLC, Boyz to Men, En Vogue, Jodeci, and R Kelly. By 1994, R Kelly had married a then 15 year old Aaliyah. It was almost unbelievable that this happened.
We knew that this 27 year old grown man had taken advantage of a child but somehow it didn’t register. We kept buying his music. We kept attending his concerts. We turned the other way.
After that, we saw Aaliyah making music and putting out amazing videos. She must be okay, right? All of this is behind her, right? We convinced ourselves it was a bad mistake that he learned from. We gave ourselves permission to keep his music in rotation and support the “Pied Piper”.
While Aaliyah was R Kelly’s most famous target, their relationship demonstrated a template repeated with dozens of underage women, some allegedly as young as 14 and all of them Black. Lawsuits and stories define him as controlling and physically, emotionally, mentally and sexually abusive. Myriad women say he lured them with talk of boosting their singing careers before manipulating them into servitude.
Critics allege that society’s deep-rooted bias against black women and its subsequent failure to protect this demographic has allowed Kelly to maintain his star power, while high-powered men like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer have seen their careers swiftly crumble in the face of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Activist Kenyette Tisha Barnes started the #MuteRKelly campaign last year. She recently told BuzzFeed, “The bottom line is that R Kelly and his victims are the perfect storm of people we don’t care about. We protect problematic black men in the black community, and we discard black girls in all communities.”
In April 2018, prominent celebrities such as Ava Duvernay, Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis expressed their support behind #MuteRKelly, calling for “investigations and inquiries into the allegations of abuse made by women of color and their families for two decades now.”
The campaign also demanded corporations including RCA Records, Ticketmaster, Apple Music, and Spotify cut ties with R Kelly.
Since the founding of America, Black women and girls have been taught that our bodies don’t belong to us – that we don’t matter. While enslaved, Black women and girls were raped in massive numbers by their slave owners and any White male that wanted access.
As a Black woman, I am reminded every day how Black girls are harmed and neglected in this society. There are moments in our history that this fact is amplified how low on the totem pole we really are.
There is a lack of humanity given to Black women. Black girls are not even seen as children. Both are oversexualized and looked at as “things”, rather than human beings.
Black girls who survived R. Kelly’s victimization were failed by all adults, including the adults in schools. We must do better for Black girls now and start protecting, valuing, and loving them now.
Thanks to the recent Lifetime docuseries, Surviving R Kelly, a new wave of allegations have brought decades of charges back into the spotlight. Our current social climate is less tolerant of predatory men. The hope is that R Kelly, now 51, might be brought down for good.