I’m still not sure how I feel after watching the first two episodes of Surviving R. Kelly, which premiered last night on the Lifetime Channel. Angry is probably the closest. Angry that this man continues to sell out tours while harming young Black girls and women. Angry that so many men and women aided in this process and now talk about it on camera like they have no fault in this. Angry that girls like Aaliyah continue to be harmed by men of the world like R. Kelly with no recourse in sight.
Malcolm X once said: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected woman in America is the black woman. The most neglected woman in America is the black woman.” Last night was further evidence of words spoken over 50 years ago still ringing true. For those who didn’t see it the first two parts of the series, here is a quick synopsis.
R. Kelly met Aaliyah when she was 12 years old. He then produced and wrote most of the songs on her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, where she was overly sexualized at a young age, singing songs that were mirroring what was happening to her behind closed doors. By the age of 15, a backup singer on the tour walked in on Aaliyah having sex with R. Kelly, who was then 28 years old. After having potentially gotten Aaliyah pregnant, Kelly and his tour manager went to the courthouse, forged documents saying Aaliyah was 18 years of age, and the two were officially married in 1994—a marriage that would eventually get annulled.
Aaliyah, unfortunately, was not the only victim. Kelly’s friends and other people on his tour would go into local malls and find girls to bring back to the studio to meet him. On the docuseries, multiple producers and managers discussed walking into rooms and seeing him touching and feeling on girls who were naked—GIRLS WHO WERE NAKED—and rather than stopping it, walking out because they didn’t want to participate. So many failed these girls. So many continue to fail them.
It took everything in me to not cry listening to how many people failed Aaliyah—from backup singers to tour managers to Aaliyah’s very OWN UNCLE WHO INTRODUCED HER TO HIM AT AGE 12—and all the other girls. And truth be told, the majority of us have been complicit in this behavior. Not just here, but in our own families and communities. Keeping these secrets as family secrets, more worried about the possibility of shame than the well-being of the victim. Calling young girls “fast,” but never holding the men who are fast enough to catch them accountable.
I want to be clear that when I say “us” I mean all of us, or at the very minimum, 90 percent of us. Those of us who have known what R. Kelly was doing to young girls for a long time and still found a way to listen to his music—”separating the music from the artist.” I can speak for myself when I say that I haven’t purchased, downloaded, or supported R. Kelly in over a decade. I’ve kept my foot on the necks of anyone who has even tried to do so in my presence. I’ve gone as far as asking the DJ to change the song when an R. Kelly track comes on. There are still not enough of us doing that, though—including rappers like Kendrick Lamar who threatened to remove his music from Spotify if they removed R. Kelly. Are these your kings?
Sex in itself is still a very taboo thing in America. We have watched the scandal of the Catholic Church, where thousands of little boys were violated for decades and the abusers were protected. We now have the #MeToo movement in full swing, taking down the Hollywood elite whose predatory behavior has caused harm to thousands. Yet, here we are nearly 25 years after the first R. Kelly allegation, still fighting to get rid of one man from our community. Enough is enough already.
Seeing Bill Cosby finally have his reckoning let me know that, although it may take a long time, sometimes victims can get a form of justice. I’m not sure if any of the R. Kelly victims will ever get theirs, but I am glad that they at least have the opportunity to tell their stories; to have the world bear witness to their truths in a way that it would be hard for one to ignore. I can only hope that now, those who continued to “step in the name of love” will have a hard look in the mirror and start to think.
People have served for far too long as the gatekeepers of pedophiles and sexual predators. We must do the work to get them up out of our families and our communities. So much harm has been done, and it’s time for us to end that. There is no place for these predators in our community.