R. Kelly and the Ongoing Disregard, Devaluation, Degradation and Denigration of Black Women

Law enforcement in Chicago and Atlanta are looking into accusations that R& B singer Robert Kelly, (better known as R. Kelly) was involved in engaging in lewd, intense, graphic sexual activity with numerous underage teenage girls in both cities over a two decade period, Such investigations are coming on the recently aired Lifetime television docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. The several part series is a riveting, heartbreaking saga that chronicles the experiences of dozens of women a number of whom were teenage and some cases, pre-pubescent girls at the time such sordid sex acts took place. It is must see television for all those who are concerned about the sexual abuse of women and children, in particular, young Black women and girls.

Reaction, for the most part, has been nothing short of proactive and aggressive. Americans across racial, social, economic, gender and political spectrum as well as citizens all over the world have been captivated by the cascade of riveting and sordid allegations levied against the mega music superstar. This is certainly the case with Black Americans. Certain celebrities who have remained mum on such nefarious activities for years, in some cases, decades have suddenly “seen the light” and found the courage to speak out against R. Kelly. Lady Gaga, Nick Cannon, Chance the Rapper are just a few who have taken to the airwaves issuing belated mea culpas expressing regret for collaborating with the accused and alleged sexual predator.

For their part, both Mr. Kelly and his team of attorneys have issued steadfast denials in regards to the charges levied against them. Indeed, Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg has brashly dismissed Kelly’s accusers labeling them as “grudge holding, leeching, disappointed opportunists” who latched on to his client yet became disgruntled and resentful when the careers they hoped for failed to materialize. In essence, Mr. Greenberg has employed the “hell hath no fury like an ambitious and disappointed scorned woman” defense. And get this, these shamefully aggressive wenches were greedy money grubbing heifers too! Ain’t that a bitch! He’s done more than blame the victims here. He has pretty much called them out and labeled them as ho’s.

While troubling, one can likely understand why Kelly’s legal team and hanger on’s are acting like barbarians at the gate, rushing to defend him. He is their livelihood, meal ticket, financial repository. If he is weakened or indicted, so are their financial pocketbooks. Thus, he has to be protected at all costs, no matter how vile, untoward and unethical it is for them to do so.

Predictably, but not surprisingly, (at least not for those of us who have our eyes, ears, minds and emotions perennially glued to Black social and popular culture) a notable segment of the Black community is supportive of R. Kelly or is at the very least, ambivalent about the slew of scurrilous allegations levied against the R& B musician. These are the men (and more than a few women) who have resorted to and indulged in the “they are trying to bring another powerful Black man down” argument.

As was the case with other Black men who have been accused and in some cases, indicted for nefarious behavior, these are the supposedly racially conscious, “down with the cause” astute Black folk who view Kelly as being the unfair and tragic victim of manufactured, trumped up, if not outright false charges whipped up by powerful subversive elements determined to see another Black man destroyed. And guess what? They have recruited hundreds of lying Black women along the way, secretly gave some of them chump change and provided SERIOUS cash to others under the table! My response to such derelict, unhinged, conspiratorial thinking is NEGROES PLEASE! Don’t think so!

It has been this sort of complicity and willful denial from many segments of the Black community that has enabled R Kelly and others of his ilk to escape any sort of punishment for their sinister, pathological behavior and only to later face a form of watered down, belated justice or suffer no consequences at all for their actions. The undisputed truth is that fans of all races, the media and the music industry was all to willing to adopt a “hear no evil, see no evil, fear no evil “ philosophy when it came to R. Kelly. Some still are for that matter.

In fact, Chicago Sun Times reporter, Jim De Rogatis was the first reporter who exposed the singer’s alleged pursuit and abuse of underage girls. Rather than being taken seriously De Rogatis was largely relegated to a voice in the wilderness for the better part of two decades. This fact in and of itself is outrageous and disturbing.

If we are being frank about it (and I sure as hell am), sad to say, the words of Black women are often given short shrift in our society. Simply put, Black women are not given the benefit of the doubt that their White female counterparts are. They are members of a culture and society that views them as juvenile, wanton, suspect, devious, rapacious and so on. Media depictions of Black women loudmouthed, combative, untrustworthy, sassy, hip holding, eye rolling, trash talking sapphires have dominated the television landscape for decades. Does images of Omarosa, Ne Ne Leakes, Housewives of Atlanta etc… come to mind?

Let me make it clear! To be sure, as a middle aged Black man who has lived in America and is a historian by training, I am well aware of the fact that Black men and Black people in general have been the victims of rampant injustices. Given our past and present history, one can understand why more than a few Black Americans proceed with caution when hearing about the supposed transgressions of one of our own from outside sources, particularly when the person in question is a beloved, powerful and mega successful individual like R. Kelly.

With so many suffering from drug abuse, skyrocketing rates of mental illness, in prison, unemployed or underemployed , success stories like Kelly’s provided a glimmer of hope onto a racial landscape that is often far too bleak when it comes to Black men.

Protection and pride aside, the fact is that we should not and cannot support the sexual violation of women of any race! PERIOD! If such accusations are, in fact, true, then a major injustice has been perpetrated on these young women even if some of them are now full grown adults. What’s worse is that some of them were likely the victims of pedophilia! Unthinkable! These women deserve justice!

The silence among too many in the Black community is deafening. It is as if these young ladies are not even worth of any level of human dignity. Malcolm X said it best in a 1962 speech “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

We have seen this play out time and time again from the days of slavery, the mid-20th century during the days of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. Such intra-racial divisive drama manifested itself during the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. We are witnessing such brazen animosity here in the present day where Black female journalists are routinely disregarded and disrespected by President Trump. More than a half a century later, Malcolm X’s words ring spot on!

The undisputed truth is that Black women have been the backbone of the Black race. They have done so with undeniable credibility. They have kept our people above water. Historically, Black women have come to the aid of Black men, White women (ask Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Doug Jones in Alabama) and pretty much everyone else, yet the same level of support and loyalty from others is rarely, if ever reciprocated. Their tenacity formidable and fierce strength has been nothing short of herculean. Such continued disloyalty and betrayal must change. There is no other way to say it, Black women deserve better! Period!

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. Is a professor of history, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also an author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2019.

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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