R Kelly is more problematic than a little bit for me. For years I’d heard tell of his pedophilic proclivities and kind of pushed them to the back of my mind, not really wanting to deal with them. It wasn’t until a few of years ago, in writing an analysis of a Village Voice exposé that I fully began to recognize the depth of both Kelly’s deeds and also the ways in which society, Black and mainstream alike, consistently fails Black girls and women.
It was Village Voice journalist Jim DeRogatis’ haunting discovery in his research of R Kelly that convicted me. He, a White man, wrote: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” I never forgot those words mostly because they made me ask myself how I’d, in my support of R Kelly and his music, been negligent of the girls and women like myself who’d suffered so much from him. Once I read up on decades worth of incriminating evidence, documents, videos–plural– and anecdotes, there was no way I could ignore it anymore. No way that I could listen to his sexually explicit lyrics and, like Damon Young wrote, not imagine him singing them to—if not acting them out on—a 14-year-old girl.
And while I try to let people ride for whoever they’re going to ride for, (even though I do look at them differently), I have to admit that I’m always shocked at the amount of support R Kelly still receives from the community. I’m shocked that his tours are still well-attended. I was shocked to see Kelly Rowland’s new girl group June’s Diary touring with him. I couldn’t believe Lady Gaga was going to have him in her video figuratively “doing what he wanted to her body.” And Erykah Badu gave me pause when she called him her brother before he closed the show at Centric’s Soul Train Awards. In case you didn’t know, Centric is supposed to be the network for women.
I haven’t been the only one who has been troubled by these sightings. Jamie Thompson was also upset to see Kelly’s name as the headliner for The Observatory in Orange County’s “Soulquarius” event and she started a petition on Change.org to have him removed from it.
The Observatory venue of Orange County released an awesome lineup for their SOULQUARIUS event February 18th, with the exception of R.Kelly. Despite an endless flood of abuse allegations and widespread knowledge of his notorious “romance” with the late singer Aaliyah, who was age 15 to his 27 years, Kelly has maintained a relatively successful career. It’s this sort of nonchalance and casual embrace of abusers that rests at the fulcrum of rape culture, violence against women, and in this case, misogynoir. 2017 is around the corner and many of us still have to look on in disgust as a proven predator, rapist, and serial abuser of young Black girls and women remains embraced in the world of music. Stop booking this man. Stop supporting this man. There’s great power in having a voice. Let’s send a message that the music is not “separate” and the abuse of girls and women is *never* okay, no matter who you are or how many timeless ballads you’ve contributed to the world.
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Thompson started the petition three days ago and, at the time of publication, has already received 801 signatures. If you also take issue with R Kelly being a part of this lineup, you can sign the petition here.