We are living through a period of exposure. For the past year, a slew of allegations have been hitting the media as women all over the world discuss their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Often, the antagonist is presented by the media, denounced by their peers, and sentenced by the public. Can the same be said of Robert Kelly?
A recent BBC documentary, R Kelly: Sex, Girls, and Videotapes brought to the public eye the allegations surrounding the artist and an American docu-series, Surviving R Kelly, hit screens on 3 January (UK release 6 February). The most disturbing thing about this case is the reaction (or lack thereof) from the public.
The BBC documentary is hard to watch. Interviews from Kelly’s crew are a perfect demonstration of industry cover-ups of perverse activities.
One crew member, a witness to Kelly’s illegal marriage to a 15-year-old girl, commented on the allegations saying “my loyalty is to a person [Kelly] who changed my life.” Everyone surrounding Kelly is, in some way, complicit in the heinous acts committed by him, with one former backup singer claiming it to be common knowledge that “he liked younger girls” and explaining that nobody was willing to do anything. It seems like from the documentary that everyone knew what was going on, but why did nobody speak out?
In an interview with Kitty Jones, Kelly’s ex-girlfriend, numerous acts are described in detail — including forced sexual acts with minors and physical abuse — as well as an interesting insight into the mentality surrounding black men in power. Jones references “this unspoken thing in the black community that we don’t like to take our black men down who have power” when explaining why her allegations were hushed. It seems that Kelly is not just using money to silence the women he has abused — as was the case for Jerhonda Pace who signed an Non-Disclosure Agreement in 2010, receiving $5,000 per month in exchange for her silence — but his status as a man in power.
Interestingly, the manifestation of Kelly’s depravity is beginning to be described as a ‘sex cult,’ with a leader arguably as terrifying as Charles Manson. For Kelly, his success as a ‘legend’ in the music industry has acted as his upper hand over the women and girls he has abused.
One thing seems ever more insidious about the social implications of these cases. When Weinstein was accused of harassment by rich, famous, white actresses, he was renounced as a monster immediately. Here Kelly stands, in the wake of an onslaught of physical evidence against him (such as the video of him abusing a 14-year-old), being propped up by an acquittal based on wealth over vindication. His victims? Women of colour. Is this a symptom of a society still stuck in the colonial mindset that the deflowering of a white woman is more a crime than senseless abuse of a woman of colour? This is not a society we can support. It is the responsibility of intersectionality to recognise the depth of this injustice and fight to protect women, irrespective of race.
We have spent years ignoring Kelly’s disgusting behaviour, dismissing his relations with underage girls so as not to feel guilty during the chorus of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, forgetting the release of ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ by Aaliyah. This form of cognitive dissonance is a display of disregard for the experiences of these women. In the case of Kelly, the artist can not be separated from the music.
We must stand with #MuteKelly in their quest to have the monster removed from streaming services and radio. With whom do you stand?
Image: Andrew Steinmetz via wikipedia.org