For years claims of sexual abuse and pedophilia have always lingered in the shadows of R. Kelly’s career. However, the Lifetime Network decided to shine a light on these issues in their mini docu-series Surviving R.Kelly. The series interviews several women, all of them Women of Color and mostly Black, who were sexually, emotionally, and mentally abused by the R&B superstar. While many were shocked at the information provided, the reaction online was equally shocking as there were a good amount of people attempting to justify Kelly’s behavior. This was done usually at the expense of Black women which continues to reinforce the ways that Black women’s stories are seen as illegitimate. While I could go on for days about all the important takeaways Surviving R.Kelly, listed below are three statements in reference to the documentary that taught me a lot about the people around me.
“They ugly anyways.” – Someone close to me made this statement in reference to the Black women shown in the documentary. I was even more shocked that this statement came from a Black woman. Research shows that, historically, Black women have been stereotyped and have strived to meet America’s racist beauty standards. The media is often a battle ground for where the communication of what these standards are takes place. Research also shows us that media messages, can be a way for people to learn about minority groups, especially for those who have little contact with the group in real life. The most important thing about this statement is that we as Black women, a commonly stereotyped group often believe these messages about ourselves. This belief that we are somehow less than everyone else is often perpetuated by society and usually leads to the abuse and silencing that so many Black women experience. If you are a Black woman or a Black man who made this statement, I encourage to examine how you truly feel about yourself.
“Yall ain’t have a documentary series about Harvey Weinstein [Or insert any other White man that has recently been accused of sexual harassment].” – Unfortunately, this statement was really common and probably the most annoying. What it really means is, “White people or White men get away with this, so we should be able to.” Unfortunately, I saw some degree of this statement up and down my timeline from many Black men, Black men who I expect to know better. Part of the statement is likely true, Black men are criminalized more harshly for crimes. However, SOME Black men, emphasis on SOME, have got to end this weird obsession they have with comparing their masculinity to that of White men and patriarchy. Just so we’re clear, patriarchy refers to a society in which men hold the power, and women are usually made to be submissive. The problem with patriarchy is that it’s bad for everyone, regardless if its facilitated by White, Brown, or even Orange men. White Patriarchy is embedded in this country’s fabric, and has often made many Black men feel inferior. In slavery, this was often done through the rape of Black men’s wives, who they couldn’t legally marry anyway, or through things like not being able to own property or possess any capital. Therefore, some Black men feel that in order for true equality to exist, they must have access to all the things that White men have access too, even the bad things, like being able to commit injustice and not get penalized for it.
While this may strike a nerve, it’s important to note that I’m not assuming that all Black men feel this way. I know that Black men and Black women are not monolithic. However, to the Black men who do feel this way, I encourage you to think more about the meaning of masculinity. If you’re basing your definition of masculinity on White patriarchy, then you already have a warped understanding of it and likely a warped worldview.
“They just want to get paid. They just want some shine. Nobody even knew who Andrea Kelly was before this.” – Someone close to me also made this statement implying that the telling of Black women’s stories are only displayed when they are for sale. However, this statement also means that you may not thoroughly understand intersectionality. Intersectionality is a concept penned by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) and explains to us that for marginalized groups, our identities often overlap with one another, leading us to become more marginalized and experience more oppression and discrimination. During one scene of the documentary, you could see that law enforcement was not able to get inside of R. Kelly’s studio despite concerned parents alerting them that their child was in potential danger. Someone on the documentary also mentioned that R.Kelly was often alerted by law enforcement every time someone wanted to conduct a wellness check. In recent years Black Lives Matter has reminded us that Black people are often unprotected by the law, as seen in the dozens of killings of unarmed Black men by police officers. Concurrently, we live in a rape culture, where many sexual abuse victims are victim shamed and seen as the cause for their own assault. Based on the information above, being Black and a Woman who has been sexually abused would mean that you are not protected by the law due to your Blackness and that you are at fault for your own sexual trauma because of your gender, making it impossible for you to receive the proper protection and services to deal with such issues. It also doesn’t help that many Black people’s household mantra is, “What goes on in this house, stays in this house,” causing many Black women to suffer in silence. Because of this many Black women face their abusers on a daily basis, sometimes for the rest of their lives, constantly having to relive this trauma.
I could go on for pages about all the things I learned from this documentary, but my hope is that you examine your own reactions to the series and think about the larger implications of this story. Some of you may hate to give up your R.Kelly catalog, but this story is not just about the downfall and sick nature of one R&B superstar, but of the millions of Black girls who are abused and do not have protection or an outlet to tell their stories. Many of these women have successfully survived abuse, trauma, and R.Kelly, don’t make them have to survive your ignorance too.
Check out my video on the topic below:
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