R. Kelly and the Cost of Black Protectionism

There is still so much to unpack about Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, a horrifying six-part examination of the sexual-abuse allegations that have followed the superstar singer for more than two decades. The stories of predation told by the women who appear on-screen—some of whom were related to people who worked for Kelly—are vomit-inducing. The heart sinks as one survivor after another describes being manipulated, controlled, and sometimes beaten, by Kelly, whose music career has largely remained in good standing despite the presence of such troubling accusations.

As awful as those accounts are, what’s most haunting is the resignation in these women’s voices. They seem to have arrived at the painful conclusion that regardless of the trauma they had endured, their experience would never matter the way it should have. “No one cared because we were black girls,” the writer Mikki Kendall says in Surviving, speaking to the prolonged indifference to Kelly’s alleged behavior.

While Surviving convincingly argues that Kelly’s celebrity was a significant driving force in helping him establish a protected, predatory pattern, the docuseries picks at an uncomfortable truth that has long existed in the African American community. Black girls and women are often on their own in fighting abuse and misogynoir.

As seen in the series, the black community formed a force field around Kelly, especially during his six-year child-pornography case, which eventually resulted in an acquittal in 2008. Kelly’s ardent supporters within the community seemed to completely dismiss his marriage to the then-15-year-old R&B star Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001. Their marriage was treated as salacious gossip, not abuse.

One of the more uncomfortable moments in Surviving is when footage is shown of Kelly and Aaliyah appearing together on BET’s Video Soul Gold, ironically to promote her 1994 smash debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was produced by Kelly and Aaliyah’s uncle, Barry Hankerson. As soon as the two singers are seated, the host, Leslie “Big Lez” Segar, says with a big smile: “Let’s clear something up, because you know I’ve been getting the rundown on the street. Everybody seems to think that y’all are either girlfriend or boyfriend, or cousins, or friends. Let’s just get the record straight.”

There is laughter, and the mood is jovial. No one seems to be thinking, We’re asking a 27-year-old grown man and a 15-year-old child about being in a relationship

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture

      

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