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On the Culture Protecting R. Kelly

“Surviving R. Kelly” exposes even more of men’s bare minimum politics when it comes to Black women

Vanessa Taylor
Jan 6, 2019 · 4 min read
R. Kelly performing in Oakland, California, in January 2017. Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Lifetime’s documentary series Surviving R. Kelly offers one of the most comprehensive dives into Kelly’s history of brutality. Accusations against Robert Kelly—the man who plays god—range from sexual assault to domestic violence, rape, sex trafficking, and more. Some culminated in court cases, such as a 2008 child pornography case where Kelly evaded charges brought against him. The series is horrifying not only because of the sheer violence Kelly inflicted on Black girls, but because of those who allowed him to continue his career despite numerous accusations and a criminal trial.

Many of R. Kelly’s collaborators declined interviews, as executive producer dream hampton told Shadow and Act, but Chance the Rapper was one of the few who made an appearance. In an interview with Jamilah Lemieux, the rapper said making a song with R. Kelly was a “mistake,” going on to add, “We’re programmed to really be hypersensitive to Black male oppression. … But Black women are exponentially a higher oppressed and violated group of people just in comparison to the whole world. Maybe I didn’t care because I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were Black women.”

After Rolling Stone’s initial quotes dropped, Chance tweeted a notes screenshot, stating they were “taken out of context.” Context didn’t help. The question is, though: What further context did Black women need? It seems Chance has forgotten that, as he was given the convenience to ignore survivors’ stories, Black women actually lived the context needed to understand both the survivors and his dismissal.

It is worth noting the irony of Chance’s recent public image revolving around godliness and moral upstanding. Perhaps this contributes to part of the public’s reaction. Regardless, Black women were and are allowed to be hurt by both Chance’s actions and his words.

You do not harm Black women or collaborate with their abusers or abuse Black women yourself and then pretend legacy quotes or better language is reconciliation.

Chance, his comments, and the rush to defend him highlight part of the problem. The music industry permitted Kelly to continue his abuse with no repercussions. Summarizing Chance’s participation as a mistake is not enough because his collaboration with R. Kelly was not a single event. In 2014, during his Lollapalooza set in Chicago, Chance brought R. Kelly on stage as a surprise guest, proclaiming, “Make some noise for the Pied Piper of R&B.” It was not until the following year that Chance made a Cameo in Kelly’s “Backyard Party” and collaborated with Kelly on his single “Somewhere in Paradise.”

Oppressors knowing part of the necessary language to pander to the oppressed is not accountability nor does it guarantee changed behavior. What Black women require is not for a Black man to note how much he hated them before and expect validation. Black women were already aware. It is this uncritical adoration of language as a facet of men’s bare minimum politics that leads not only to Chance’s less-than-substantial remarks and the defense around them but to the presence of men like Lenard “Charlamagne Tha God” McKelvey in the same documentary.

Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America, is the Black woman.”

Somehow, McKelvey—a man whose entire platform depends on the degradation of Black women and Black LGBTQ folk and who was just accused of rape in 2018—was given space to flimsily quote Malcolm X by stating, “The most disrespected woman, historically, in America is the Black woman.” It is not the first time McKelvey has been puzzlingly included in conversations, such as the time VH1 decided he was the person to consult on mental health. If quoting Malcolm X is the trend, then remember this too: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. You pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound.”

R. Kelly needs to go, but there is an entire culture protecting him, and their excuses will never be good enough. You do not harm Black women or collaborate with their abusers or abuse Black women yourself and then pretend legacy quotes or better language is reconciliation. At best, all you have done is acknowledged the knife you put in our backs, but you haven’t even begun to pull it out or contribute to the healing.

For Chance, it is not a matter of saying “I made a mistake” because nothing occurred by happenstance. Mistakes did not bring R. Kelly on stage. Mistakes did not help fund his continued abuse through promoting his career. Mistakes did not discredit Black girls based solely on the crime of being Black girls. Part of true accountability is saying flat out, “I made a terrible decision” and knowing better than to expect applause.

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