The Black Lives That Matter in the Wake of R. Kelly

Image/American University Radio

Image/American University Radio

Black lives — we see them in our day-to-day routines as vigilant mothers totting toddlers with juice-boxes stuck squarely between buck-teeth, beefy men with cobra-skin tattoos symphonically howling the blues through a saxophone, and chirpy adolescent girls and boys with whiteheads galore primping and priming themselves for a night out on the town. Despite all the much-needed protesting and clamoring for electoral reform contrasting the spasmodically-vitriolic digital rampages furiously typed out by the fingertips of superficially-”woke” Twitter activists each time a black body becomes glamorized in the headlines, it remains an unequivocal, feared-to-be-disputable truth that blackness is all dandy and well. At least, that’s what “post-racial”-enamored black Americans thought it to be; in return, a disgruntled but vengeful society wished upon us a heaping-helping of intra-racial strife, worsened by the continuous victimization of black girls and femmes who naively thought that the same womb that raised them would be there to shield them in their hour of need.

It turns out that virtue and protection are only salvageable and palatable ideas when it comes to protecting my sisters — black women and girls — from the “white man”, not our own. 

Since the emergence of the Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, an ages-old divide has resurfaced within the black community: those who idealize rather hedonistic and starstruck satirically-comedic/musically-inclined, machismo male icons because of their ability to make the “incompetent and unhinged” black man stereotype buckle its knees and those who choose to adhere to a moral compass and govern their opinions based on a judicious, thoroughly-investigative, and due process of simply subverting from identity politics to listen and believe that black woman and girls have been (and still do get) sexually exploited by their all-too affectionate counterparts. The three-part series, which debuted sometime in July of 2017, includes the artist’s family, friends, employees, and accusers recounting predatory and abusive behavior. A quick survey of Twitter shows there are still people just now learning of this behavior, and the gravity of this newfound discovery may well be what spurs another flurry of criticism toward Kelly. 

One wishes for the sensibility of adults at almost every juncture in this story: from the perpetrator himself, to be certain, but also from the parents whose desperation and naivety sent their children to a man with a despicable track record of alleged abuse.

Dear black people, our community — while generally an evenly heterogeneous mixture of vivacious and down-to-earth — needs to do better. We need to do better. 

We have — often, in an ostentatiously embarrassing and deliberate fashion — dismissed those innocent (invariably manipulated) black women and girls, chauvinistically puppeteered by a lifestyle of glamor, manicured nails, and base-level recognition, in order to preserve the reputation of a man whose most notable achievement is a severely-rehashing 1996 Space Jam anthem. 

Quite frankly, black women like myself have had enough of meat-headedness being conflated with undeniably predatory, exploitative behavior that translates into a lifetime of mental instability and depravity for our sisters. We have been continuously forced to endure a barrage of gender-enslaving expletives such as the Jezebel and the “tragic Mammy” (dating back to the Jim-Crow era) from both internal and externalized actors of white supremacy, with little recompense or appreciation uttered by mouth. When you brandish the knife that cuts open our beating hearts in hopes that you appease to unidentifiable another, you forsake the sanctity that should be the defense of black girlhood. 

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., offers an unflinching indictment of the toxic masculinity that poisons the agency of black men in the following Tweet:

“It should go without saying that Black girls should matter more than good music & a musical gift; that a minor should not be maligned as a manipulator of a man. Let’s teach boys that girls’ bodies are not theirs to molest & misuse. Not theirs to do anything with. #SurvivingRKelly”

Kelly’s well-documented marriage to late singer Aaliyah is his most prominent exercising of said toxic masculinity, capitalizing off of the collective hypnosis of the black community. Kelly married the artist when she was just 15 years old, during the process he groomed her while producing her debut album, infamously named “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” Young, black girls with an understandably childish interest in the trappings of fame and success are the prospects that earn a “Target Acquired” from R. Kelly; yet, what do we do to not only teach them the ominous inner-workings of a man, so deluded by his enfeebling paternalism and lust for the “subservient and promiscuous” black woman, but the value of their own lives — their beautiful, free-spirited black lives? 

One wonders, then, how to advance not the story of Kelly, but, how to advance the story of those he has victimized. How do we rescue those like myself that many among our community — the black community —  deem unworthy of saving? In essence, black women and girls exist at America’s most refuted intersection: They are black. They are girls. And as R. Kelly abuses my sisters, you do too abuse by means of your unremitting silence. 

R. Kelly’s cynical appropriation of our collective communities’ carelessness towards the trials and tribulations of black girlhood is the puerile definition of malign —  it’s unabating is not without both complicit and unaware assistance. 

To rightly condemn this far-shot mimicry of Marvin Gaye, we must revolutionize our own thought processes on the intersections between blackness and victimization, unaccountability and the tactless glamorization of black masculinity, and womanhood in the black community. 

Black lives matter — not just the ones that appease you.