Over the years, for decades, allegations swirled that R&B superstar R. Kelly was abusing young women and girls, without penalty.
They were mostly young black women. and black girls.
And he, say accusers and others, have called on him to face the accountability that took so long to turn the wheels of the criminal justice system, finally finding him guilty in his sex trafficking trial on Monday. was ordained. It did exactly this, he says, because of the efforts of black women who are unwilling to be forgotten.
Speaking out against sexual harassment and violence is dangerous for anyone who tries to do it. Those who work in the field say the barriers faced by black women and girls are raised even higher by a society that hypersexualizes them from an early age, treating them as separate people. stereotypes and judges their physique, and in a country with a history of racism and sexism. Long denied his autonomy over his body.
“Black women have been in this country a long time and … our bodies were never with us,” said Kalima Johnson, executive director of the Sasha Center in Detroit.
“No one allows us to deserve protection,” she said. “A human being who needs love and purity.” It’s as if, she said, “there is nothing sacred about a black woman’s body.”
In a 2017 study from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, adults were asked their perceptions of black girls compared to white girls of the same age in terms of their nutritional and security needs, as well as their knowledge of adult subjects. was asked about. like sex.
At every age, black girls were considered more adults than white girls, needed less protection and were more aware of sex. The difference between black and white was highest for girls aged 10 to 14, followed by girls aged 5 to 9.
Rebecca Epstein, the center’s executive director, said: “We don’t value, and dehumanize, black girls, and blame them for the sexual violence they experienced to a greater extent than white girls. are of.” Author.
For years, R. The girls who suffered at the hands of Kelly were treated more as a punchline than a ridicule, even during a trial on child pornography charges, where a video, purportedly showing a girl abusing Giving was shown, was shown. He was acquitted in 2008.
Music writer Jim DeRogatis couldn’t figure it out. In December 2000, he and a colleague first published R. Kelly’s interactions with the girls, and Derogatis continued to write about it for years.
Every time something came out, like the video, DeRogatis thought it had to happen—that was the thing that would make the difference in the end. And every time, it was not so.
It brought a realization home to DeRogatis, a middle-aged white man: injustice that “no one matters less in our society than young black girls.”
And the girls and women he interviewed knew it, he said. Of the dozens of people he interviewed, the first thing he heard was, “Who’s going to believe us? We’re black girls.”
And so, R. Kelly continued for years, creating hit songs, performing with other artists, even calling himself a “Pied Piper” at times, but saying that he knew the story of that musician. Didn’t know who had kidnapped the children of a city.
Those who welcomed Monday’s sentencing, which came after weeks of disturbing testimony and now expected Kelly to remain in prison for decades, said it was a testament to the strength and perseverance of black women, who are particularly vulnerable. Recently it has been a driving force. Sal, speaking out against him and demanding his attention.
Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement against sexual abuse, pointed to the #MuteRKelly campaign, a protest started by two black women in Atlanta in 2017 to pressure radio stations to stop playing their music and venues. to allow them to perform. .
And the most widespread public condemnation came in the wake of the 2019 documentary “Surviving Are Kelly,” executive produced by Dream Hampton, a black woman.
“I think it says you have to believe in the power of your community, because that wouldn’t happen if black women weren’t there to stay the course,” Burke said. “It was decided by black women, ‘We won’t let this fall on deaf ears.’ It was decided by black women, ‘If there’s no one else to care for, we’re going to take care of black women and girls in our community.’