Updated: Feb 10, 2019
It's fair to say that almost all of the first 9 days of the new year has pretty much been all about Mr R. Kelly: R&B artist extraordinaire - a singer, songwriter, producer, musical success story and now criminal suspect. USA TV channel Lifetime recently aired a controversial docuseries featuring Kelly's alleged victims of sexual abuse. If you haven't heard about this, you must literally be living under a rock, lol.
I'll start by unashamedly sharing that I myself am a victim of sexual abuse, like so many millions of other girls and women. It happened to me when I was a child and an adult and it was traumatising in each incident. I am also a black woman and I agree that historically our stories of victimisation have featured least on the world stage of justice and equality. So, it's a wonderful thing that Kelly's victims, who are mostly black, now have the world's attention. I say this now so that no one can accuse me of underestimating the plight of sexual abuse victims or of denying black women the attention that they deserve. What I am about to say doesn't detract from the importance of these things. But we should be free to discuss facts and points of view besides these. Let me explain.
When the late R&B songstress Aaliyah burst onto the scene in 1994, I was a mere 20 years old. I remember her clearly. She was pretty, cool, fresh and she was Kelly's protege. He was in her videos. He was in her interviews. She said they were best friends. I didn't really think much of it at the time. But I remember when the rumours surfaced that there was more to their relationship. People started to say that they actually got married, which they both denied. In the absence of the internet and social media at the time, they were able to squelch the story for a while. Years later, the marriage certificate surfaced. On it, it stated that she was 18 when they married; she was, in fact, only 15. He, on the other hand, was about 28. He was officially a paedophile. But at the time the story died before it became a big one. They parted ways and both of their public images were able to recover without any significant damage.
Fast-forward to 2002 and news breaks that Kelly is charged for child porn. We won't get into detail but to cut it short he was seen on video engaging in a sex act with a minor. It took 6 years but he was eventually cleared, not because he was proven innocent. The girl on the video simply denied it was her even though it is apparent that it was (it is claimed that Kelly paid her off). I was never a huge Kelly fan to begin with. But from that point on I was disgusted with him. I didn't care that he was cleared. I figured that there was no smoke without fire. He married a kid. He's on video with a kid. What are the chances that it was all coincidence? No. The guy was sick. MOST of his songs were about sex. Nothing wrong with sex but the guy was obviously consumed with the subject. I could not in good conscience view him the same again. I assumed that others would feel the same way. That's why I was completely shocked when 'Ignition (Remix)', released by Kelly in 2002, did so well in the charts. It remains one of his biggest hits to date.
Fast-forward again to 2017 and stories of Kelly running a sex cult begin to hit the news. Spotify stops streaming his music. The hashtag #MuteRKelly starts to do the rounds on social media. AND FRANKLY, THIS IS WHERE I BEGIN TO HAVE A PROBLEM. Hello??? This story is OVER 20 YEARS OLD. Why is it NOW news? Did it not matter back then when he married a child? Why was it no big deal when he was caught red-handed on video abusing a girl? Now suddenly everyone has a conscience. Or do we? Could it be that this is less about justice and more about the mob mentality and peer pressures of social media to accept the popular view? Is there pressure to buy into mass thinking?
Of course, most would answer that the only acceptable thoughts that should be had about this whole situation is that sexual exploitation is wrong, victims should be heard and defended, and black women's lives do indeed matter. THESE ARE TRUE AND GOOD THOUGHTS. But there are other thoughts that merit discussion and people who try to broach them are being bullied into silence. For example, why can't we question the judgement of parents who took their daughters to Kelly to launch their careers, knowing Kelly's history? Why can't we ask the motives of some of those who are speaking out, many of whom profited from Kelly for many years and even enabled him? Why can't we question the judgement, and motives, of the many women who willingly entered Kelly's circle while knowing his sexual history? EVEN AS A BLACK WOMAN WHO IS A SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ABUSE, I THINK THESE ARE VALID THOUGHTS THAT RAISE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS. Above all, I take great exception to being told what to think. This discussion about Kelly has become unnecessarily polarising. You are either expected to completely accept everything the victims, and the mainstream media, are saying about Kelly or apparently you're victim blaming. This is not fair. People should be allowed to evaluate the situation for themselves and come to their own conclusions without being bullied to accept popular opinion.
Twenty years ago, everyone said it was okay to keep adulating Kelly even though it appeared evident that he was a paedophile. This mass thinking should have been challenged. This mass thinking is why Kelly has had the freedom to continue his crimes. Now the popular view is that Kelly should be behind bars. YES, this thinking should also be challenged, NOT because Kelly is innocent because in my view he isn't. But because ultimately, we should always be thinking for ourselves, not swept up by the euphoria of popular thought. If we stop being critical of the information given to us, we're just receptacles whose minds are filled and controlled by outside forces. That's never good. Mass thinking is how Nazi Germany happened. Evaluate the evidence against Kelly for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Don't just watch the Lifetime docuseries. Do some reasearch on the charges and the evidence against him. Look up information about Aaliyah. Yes, I know these things are covered in the documentary. But corroborate this TV show with other information and come to your own understanding. Don't just join in with the rallying cry of #MuteRKelly. If you're going to mute him, do so because of your personal convictions, not because you feel pressured by mass opinion to do so.
Political correctness has incorrectly forced itself beyond the boundaries of inclusion and diversity. It has become the new thought police - and I don't want my thoughts policed. Without question the #MeToo movement has fuelled the renewed interest in Kelly's past and present conduct and that is a good thing for genuine victims. But I find that #MeToo is also a very narrow ideology that is also intolerant of being challenged. Because let's face it: there are women who lie about being raped. There are women who offer sexual favours to excel their careers. These women make things more confusing and complicated for real victims. And if we're going to have an honest discussion about #MeToo these facts should be acknowledged. #MeToo cannot just be about men changing their attitudes and behaviours; women need to do this, too. But in many circles #MeToo is simply about man-bashing and I think that's completely counterproductive. I don't know about you but I LOVE MEN. I love my husband, I love my son, I love my brothers and I love my male friends. As a woman I should not feel pressured to posture myself against men in the name of asserting women's rights. It should be possible to embrace my womanhood while loving and embracing men, too. I don't need #MeToo to tell me what to think about myself or of men. And I don't need #MeToo to tell me that Kelly is a pervert. I determined that for myself. The public should have determined that for themselves decades ago, too. And they should have done it out of personal conviction, not the need to conform to popular opinion.
One of the most powerful things I can do for my daughter is teach her to think for herself and to BE UNAFRAID TO CHALLENGE MASS THINKING. I teach her to develop her own values. I encourage her to define her own standards. I help her to decide for herself what true beauty is. I empower her to create her own dreams for her life and to develop her own talents. I don't just leave her mind to be shaped and controlled by the ideologies being forced on her. I teach her to be an individual, to question things and to assert herself rather than automatically yield to outside ideas. She will make mistakes. She will face challenges. But I'll encourage her to learn from these and to apply what she's learned so that she is empowered to help herself in future. I do this because even though absolutely no one has the right to exploit her, it is still my responsibility to help her to protect herself from being exploited. Because it isn't just sexual predators who will want to exploit her. Political factions with agendas will want to exploit her, too. Thinking for ourselves is one of our most powerful weapons in life. How different would this whole R. Kelly situation have been if more young women used this weapon for themselves?