I remember when I first heard allegations about R. Kelly being a predator.
No, it wasn’t when he was arrested in 2003 for child pornography. It was when a single-digit aged me read a printed magazine article about the life of the late R&B star, Aaliyah. In the article, her relationship with the much-older Kelly was outlined, down to the details of their (creepy) short-lived marriage when she was only 15 years old and he was 27. But I was young and unaware of many things. At the time, I was much more focused on mourning the death of Aaliyah.
Years passed, and I realized that R. Kelly’s inappropriate, horrifying lifestyle wasn’t something we could glaze over. All of the charges for the previously mentioned child pornography case had been dropped and he had been found not guilty of 14 counts of child pornography during a trial.
Still, stories continued to circulate about his behavior and obsession with young Black girls.
By the time Jim DeRogatis published his BuzzFeed piece about R. Kelly’s sex ring during the summer of 2017, it had been cemented in public consciousness that the R&B singer was a calculated abuser. The article detailed the inner workings of what the parents of brainwashed girls called “a cult,” including accounts of physical abuse, sexual “grooming,” and the methods by which R. Kelly had procured his victims. A particularly haunting revelation was that in 1994, one of Kelly’s underage sexual partners, Tia Hawkins, had tried to slit her wrists after their relationship ended. They had been having sex since 1991, when she was 15 and he was 24.
The timing of her attempted suicide sparked questions within me, so I conducted a bit of my own research. I discovered that Tia Hawkins had appeared on Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. The knowledge that she had tried to commit suicide during the year of the album’s release, that the album was primarily written and produced by R. Kelly (the title itself seems to be a proclamation of his pro-predator stances), and that R. Kelly was married to a then 15-year-old Aaliyah is all a testament to how deeply twisted the pied piper truly is.
Within the last year, Bitch Media’s Evette Dionne, The Root’s Jamilah Lemieux, and rapper Vince Staples have all used their voices to call out R. Kelly and the public’s continued support of a known predator.
Today, the push for justice continued with the Women of Color in the Time’s Up movement declaring that R. Kelly must be muted by companies once and for all.
In the past, it has been a struggle to get people — especially companies and longtime fans of the singer — on the same page as Kelly’s victims and those who stand in solidarity with them. The go-to excuse for those who refuse to acknowledge Kelly’s actions is that he is a legend with timeless work. As a result, decades have gone by without Kelly experiencing any serious consequences. He continues to tour, celebrities keep working with him — and he maintains his alleged sex ring.
Black girls and women are R. Kelly’s primary targets, and they have been largely ignored over the past several years.
The musician’s actions have been an “open secret” for more than two decades, yet before Time’s Up’s call to action on April 30th there had been no mass demand for the cancellation of Kelly’s career. I believe that the time it took is evidence of how society views Black female victims of abuse. Black women deserve the same love and protection as everyone else who can say “me too,” but when you ignore their cries for help, you send a message that they don’t.
R. Kelly’s team (which is now devoid of a publicist, lawyer, and assistant) released this statement following today’s announcement. It refers to the #MuteRKelly movement as a “lynching”, which is the exact inaccurate word used to defend Bill Cosby.
I hope I never again hear that R. Kelly is going on about his regularly scheduled career as if nothing is terribly wrong. Already, his show at the 2018 UIC homecoming has been canceled and I have faith that it won’t be the last time his work is shut down. In a couple of months, I’m bringing a daughter into the world, and I will do my personal part to assure that R. Kelly is not a thriving celebrity by the time she gets here. My deepest apologies to all of the Black women who have been scarred by R. Kelly. May this be the end for him.