R. Kelly’s Verdict: Yes, Black Girls’ Life Matters Too | CLARENCE PAGE
The life of black girls finally counts too.
That was my response to news that R&B singer, songwriter, and producer R. Kelly was convicted in New York on Monday.
The federal jury convicted 54-year-old Robert Sylvester Kelly of state extortion and sex trafficking in connection with a decade-long program to recruit women and underage girls for sex. One of the biggest names in pop music could be in jail for decades.
That belief itself was a breakthrough. Kelly had dismissed various civil charges of alleged illegal sex with minors since 1997 and criminal charges since 2002.
After my Chicago friends and relatives were held in abeyance for so many years, only to end in relief or disappointment, whichever side they were on, my Chicago friends and relatives began to raise their hands in frustration or relief, depending on which side they were on whether she believed the allegations.
I’ve heard so many people say that there was no way Kelly, with all his money and power, would be sentenced to make me believe in it, too.
But it turns out that the culture has changed – and not just in Chicago.
In January 2019, “Surviving R. Kelly,” a lifetime documentary detailing allegations of sexual abuse against the singer, was broadcast over three nights. Suddenly the public focus shifted from Kelly to the other key characters of this morbid saga: the alleged victims.
“I want to believe this means that black women survivors will be heard,” tweeted Dream Hampton, executive producer of the film, “but I don’t want it to depend on any medium going viral.”
In fact, many pieces of the media went viral. Music journalist Jim DeRogatis first wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000 about allegations of R. Kelly’s sexual relations with teenage girls. Two years later, he published the story of the incriminating sex video that would lead to Kelly’s first trial.
The 2002 indictment of child pornography grew out of a widespread sex tape. He is said to be shown to have had sex with and urinated on a woman who prosecutors were around 14 years old at the time.
After six years of delay, Kelly eventually went to court, but the young woman who was believed to be the girl on the tape and her parents refused to testify. Kelly was acquitted of all charges.
But even as Kelly continued to release hits, DeRogatis found more and more women to interview until his 2017 BuzzFeed report alleging multiple Kelly offenses helped bring Kelly back into custody.
By then, we had entered the #MeToo era, a time when long-rumored sexual allegations against Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and other stars were being taken more seriously than ever, along with the women and girls who should have been the center of attention always such accusations.
At the same time, there was a new focus on Kelly’s staff and ongoing questions about how many strings he and his support network had to pull to keep him out of prison – and why weren’t the charges taken more seriously sooner?
As movie star Jada Pinkett Smith said in a video tweet, “I really don’t want to believe it’s because black girls aren’t important enough. Or is that the reason? “
Good question. As an African American, I have to say that we cannot blame white racism for our widespread indifference, or in some cases hostility towards investigations into Kelly’s scandalous personal life. It is just as racist and, above all, sexist to assume that it is not worth investigating such allegations. It’s also self-destructive and self-destructive.
However, we must also be wary of any attempt to adopt a lynch mob mentality that would result in judgment in these or other cases. Everyone has the right to due process. This also includes the right to be presumed innocent until guilty is proven.
But just as we want to protect the rights of the accused, we must not neglect the rights of the accusers. As Pinkett Smith says, the lives of black girls are important too, along with that of everyone else.
So we turn to the courts and due process works. It can be slow and cumbersome, but it is more reliable than the court of public opinion.
Contact Clarence Page at [email protected]