it’s time to be honest about how black women have kept r. kelly relevant
March 1, 2019
When it came out that a Black woman bailed R. Kelly out, I was not shocked. In fact, I refused to be. First, the revelation had once been my greatest fear as this saga rages on. Secondly, because it totally makes sense. Particularly if you look at who still buys his music and attends the few concerts he’s able to scam his way into. In fact, this is the logical conclusion to the ongoing, ultra-specific, and generational worship of R. Kelly. This is the factual conclusion of a world that encourages internalized misogynoir. And this is the factual conclusion in the ongoing tension between Black women and young Black girls.
You probably want to know what the fuck I’m talking about.
Well, to be fair, every generation has that man (or two) that a sizeable portion of Black women will fall on swords for, despite all common sense. While we’re looking at Gen X and Baby Boomer women sideways about R. Kelly, Millennials and Gen Z don’t exactly have too much room to talk when it comes to the enduring the pestilence known as Chris Brown and the willful obtuseness some of us display when anyone points out Drake’s pattern of routinely overstepping with famous women (like Rihanna) and girls (like Millie Bobby Brown). But I’ve always wondered where that “fall on swords despite all common sense” nature that is explicitly in direct opposition with our collective betterment comes from. There are a couple of not-so-kosher answers to this, but let’s start with the first one:
1. We must accept that the generation that is extremely passionate about protecting R. Kelly is one that has always been passionate about protecting Black men. At all costs. Even personal ones.
Many like to merely pin this mess on the obvious age gap between Baby Boomers and Gen X women versus Millennial and Gen Z women, but it’s more complex than that. Case in point, I’ll never forget the look on my face when Taraji P. Henson got on Instagram in all her headassery to imply no one gave a damn about getting Harvey Weinstein out of the paint with the flimsy evidence that Weinstein did not have a “Mute Weinstein” hashtag. Ignoring the obvious logic that the mute tag comes from Kelly being in music, she completely ignored Weinstein currently being on trial to insinuate that Kelly was being unfairly targeted. To prove something to a friend. And it didn’t matter that she walked it back either. The damage was done. And many of us questioned why she did it too. Why someone of her stature would risk so much? Despite what I thought I knew about Pick Meism, entrepreneur and YouTube personality Kim Love actually commented on what she thought was plaguing women like Henson:
The more I read, the more it made sense, particularly her line about investing in Black men. I mean, think about it. It starts pretty early on. And if you don’t think so, think about all the stories you’ve probably read online or heard in real life about parents, particularly mothers, coddling their Black sons even all the way until adulthood and expecting their Black daughters to be self-sufficient as soon as that umbilical cord is vaporized. I saw this play out in my own family when my parents berated me for struggling to finish college (which I eventually did, mind you), but turned around and welcomed my brother home with somewhat open arms (as open as Nigerian arms can get) when he flunked out. There has always been a different set of rules and expectations for little Black girls and little Black boys. And it is of particular note to me, because the excuse is always that the world is tougher on Black boys and men (my mother said this) and I’m always like “well, it’s not like the world be playing patty cake with us either.” Love comments on this as well, saying that Black mothers will love their sons and raise their daughters, but I’ll even go further with her own point and say that a twisted sense of duty and internalized misogyny causes older Black women to invest in Black boys and let Black girls fall through the cracks.
2. One doesn’t fraternize with the competition. And the simple truth of the matter is that in a White supremacist system, Black girls and Black women are competition. Even when they’re related.
This is the part of the R. Kelly conversation we usually avoid because it’s ugly and requires us to confront our demons as a collective and a community. And a lot of us aren’t ready for that. Still, if I were to summarize this conundrum in succinct terms, I would refer you to the very potent and concise words of Kenyette Tisha Barnes, writer and co-founder of #MuteRKelly. She sums up this phenomenon in several extremely illuminating and striking paragraphs: “Women — at least the population taking off work, to get their tracks tightened, just to see R Kelly “bump and grind” — tend to be highly socialized to view men as mates through the lens of scarcity. This also tends to be the population of women who place HEAVY significance on being married, or committed to a man. In addition, these women tend to have less than favorable views about any woman who threatens this norm for her.” And yes, there are countless examples of beautiful women in their 40s and beyond (who are actually peers of these men), so there is no denying that as an absolute, younger women being more beautiful is a logical fallacy. Yet, the social dogma remains: You are always at risk for a younger woman taking your man. So, what do you do with competition?
Annihilate it. (or allow it to be cannibalized, raped, molested and abused) by the same “men” you are in competition for.”
Pretty fucked up, right? Not so much so if you revisit Love’s point about “investment.” If you as a demographic have invested all your resources, hopes, and dreams in something for as long as you can remember, why wouldn’t you be protective of that investment? Why wouldn’t you see anyone who appears to even be slightly diverting that investment’s attention away from you as competition that needs to be dealt with? Sure, these messages of scarcity and competition ultimately stem from the Book of 1st Fuck Boy Chapter 1 Verse 1 which was mightily penned ages ago by the White Supremacist Patriarchy, but these messages aren’t exactly things that are foreign to our community. For every time I’ve heard a group of Black women talking about how there are few good Black men to date or about how they’re all merely “gay” now, I’ve thought about this phenomenon. And it’s also this “few good men/scarcity” messaging that makes some women completely okay with sacrificing their daughters to the gallows of rape and sexual assault if it means they can finally collect on their investment.
Once again, this is something I saw play out in real time growing up when The Terrible Thing That No One Talked About™️ happened when I was an infant and both my mother and father attempted to bury it. They didn’t do as good a job, because I caught them arguing about it with my eldest sister in their native tongue many years later and I happened to catch it, but no one would go on to really expose it or talk about it until the Summer of 2018 when I moved away. From all of them.
That said, even though I knew what was up, it was interesting seeing it play out underneath the surface. For a long time, I could tell that my sister was mad resentful of me for maybe not being abused in a similar way. And that she also rightfully resented my mother for not protecting her before the incident and definitely failing to do so in the aftermath. That second wave of resentment she felt towards my mom always made sense, but it was never something she attacked my mom over. It was something she quietly simmered about and outwardly rebelled against my mom over (by breaking curfew, going out whenever she wanted, etc). The first wave of resentment was different and always intriguing to me because it mostly spilled out in her antagonism of my fatness. It didn’t matter that I was literally a baby when the terrible thing happened because, in her eyes, I was able to avoid any future abuse by being fatter and thereby more “unattractive” and able to avoid such situations. Even though there’s plenty of work out there that shows that being “ugly” will not spare one from abuse (because it’s never merely about looks anyway).
My mom was an even more interesting if not tragic case. She took it out on all of her daughters in all of the ways that you, the reader, are surely familiar with. She would call us fast and refer to our bodies as sinful and tempting (gotta love those purity politics). And as some backwards solution in her mind, she would make us cover-up at every turn (as that would do anything), but especially on nights that my father was home from work.
This never made any sense to me growing up of course, but because she was my mom, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and honestly assumed she was out to protect us. It was not until I turned about 13/14 (aka when I started to develop breasts) that I figured out that this was not the case.
To put it bluntly, that age brought out a particularly sick and twisted form of jealousy out of my mother. I say this because before I was clued in on the terrible thing that had happened, I was my father’s’ favorite and he often took my side in disputes between me and my mother. Which isn’t coincidental, of course. I now believe this was part of some underhanded effort to groom me before I found out about the thing. After one particular time, however, my mom accused me of sleeping with him. As in, she explicitly stated that he was only taking my side in these arguments because we probably had some sort of sexual relationship. It did not matter that he was my father and it did not matter that someone my age at the time (13) couldn’t even consent to something like that. She said it anyway. Because in her mind, you guessed it, I was and would always be her competition. Not her daughter. But her competition. When I pressed her on how sick that sounded, she was finally embarrassed and dropped the issue. Never apologized. Just dropped it. And dropping it somehow made more sense to her than removing the evil that was my father.
To be very clear, my mother would rather be with and stay (she is still with him) with a sexual abuser and a pedophile than be alone. Because he was one of the “few good ones”; the ones who provided and weren’t gay. And there are many other women out there who are like my mother. And this is important to state in the open or else we will never ever get to the root of why men like R. Kelly are able to roach around in 2019 and why women like Valencia Love are okay with enabling them, even though she has taken on the responsibility of taking care of kids, including other Black girls. Even though she aged out of R. Kelly’s target demgraphic decades ago.
Indeed, Black women have led the charge on taking down R. Kelly, but women like Valencia and my own mother also show that Black women have been a potent force in helping him maintain the sliver of relevance (and freedom) that he has managed to hold on to. And both of these things can be true at the same time.
CLARKISHA CLAPS BACK is a weekly column that humorously and honestly claps back at the world around writer Clarkisha Kent, from culture, politics, sexuality, gender and her personal life.
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter