Disclaimer: Details of sexual assault, domestic violence/abuse and sexual misconduct involving minors.
The stories on Robert Kelly’s sexual misconduct, paedophilia and abuse have not been strangers to us in the wake of the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. Victims, friends, former employees and even family of R. Kelly have come out in this 6 part series to expose in depth the actions of R. Kelly. But the question within all of this is the most troubling part of these confession tapes. How and why has Kelly managed to steer clear of this controversy for more than twenty years? How has this three time Grammy award winner avoided any repercussions for things that there is visual evidence of? And the answer is simple: people do not care about the lives of black girls.
The series itself is broken into six parts, each one looking at different aspects and approaches to Kelly’s scandal. The series reveals shocking details about how Kelly treated his victims, including his own wife. It was revealed that Kelly would take full control of the more than often underage girls. His ex-wife, Andrea Kelly, described what R. Kelly was doing as a “dictatorship” in which he would not allow the girls he was involved with to speak to any of the other members of his team. She went on to explain that he controlled “what you wear, when you eat, when you sleep.” It is safe to say that R. Kelly went on as if he was a god, as if he was untouchable. And as far as it’s gone right now, he is untouchable. Whilst all these allegations were arising and even in the middle of his trial, Kelly was releasing music that was tailored to the black community in order to essentially distract them and deter them from believing what everyone knew was happening behind closed doors.
R. Kelly went on as if he was a god, as if he was untouchable. And as far as it’s gone right now, he is untouchable
Indeed, the details of the abuse may not have been known and believed by everyone as to some extent they were believed as hearsay. However, in 2002, a sex tape surfaced in which Kelly can be seen partaking in a sexual exchange with an underage girl. Now, this was visual evidence of Kelly’s actions with a minor which is seen as statutory rape. Yet, Kelly denied that it was him in the video and went as far as to accuse his younger brother Carey as the man in the video. Carey also denied it but anyone would realise that Robert and Carey do not look similar and are able to be told apart. The main reason that the tape was invalidated was because the girl in the video denied that it was her, perhaps out of embarrassment. Singer Stephanie Edwards (Sparkle) has also questioned whether the family of the girl in the video, who was her niece, was paid off by Kelly and his team which he was no stranger to doing. Kelly paid Aaliyah $100 in order to deter her from seeking legal action after the annulment of their marriage and paid a victim’s mother $2000 when she was hospitalised for mononucleosis that she had contracted from Kelly.
So, evidently, there are mountains of allegations against Kelly. But why hasn’t justice been served to him? Let’s face the reality. Almost all of the victims of Kelly are black girls or people of colour. Let’s compare Kelly’s case against Bill Cosby’s for example. 60 accusers came out against Cosby and the majority of these women were white. Cosby is a convicted sexual predator and everyone is aware of his case, and this is because the majority people in danger were white. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have received a successful verdict, but why isn’t someone as dangerous to women being reprimanded? The lives of black women have little value to the white-dominant courts of America. One of the jurors in Kelly’s 2008 trial went as far as to say he did not value the accusers since he didn’t like how they dressed and how they acted.
Kelly’s trial was surrounded by supporters, many within the black community, who regarded Kelly nonetheless as an integral part of black culture. The docuseries pointed out that Kelly reached out to black families and his music resonated with them in every aspect of life, from weddings to church. Essentially, accepting Kelly as the abuser that he is would be removing a part of culture, something Kelly probably has done intentionally. Despite the allegations, Kelly will continue to be played in clubs and I Believe I Can Fly will still be played at graduations and sung at church. He has managed to invest himself into a community and created a culture that won’t allow themselves to separate him from their lives for the sake of some girls. But, in the same way, black women will continue to be disadvantaged due to who they are. It’s the same reason that, according to CNN, black women in the US are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. It is as though their struggles are silenced, and this is exactly why Kelly has not yet been brought to justice.
How has this three time Grammy award winner avoided any repercussions for things that there is visual evidence of? And the answer is simple: people do not care about the lives of black girls.
It’s not just his fame, and his outreach. It’s the fact that his victims are not cared about. That’s why he has only just been charged in Chicago for 10 acts of sexual assault. It’s only now that someone has decided this is something to be fixed, and it’s hard to tell whether this is for the sake of the girls, or for the pride of the saviour. All we know is, it is extremely clear that Kelly is guilty, and until people begin to show more genuine concern for the lives of all the girls effected, Kelly will continue to survive Surviving R. Kelly.
- Quotes and references have been taken directly from Lifetime TV’s Surviving R. Kelly. Available on all streaming services.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.