I'll be honest; I've been looking at singer R. Kelly cross-eyed for a long time, as much as I like such songs as "Step in the Name of Love" and I believe I Can Fly." I was always put off by his relationship with the late singer Aaliyah, with whom he had a bogus "marriage" in 1994, when she was 15. So I was not among those who cheered last Friday's verdict clearing Kelly of child pornography charges related to a videotape that allegedly showed Kelly having sex with a 13-year-old girl. According to news reports, some jurors said that they did not buy the Kelly defense team argument that he was not the man in the tape, but they could not be certain whether the female in the tape was the 13-year-old in question. The tape is about a decade old, and the young woman who was Kelly's alleged sex partner did not testify.
For bloggers and one very irate group of black men, the fact that Kelly's career has been barely affected by the trial and related controversy reflects a disregard for the lives of black girls and women. For example, here's Arlene Jones:
We seem to be in some sort of trance when we can justify a grown man
not only having sex with a child but recording it as well. It also says
a lot about all those who went out of their way to buy a copy of the
tape or scoured the internet to see it there.
Brittany Jackson grew up on Kelly's music, and believes she has seen its malign influence first hand:
[W]hen we’d walk down school hallways, we’d see boys
grabbing girls’ butts or saying something sexual. I think a lot of the
blame goes back to Kelly because he was particularly good at mixing the
sacred with the profane.
Miss Yaminah says that the sexual abuse of teenaged girls is a much bigger problem than we like to admit:
As much as we hate to admit it, R. Kelly’s case is more common than it
is an anomaly. I think the case is shocking to people because there is
actual evidence, a graphic depiction, of how a young woman is stripped
of her innocence. But it doesn’t start with the act. It starts in the
mind. The sacred feminine is not respected in our community because it
is not understood, and unfortunately, young girls being abused and
exploited is one of the consequences.
There is a group of black men who are inclined to agree. Contributors to the book, Be A Father to Your Child (Soft Skull Press, 2008), they have launched an online petition that they are asking black males to sign as a gesture of commitment to protecting girls and women from violence and exploitation. It is reproduced below with the permission of one of its authors, Spelman College History professor William Jelani Cobb.
Statement of Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women
Six years have gone by since we first heard the allegations
that R. Kelly had filmed himself having sex with an underage girl.
During that time we have seen the videotape being hawked on street
corners in Black communities, as if the dehumanization of one of our
own was not at stake. We have seen entertainers rally around him and
watched his career reach new heights despite the grave possibility that
he had molested and urinated on a 13-year old girl. We saw African
Americans purchase millions of his records despite the long history of
such charges swirling around the singer. Worst of all, we have
witnessed the sad vision of Black people cheering his acquittal with a
fervor usually reserved for community heroes and shaken our heads at
the stunning lack of outrage over the verdict in the broader Black
Over these years, justice has been delayed and it has been denied.
Perhaps a jury can accept R. Kelly's absurd defense and find
"reasonable doubt" despite the fact that the film was shot in his home
and featured a man who was identical to him. Perhaps they doubted that
the young woman in the courtroom was, in fact, the same person featured
in the ten year old video. But there is no doubt about this: some young
Black woman was filmed being degraded and exploited by a much older
Black man, some daughter of our community was left unprotected, and
somewhere another Black woman is being molested, abused or raped and
our callous handling of this case will make it that much more difficult
for her to come forward and be believed. And each of us is responsible
We have proudly seen the community take to the streets in defense
of Black men who have been the victims of police violence or racist
attacks, but that righteous outrage only highlights the silence
surrounding this verdict.
We believe that our judgment has been clouded by celebrity-worship;
we believe that we are a community in crisis and that our addiction to
sexism has reached such an extreme that many of us cannot even
recognize child molestation when we see it.
We recognize the absolute necessity for Black men to speak in a single,
unified voice and state something that should be absolutely obvious:
that the women of our community are full human beings, that we cannot
and will not tolerate the poisonous hatred of women that has already
damaged our families, relationships and culture.
We believe that our daughters are precious and they deserve our
protection. We believe that Black men must take responsibility for our
contributions to this terrible state of affairs and make an effort to
change our lives and our communities.
This is about more than R. Kelly's claims to innocence. It is about our survival as a community.
Until we believe that our daughters, sisters, mothers, wives and
friends are worthy of justice, until we believe that rape, domestic
violence and the casual sexism that permeates our culture are
absolutely unacceptable, until we recognize that the first priority of
any community is the protection of its young, we will remain in this
We ask that you:
o Sign your name if you are a Black male who supports this statement:
o Forward this statement to your entire network and ask other Black males to sign as well
Make a personal pledge to never support R. Kelly again in any form or
fashion, unless he publicly apologizes for his behavior and gets help
for his long-standing sexual conduct, in his private life and in his
o Make a commitment in your own life to never to hit, beat,
molest, rape, or exploit Black females in any way and, if you have,
to take ownership for your behavior, seek emotional and spiritual help,
and, over time, become a voice against all forms of Black female
o Challenge other Black males, no matter their age, class or
educational background, or status in life, if they engage in behavior
and language that is exploitative and or disrespectful to Black females
in any way. If you say nothing, you become just as guilty.
o Learn to listen to the voices, concerns, needs, criticisms,
and challenges of Black females, because they are our equals, and
because in listening we will learn a new and different kind of Black
We support the work of scholars, activists and organizations
that are helping to redefine Black manhood in healthy ways. Additional
resources are listed below.
Who's Gonna Take the Weight, Kevin Powell
New Black Man, Mark Anthony Neal
Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot, Pearl Cleage
Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality, Rudolph Byrd and Beverly Guy-Sheftall
I Am A Man: Black Masculinity in America, by Byron Hurt
Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by Byron Hurt
NO! The Rape Documentary, by Aishah Simmons
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