Allegations of sexual misconduct have plagued award-winning R&B singer R. Kelly since the beginning of his career — earlier this year, Lifetime released the six-part docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly.” The series examines the endless list of Kelly’s atrocities from the infamous forged marriage to then-minor singer Aaliyah to modern allegations that he ran a sex cult from his home.
It was only 18 years ago that two separate videos surfaced of Kelly having sex with underage girls, one being 13. Despite all of this, Kelly was acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008 and has never experienced consequences for his actions. While the docuseries’ main goal was to expose Kelly as a predatory man, it inadvertently shed light on the adultification of black girls and the normalization of pedophilia in the black community.
As the docuseries aired over the course of three days, Twitter was ablaze. Reasonable questions were asked such as, “Where were the parents?” and, “How could R. Kelly’s entourage let these things happen?” A recurring sentiment I saw from some black people were that these young girls were not “victims.” In fact, they were often referred to as grown women who sought out Kelly. Many of the women who spoke in the docuseries were teenagers when they met Kelly and were subsequently raped and abused by him. Yet, some people believe Kelly was justified in what he did to those girls.
This disturbing thought process faintly reminds me of a troubling quote from a southern governor, Cole Blease, in the early 20th century. Blease pardoned many black and white men who had been convicted of assaulting black women and girls. In an official pardoning statement, Blease said he had, “serious doubt as to whether the crime of rape can be committed upon a negro.” Blease felt that black women and girls were incapable of being raped because they were immoral beings to him. Any unwanted sexual advance made toward black women, to him, was warranted through the behavior of black women.
Black women and girls, regardless of age, are depicted as overtly sexual beings. When black women are not shown as welfare queens and ghetto stereotypes, they are portrayed as sexual deviants. The most infamous stereotype is the Jezebel, who is seductive and manipulative to the men in her life. Being that this docuseries has sparked a conversation about pedophilia, black women have described being brutally abused and raped by the men in their family. When going to an adult in the family, victims are seemingly always in the wrong. They are blamed for “seducing” their abusers and being “fast and grown.”
Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash back in 2001, was one of Kelly’s earliest documented victims, and she’s not even here to give her side of the story. It was appalling to see some people go from regarding her as an angel with a pure spirit, to labeling her a “hot ass” that was being a whore with Kelly. As Kelly’s earliest victim, she also serves as one of the biggest examples of how black girls and women are a poorly-protected class. Every adult around Aaliyah failed her. They let a grown man destroy the integrity of a young girl, out of fear of destroying a black man and his career.
The black community failed the rest of the girls Kelly’s victimized, and continues to fail victims of abuse in the community, by allowing pedophilia and the hypersexualization of black girls remain an underlying fixture within the culture.