The whole movement of Black Girl Speaks is based on the premise that when we SPEAK of our traumas and release ourselves from its bondage, HEALING begins. My thoughts about the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” are so varied right now. I watched this from the lens of a woman, a Black Girl, a wife, a mother, a daughter raised by both parents, and a survivor, and I’m irate. Along with the anguish, I also feel indicted for every time I thought I was innocently just continuing to play his music or thought that the girls were also at fault. It was my own shame and guilt. Many of us are still denying their stories and defending his actions. This speaks to our ailment as a community. We deny and deflect because it’s easier than facing our own demons. But, here’s what was confirmed in this intrepid film:
1. R. Kelly was a victim before he was a predator, so was his brother. Most predators were. They never said anything. Most victims don’t. They rarely feel empowered to do so because there isn’t a promise of protection or support if they do. How do we stop breeding predators? We, the witnesses and survivors, must SPEAK. And, we, the community-at-large, must listen and hold the culprits accountable.
2. No one other than John Legend was willing to SPEAK in this documentary. It is difficult to do so when you either feel complicit or conflicted. That means so much more cleaning house needs to take place in this industry. We knew that, but it was glaringly obvious last night.
3. Societal norms and values shift over time as we become more “sophisticated.” Most of us turned a blind eye to R. Kelly’s predatory nature with young girls because we are products of relationships with similar age differences, or we had them ourselves. Whether it was our parents or grandparents, or a youthful lapse of our own, we’ve known of grown men with adolescent girls and it’s been normalized. Prior to women having the expectation to obtain a full education and gain access to the workforce, teenage girls were married off to older men who could provide for them and offer assistance to their families. Women, Black Girls especially, are still seen as property or inanimate objects in some regards and often think their best opportunities come in the form of an older man. But, times are changing, and this too shall end. I personally think that teenagers should only date teenagers within a one or two year age range. And, if the age difference is greater than 2 years, each person needs to be at least 25 before they sexually engage.
4. The common denominator with all of the girls he targeted was that none of them felt empowered to say, “no.” All of them were more afraid of the consequence for refusing his advances than they were of the actual degradation they suffered. They all believed there would be some benefit, fulfillment or finance, that would make the abuse worth it. Nothing is worth the abuse of your mind, body, and spirit. We have to do a better job of making sure our children know this.
5. Though the legal age to be considered an “adult” in this country is 18, neuroscientists widely agree that the human brain does not fully develop until the mid to late twenties. Trauma and life experiences impact brain development. Our children don’t need to stop being nurtured and protected just because they’ve reached the age the government decided was old enough to die for this country. The girls who were between 17-19 were still his victims. Stop blaming them. Seriously. Stop. Do you remember the dumb decisions you made prior to 25? All of us are products of our circumstances. He knew exactly the types of girls to target.
6. R. Kelly targets Black and brown girls below 25 for a reason. He flaunted it in our faces and knew we’d do nothing. He knew Black and brown girls were disposable. He knew we’d value his catalogue more than their lives. He knew he wouldn’t be held accountable if he just kept making hits. He was right. We didn’t create the monster. We just fed it and let it roam free for our entertainment.
7. The men and women that bore witness to the molestation from being around these young girls are complicit. The community and the culture that says as long as you look a certain way and you are an asset in any way to us, whether through entertainment or leadership, you will be pardoned and praised instead of punished and held accountable is complicit. That’s all of us.
The only thing to do now is to start clearing out our own closets and begin to SPEAK so that our own healing can begin. Sexual molestation is as American as colonization. Horrifically, children are the most at risk because they are not valued or believed or empowered. It’s long overdue, but it’s time to change this paradigm. We can start by telling our own truths and listening to others who do as well because only then can our collective healing begin.