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Don't Forget That Black Womxn Worked To Make R. Kelly Face Consequences

This has been a long, long road marked by Black womxn’s activism.

This essay contains discussion of sexual violence against Black girls and womxn.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier today that singer R. Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against 4 victims, at least 3 of them minors.

From the article: “A Cook County judge has approved a no-bail arrest warrant for embattled R&B superstar R. Kelly, who was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims, at least three of them minors, in Cook County Friday morning, records show.

The alleged crimes span from 1998 to 2010, records show. The minors were between 13 and 16, prosecutors allege.

Kelly’s attorney, Steven Greenberg, said early Friday afternoon that he had not been notified that his client had been charged. Greenberg has said in the past that his client denies any wrongdoing.

Cook County prosecutors appeared before Judge Dennis Porter Friday to approve the warrant for Kelly, records show.

Michael Avenatti, a well known attorney who said he recently provided a videotape of R. Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, applauded prosecutors for filing charges. It is unclear if the charges are related to the videotape the attorney provided.”

The video tape provided by Avenatti shows R. Kelly sexually assaulting a 14 year-old girl, same as the infamous tape made in the late 90s. History repeats itself and we now find ourselves where we were nearly twenty years ago. The hope is that, this time, justice will finally be done for those R. Kelly has spent his entire career victimizing.

In 2008, the singer was acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography after the first tape was anonymously delivered to journalist Jim DeRogatis at the Sun-Times in 2002. Last week, Avenatti publicly accused R. Kelly of evidence tampering, witness intimidation, bribing the jury, and other illegal trial-rigging activities and disclosed that he has enough substantial evidence to bring this entire ordeal to a satisfying close. These accusations follow reports that Homeland Security also launched an investigation into R. Kelly for sex trafficking.

As this comes to a head and hopefully finally results in R. Kelly receiving real consequences for his crimes, we cannot allow Black womxn and girls to be devalued and forgotten like they have been throughout the entirety of this decades-long ordeal. We need to recognize how the tireless work of Black womxn organizers made this happen. When we tell this story, we cannot allow them to be erased from the narrative or overshadowed by anyone else. Many of us are so tired because we have been fighting R. Kelly, men like him, and those who protect them, for so long. The mainstream media often presents this story as if it is relatively new, only taking off post #MeToo. And no, not the movement Black activist Tarana Burke began back in 2006, but the pop feminist version of the movement co-opted by white Hollywood actresses in 2017. But those of us who have spent years reading, writing, and hearing stories about R. Kelly’s violence know that this has been a long, long road marked by Black womxn’s activism.


We need to talk about how Mute R. Kelly, co-founded by Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, has been instrumental in ensuring that he is brought to justice. Since 2017, the organization has been working to have his music taken off the radio. Tarana Burke and other Black womxn have been fighting to keep Me Too from being both whitewashed and intentionally misrepresented as an attack on men, and it’s prevalence in the social imagination during the last few years has helped many people form a better understanding of consent and sexual predation. Organizations like Black Women’s Blueprint have protested outside of R. Kelly’s concerts to loudly remind attendees that they support an abuser. And, of course, dream hampton’s docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” premiered on Lifetime at the beginning of the year, which ultimately led to a reinvigorated interest in the singer by investigators and resulted in RCA Records finally dropping him from their label.

The public pressure, the organizing through social media, all the writing and yelling about R. Kelly and his abuse by Black womxn must be unequivocally recognized. We shifted the conversation from centering the abuser to humanizing his victims, so much so that it has become socially unacceptable to co-sign R. Kelly or to remain silent about his sexual predation. His supporters still remain, yes, but there is a difference in how their support is received in this culture, and that’s thanks to the work of Black womxn advocates and survivors. If there’s one thing we learned from “Surviving R. Kelly”, it’s that no one else was speaking up until Black womxn did. No one. And for all these years, it was Black womxn who took, and continue to take, the brunt of any backlash from those invested in Black patriarchy and its violences. Writing, and speaking, and yelling about R. Kelly makes us, as writers, advocates, victims, survivors, activists, organizers, educators, and more, bigger targets for the kind of patriarchal violences we have been fighting against. And now that R. Kelly has been charged again and now that it looks like it might actually stick this time, we are bracing ourselves for misogynoir from his defenders.

Still, this feels like a win. People are celebrating, and I don’t blame them. Some are holding their breath, and I don’t blame them. Others are numb and without hope, and I don’t blame them either. This feels like a win for many people, especially many of those who have survived the kind of violence that R. Kelly has gotten away with for so long, and who have been told that our bodies, our autonomy, our sex as Black womxn are not our own. It is possible to be both victim and victor. Black womxn prove that every day.

Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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