The latest news about R. Kelly illustrates how we are failing Black girls, we are failing Black women.
A new chapter in the R. Kelly saga broke yesterday when Buzzfeed published an investigative piece about the artist. The article details accusations of the singer/sexual predator having a ‘cult’ or harem of young women whom he houses in various properties. Kelly allegedly dictates how they dress, controls what they eat, confiscates their cell phones and limits their contact with the outside world. According to sources, he also records their sexual encounters and shares them with the men in his circle.
Journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has been writing about Kelly’s exploits and misdeeds for decades, spoke to several victims and their families, including the parents of a 22-year-old girl (now identified as Joycelyn Savage) who was absorbed into Kelly’s entourage when she was 19.
Savage’s mother, who went by J in the article, was quoted as saying that she was “really impressed” by Kelly when she met in at a 2015 concert in California. Money and power in the hands of masculinity IS impressive, aint it? J is in her 40s, so this mother, who was an adult when Kelly’s 2008 trial occurred, was STILL a fan despite evidence of his abusive history. The only thing that can describe the horror of this is internalized misogynoir. She was willing to sell out her daughter’s existence to a known predator because he was acquitted–despite the video evidence circulated widely of him urinating on a 14-year-old girl.
Her daughter, Joycelyn is living in an undisclosed area. After the Buzzfeed piece broke, she is seen in a video released to TMZ, and looks pressed and slightly shook as she attempts to get through an incomplete explanation about her well-being and why she is not in contact with her family. When asked where she is or if she’s free to go she stumbles through, finally settling on, “I don’t wanna speak on that.”
This is what happens when you allow a sexual predator to walk free and give him access to your children, specifically young black girls. This is misogynoir. Kelly has a long history of sexual misconduct and ephebophilia. His relationship with Aaliyah began when she was only 12-years-old when they first met and they married when she was 15, Kelly was 28. In 1994 they released “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number”.
Colloquial stories told by Gen X Chicago women who were in high school during his early career and heyday will tell you all you need to know about him. Men like Kelly populate our neighborhoods, hollering at us from pre-pubescence–chasing us, asking or forcing us into their cars. Kelly has a well-documented history of sexual abuse and misconduct and is known for targeting teenage girls but we cannot ignore that this man is only getting away with this because the young girls and women he hunts are not white.
After his legal scuffles and several settlements, Kelly has toed the line of legality–the age of consent in Georgia is 17, which is where he bought a residence and keeps the young women and teens. But Kelly is able to do this because no one cares about black girls and women–we are disposable, even to Black men.
The reason men over 25 engage with teen girls is because they are impressionable and easier to manipulate. R. Kelly is a predator. Black girls and women are already seen as oversexed, our innocence is constantly in question from a very young age, our bodies are deemed as lascivious and render us guilty without saying or spreading anything–and Black men take advantage of that. Cishet Black men only bring up agency and consent when it benefits them, and most people only care about abuse when it happens to their daughters or sisters–but many do not care even then, preferring to bury the evidence or take settlements, rendering the act unspoken.
From Bill Cosby, to Chris Brown, to R Kelly, we see where we are placed in society as Black women. Not only do we endure gaslighting, dismissiveness or outright hostility from the masses–within our very own community we are silenced, shamed and blamed as young girls for the actions of much older men. We are fast-tailed, we are hoodrats, we are hoochies from birth. No one protects us, even our mothers and women in our lives will shame us or give us away. In fact, there are many Black women who caped for Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and other abusers. Erykah Badu illustrated this not too long ago and continues to do so. Internalized misogynoir is powerful.
The latest news about Kelly illustrates how we are failing Black girls, we are failing Black women. “Race first” rhetoric is still very prevalent in our community–I even continue to debate this in intellectual womanist circles. Black first is men first, and that has been established repeatedly. We, as Black and women, are never first, and our own neighborhood men prey on us because they know we are vulnerable.
For a Black parent to willingingly allow or promote their daughter’s contact with a known predator is willful ignorance and neglect. My surprise is muted and tinged with knowing because it’s not uncommon for the stories of Black girls to be set aside in favor of protecting the reputation of the Black man and by default, the Black community.
We live in a misogynoiristic community, the Black man and his masculinity must be protected and valued at all costs, even the cost of our girls. Looking the other way, ignoring the predatory family members and creepy older friends is a way of life and this has to change. This has to end.