How Could We Have So Much Hate For Umar, But Love R. Kelly?
A sad indicator of our devaluation of black women
Umar Johnson may have stolen $700,000 for a fictional school and believes black parents should use conversion therapy to "cure" their children of homosexuality but it was his belief that black men should commit themselves to black women that created the greatest backlash from Roland Martin and his panel last week. R. Kelly, on the other hand, enjoyed decades of support despite marrying a child and collecting a litany of allegations and lawsuits from other black girls. Johnson was attacked because he unabashedly advocated for black women but we chose to advocate for Kelly, despite all the black girls who bore the consequences. That it is possible for these parallel realities to exist suggests that we hate black women or have developed a collective indifference that is indistinguishable from hatred.
After researching years of allegations against R. Kelly, music journalist Jim DeRogatis concluded that, "Nobody matters less to our society than young black women." Who advocates for black women? Black women are killed by police and because so few people care, we are asked to #SayHerName. Where is the movement challenging the pay gap between black women and white women? We have normalized the invisibility and irrelevance of black women. Umar Johnson's appearance last week on the Roland Martin show was simply another reminder. Johnson was confronted most vigorously -- even by Lauren Burke, a black woman -- for his belief that a black man's "greatest commitment to black people is being committed to a black woman." While Johnson's views on interracial marriage are worthy of scrutiny, that a panel of black thought leaders gave most of their energy to countering a black man's advocacy on behalf of black women is telling.
This is especially so when juxtaposed with the years of support we have given to R. Kelly. While there are some who find his behavior problematic, there has never been a passionate movement against the singer. There has never been the will, even among black intellectuals, to confront him with the same conviction Roland Martin and company employed when they defended black men's right to "Becky with the good hair." It is undeniable that Kelly has escaped physical and metaphorical lynching because he chose to target black girls (as in underage). Our collective indifference is appalling and when contrasted with Umar Johnson's reception last week, a clear picture emerges of our disdain for black women. No rational person could conclude otherwise when a serial predator -- based on a marriage license and streams of allegations -- is not immediately castigated but a bold defense of black women is rebuked by black thought leaders.
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To be sure, those who have directly or indirectly supported R. Kelly over the years are not the same people who publicly sparred with Umar Johnson last week. Further, Umar Johnson has his own share of misogyny to answer for, even if he is strongly in support of black men committing to black women in marriage. The point is that we live in the same world where hatred for Umar Johnson, based on his stance on interracial marriage, and love for R. Kelly is even possible and they both emerge from our view of black women. Period. That a white, music journalist, can plainly see black women matter less than anyone is an indictment on us all. If we protected black women with the same vigor Umar Johnson was attacked with when he stood up for black women, this would be a safe world to raise little black girls. Today our world is not that.
We have created a world completely unsafe for black women. Speaking of black men who marry outside of their race, Umar Johnson concluded they don't "think enough about your own people to marry a woman who looks like you." Johnson is wrong. We think enough of black men to launch entire movements like #BlackLivesMatter, prison reform and even pastoral anniversaries in our churches. It is black women we don't think enough about. The same world that makes Umar Johnson a target for criticism is the same world in which R. Kelly has thrived and the two are not unrelated.