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'Surviving R. Kelly' Showed Me Just How Much We All Failed

"Whew, child! Black girls aren’t safe."

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I, like many of you, watched the Surviving R. Kelly documentary. I didn’t watch it simultaneously with everyone else, because it was triggering in a lot of ways, and I decided to be protective and not re-traumatize myself. I waited an watched it this weekend, and here are the conclusions I gathered from this exposure:

Black families failed.

Black churches failed.

Black institutions failed.

The Black community failed.

Law enforcement failed.

The artist/entertainment industry failed.

Black girls/women safety is conditional.

We failed y’all. We failed hard.

Black families are the base, foundation and beginning of all things to black life. They come in many different forms, shapes and sizes. Some have two parents, some have three to four. There are also some that have one, and the community steps up in different ways to help. There is nothing more diverse than the inner-workings of the black family. They are made of magic, hard work, perseverance and love. But honey let me tell you, it’s some dark stuff in black families, too.

Conditions of humanity are so horribly flawed, and my God today, do they eat us up. The uncles, the step-dads and the older cousins, who took such an adamant part in destroying the precious childhood of so many girls, are at the table. The trauma is unspeakable, all pun intended, because if/when it is talked about, it’s immediately shot down. Between the “what happens in this house stays in this house,” the “that didn’t really happen, you’re just trying to ruin this family” and so much more, there’s very little hope. The re-traumatizing of every holiday, every birthday, every family reunion and every family gathering that you are required to sit at the same table as your abuser, contributes to this moment.

Whew, child! Black girls aren’t safe.

Black communities, much like the family, are instrumental in development, too. We’re such a village-minded people, us black folks, and so in your community, everyone knows some of everything. Any word of the black girl being abused by anyone in the family and the community, though? It’s clearly her fault. Somewhere between her body being grown, her clothes being fast, her hormones raging, her dancing, her hanging and her mere damn presence, it becomes her fault in every way. Oh, and don’t let her be a teenager who has showed some interest, because somehow a grown-behind man with life experience must answer this call, because the requirement to be an adult in the situation conveniently subsided. So the community affirms the psychological trauma of it being her fault, and isn’t responsible for her safety because “she” knew better and he couldn’t help himself. So if she fits all characteristics of the "purist" westernized conservative good girl, maybe she becomes worthy of being protected and safe. But that’s conditional, and it is a maybe. Black girls aren’t safe.

Black institutions failed. It’s no secret that inner-city schools, urban environments and the like are some of the most underfunded, under-resourced and under-protected spaces in the US. So how does a black girl feel safe/protected at school? How does someone notice her sneaking off with her predator and shut that down? That’s a great question that I’m not going to pretend I have an answer to. I would say let’s rely on the community, but we already established where they stand, and some of them make up the predators, so there’s that.

Black churches have failed vastly! Between our handed down Eurocentric infused understanding of Christ and forgiveness, our male persons in authority practicing predatory behavior themselves, preaching purity to the women, making sure they cover their knees, to not become a “Jezebel,” “Rahab” or “Mary Magdelene” (although, we should in some ways aspire to be very much so like them, but we’ll return to that another day), berating and abusing the black woman’s body in preaching, teaching and living, and shaming her when she “falls short,” while simultaneously covering their infidelities in the need for “grace,” Black girls had no chance!

R.Kelly was “struggling and needed prayer,” so we stood by him. He was gifted, and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” so we stood by him. He was acquitted, because the system is fair in that way, of course (all sarcasm intended), so when he makes his way to the altar, doggone it we better stand by him. When he’s singing this inspirational music, co-writing with gospel artists, doing community service with the youth and showing up in people’s pulpit, while preachers stand with him and affirm him, surely the “goodt Lordt” has shown favor on him, and so should we, right? And the women and girls who are suffering, well, aren’t limited to R.Kelly’s survivors. The black church doesn’t even show up for their own women, so why in the hell would we expect them to show up for these?

Did I mention that Black girls aren’t safe?

Law enforcement failed. Surprise, surprise? Thousands of rape kits go untested every year. This is assuming we get that far. If by some miracle you make it through your family and community, and they believe you, and it gets to law enforcement, one of the first questions is, “What did you do to entice him? Is there something you might’ve done or said to attract that behavior?” Then, once that is processed, and you recounted this story and re-lived this trauma at least three times, we’re going to do this invasive rape kit, hoping that there’s some traces left of your abuser inside of you. If it is tested/processed, we might move to settle, with conditions of you never exposing this person. If you go to trial, may God and your therapist (pending you have one) be with you, while you are made to look like a criminal as a defense. Don’t let it be someone who law enforcement is biased towards, because the patriarchal misogynistic good ole boys that is law enforcement may aid the abuser in the process. Or, they’ll just do like our friends in Chicago PD did for R.Kelly and give them a heads up they’re coming, so they know to clear anything incriminating.

So the idea that people don’t report their abuse is clearly crazy, because the system is on their side, right? Black girls aren’t safe.

The entertainment industry has failed. R.Kelly was a cash cow, constantly producing revenue, so why would he be dropped from his label? Keep artist happy, by any means necessary. That’s how they put out their best work. Keep the image clean, keep them happy, keep the money coming and you can sleep at night. That’s it. That’s all that’s required of you. You don’t have to consider the lives that are being destroyed in the process — unless it is the artist. That life is untouchable and must be protected at all times, even if it is at the expense of others. Black girls aren’t safe.

Then there’s “us.” The “us” who said “he was never convicted or found guilty,” as though all of those NDAs didn’t exist, and continued to support his music. The “us” who blamed the system, because it's no secret that the Black man is often persecuted by Eurocentric spaces, castrated in so many ways, and the target of genocide. So we, as the black community, affirm, uplift and support him by any means necessary. In turn, the black man supports and preserves himself, by any means necessary, at the expense of every other creature, including the black woman from whence he came. The misogyny is real, and so his horrible behavior is cloaked in grace, absent of accountability. And if indeed somehow he is called to the carpet on it, it’s an “attempt to bring another black man down.” We failed y’all.

We failed because we’d rather offer equal injustice than any justice at all, because “if he was white, we wouldn’t be persecuting him.” We failed because we couldn’t believe the word of some victims, because “we didn’t see it ourselves.” We failed because some of “us” dated grown men in high school, and since “everyone” was doing it, it couldn’t be wrong, right? We failed because to address the trauma of those victims meant addressing some of our own, and “what happens in this house, stays in this house,” if it “happened at all.” We failed because “he was a victim too,” so that excuses his behavior somehow, and of all of the team around him facilitating these transactions with these girls, we were willing to pray, but “therapy” for a guy who could afford it was out of the question because, “Black people don’t go to the therapy. They go to church,” because that’s the most healthy space for healing, huh?

We failed, because those of “us” who experienced assault and hadn’t unpacked our own trauma, pre-consciously have buried it so deep, that if we have to pick between “false accusations of victims”, or “Step in the Name of Love” and “I Believe I Can Fly,” we’re going with the songs, because those are less triggering. We failed every time we said “but what about (insert accomplice here),” as though if we redirect our attention to someone else, it somehow lessens the weight and responsibility of R.Kelly. We failed when we sat around and victim-shamed women for not coming forward, although we are literally witnessing "live and in living color" how victims are treated. We failed when we cease to give people room to change their minds, even though we had the room, because everyone didn’t cancel R. Kelly in 2002. For some of “us,” it took years. For some of us, it took this past weekend.

We failed, because Black and brown girls’ safety is strictly conditional. We believe in conditional safety, that is only available if she is worthy. And since we believe in conditional safety, we also believe in conditional love. We love the parts of her we are OK with, instead of loving the “whole” person, without condition.

We failed — hard. But there’s some good news, today. Now that we are aware of these things, we don’t have to fail anymore.


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