When Are We Going To Stop Defending R. Kelly?

R. Kelly singing in concert wearing all white
Wikimedia Commons / Nicholas Ballasy

Growing up, R. Kelly was a household name. His I Believe I Can Fly was a classic; his Trapped In The Closet was a road trip staple my friends and I used to sing along to at the top of our lungs. Back then, the rumors that shrouded his character didn’t seem to matter — we liked his music, and that’s all we cared about. We didn’t really care who he was.

But since then, a lot has come out about the R&B singer. In July, Buzzfeed News released an article claiming Kelly was holding women against their will in some sort of a “cult”, restricting who they could talk to, where they could go, and what they could do, all the while sexually priming them for himself. His behavior was described as manipulative and abusive by those close to him, including Cheryl Mack, a former member of Kelly’s inner circle.

Recently, another woman came out about having sexual relations with R. Kelly when she was just 15 years old. Jerhonda Johnson spoke to Buzzfeed News about how Kelly had silenced her by giving her money and forcing her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which sheds light on how Kelly managed to keep many of his scandals under wraps for so many years.

Which begs the question: Why are people still supporting R. Kelly?

Reading through comments on articles and on social media, I grow sick; many people seem to ask the wrong questions. “Why wasn’t she at school instead of with R. Kelly?” they ask of Johnson. “If she had just done what she was supposed to be doing, this wouldn’t have happened.” As if a 16-year-old girl should’ve been held responsible over the adult man who was taking advantage of her. As if they didn’t realize that if it wasn’t this girl, it would have been another. That it has been another, and many more than that.

Other comments defend Kelly from what they claim is defamation from women who, in their words, “only want money.” Those ones make me sick, too — so many women are accused of this when they speak out about being sexually assaulted by men of power. But why are we so quick to believe an R&B star that literally has handfuls of allegations against him? Why do people feel so personally attacked when people call Kelly manipulative, abusive, or even a pedophile? Just because you love jamming to Ignition (Remix) doesn’t mean you personally know the star or anything about him. You don’t know what he’s capable of. You don’t know who he is.

I don’t know what’s worse — the victim blamers or the deniers. Is it the first, because they admit it probably happened but would rather put the blame somewhere else than on the actual grown man? Or is it the second, who refuse to believe all the people who have opened up about the same accusations against the same men, who honestly think all they care about is the money? Or maybe it’s the people who don’t care at all.

What gets me is that throughout all this drama, people are still streaming R. Kelly songs as if nothing is weird about it. They’re still paying to see his shows and talking about how his music makes them hot and bothered. And, even more sickening still, there are people who are making jokes about all of this, who really don’t care at all what Kelly did or about the people who are still suffering because of him.

So when are we going to stop defending him? Why does him being a celebrated musician change the fact that he’s been doing horrible things to women for years? Why are we giving him a free pass? Because we like to karaoke to his songs? Because we don’t want to believe that we’ve been spending road trips singing along to a rapist, an abuser, a pedophile? Or because we don’t care about all the black women he’s been manipulating this whole time? Maybe it’s all of the above, and that’s what’s worst of all.

When I was younger, I would blast my speakers when Kelly’s smooth, soothing voice came on; I would sing at the top of my lungs. I didn’t care who he was back then, but back then, I didn’t know. Things have changed. I’ve learned more, I’ve read more, I’ve listened more. I’m not going to listen to his songs anymore, I’m not going to mouth along when I hear them in public. I care who he is now. So should you. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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