After BET recently aired “My Mic Sounds Nice” and “Black Girls Rock,” celebrating female emcees and honoring Black women who rock in their fields respectively, viewers hoped that just maybe BET’s Debra Lee had heard our outcry, constructive criticism, and displeasure over what the network has become. It appeared as if they were moving toward admirable representations of Black women. But the disappointment didn’t lag far behind. The laudable programs were eclipsed the evening R. Kelly opened the “2010 Soul Train Awards.”
I only watched for about 10 minutes, but, as with every major award show, the commentary on Twitter was in full effect.
People in my timeline were either outraged that a “child molesting pedophile” was even allowed to make a comeback appearance, or folks quoted their interpretation of scripture, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” praising R. Kelly’s performance, demanding that we all move on from his past transgressions. Some of the outraged turned back to BET after his performance; those who flooded my timeline suggesting that his performance was great and unproblematic, I unfollowed.
It wasn’t surprising that R. Kelly was chosen as the opening act for the award show. Cable networks do not have an alliance to morals; rather, the bottom line is business. In television, ratings equal money. The network is smart enough to know that the masses would love R. Kelly’s first appearance in months, as was proven by thunderous screams and attendees standing for Kelly throughout his performance.
What I find disheartening is our community’s plea for forgiveness of pedophilia and child pornography any time a Black male celebrity is the culprit. Cue Bishop Eddie Long. More importantly, it was usually women who rallied up their support for these men.
What does this say about how we view crimes that disproportionately affect girls and women?
Granted, in June 2008, six years after the alleged sex tape of R. Kelly was exposed, Robert Sylvester Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts. Neither Kelly nor the victim in the tape, who was 13 at the time that the tape was made, testified during the trial. Prosecutors believe that one of the key factors in jurors finding Kelly not guilty was the absence of testimony from the victim.
There is the resounding argument that Kelly was found not guilty; therefore, we don’t know if he has sex with children. But let’s not forget Kelly’s predatory nature. In 1994 he secretly married Aaliyah, then age 15. Kelly was 27. Vibe magazine published the marriage license listing Aaliyah as 18, which was, indeed, false, making the marriage license invalid and eventually led to annulment.
Kelly may have been found not guilty in 2008, although several people who have seen the tape argue that the man in the tape is Kelly, but there is no disproving that he was having sex with a child 12 years his junior back in 1994. Why does he deserve our praise of his musical talents despite what he’s done?
Entertainers do not get to collect $200 and pass go for their indiscretions just because they can saaaang or put on a good show. When I wrote about Chris Brown’s crybaby performance on BET’s “10th Anniversary Award Show,” it was Black women who told me that Brown deserves another chance. And it was mostly Black women who used their Facebook status updates, tweets and blogs to rave about Kelly’s comeback performance. Are we that conditioned as women of color to overlook the violence and sexual abuse perpetuated against us at the hands of Black men?
This is not an attack on Black women. It is, however, an attempt to understand why. If anyone is going to support these artists, it shouldn’t be us.
I’m an advocate for forgiveness. But people oftentimes mistake forgiveness for continued communication, support and acceptance. I can forgive a friend for stealing my credit card, but that doesn’t mean I ever have to deal with her again. The same holds true for Kelly. I can forgive him, but I’ll be damned if he ever gets a penny of my money supporting anything he does. By supporting him, women are essentially saying, we don’t care what you do to us. As long as you can produce hit music we’ll still support you anyway, even if you choose to engage in sex with teenage girls. And that’s not something I’m willing to do.
Why, as a society, Black men and women, do we continuously support Black male artists who commit crimes against our women? Please help me to understand.