R. Kelly and the Dehumanization of Black Women

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While this article does not go into detail about the crimes of R. Kelly, this is a trigger warning for what is a very sensitive subject.

With the Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly resurfacing what literally everyone already knew about the deplorable R&B singer, a conversation in the US has ramped up about the long silencing of the black women who were either not believed or discounted when they brought up accusations against the singer.

For black women, this is nothing new. As feminism broke into a more intersectional space, a very honest look at society and culture’s marginalization of black women emerged, exposing a heartbreaking truth about their espoused value in the eyes of hierarchal powers. Those powers were not just white men, but also white women.

Those powers weren’t just white people either, but black men too who were guilty of oppressing and surprising the rights and mere humanity of black women. This isn’t for a lack of participation in the struggle for rights of Black Americans or the women’s movement. 62 percent of black women supported “efforts to change women’s status” since the explosion of feminism in the 1970s, and that has continued to increase as conversations have gotten more public and more honest.

Black women are faced with the struggle of being women and black; these are inherently two groups that through legal policy and hegemonic social codes have been set up to have less while being forced to do more, not to enjoy a lucrative and fulfilling life, but just to survive. Now, as the R. Kelly news spreads and everyone chimes in, we see the conversation emerging and the beginning of yet another silencing of black women. The conversation began as many do: how long until we begin to support black women and the struggles they face? Now, we see it shifting into a conversation about R. Kelly as a man and figure. The focus is not, and never should be, the abuser. It should always be the victim and the support of their recovery.

Even if you’re not a victim of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, you can imagine that talking about something traumatic that happened to you, at the act of a famous figure who many have supported and enjoyed for years, would be incredibly difficult. Now imagine you’ve done this through a public medium, like a television series, and instead of unfiltered outrage, people begin questioning the character and value of the abuser. It’s hard to swallow for me, let alone victims and those close to the victims.

I will continue exploring this issue as it plays out, but my initial reaction is complete anger at the gate holders of popular culture, and music in particular, for allowing the conversation to focus so much on R. Kelly. Black women, since the early years of America, have had their stories of mistreatment and abuse swallowed whole by a lack of recognition for their humanity. This is happening again, even as many believe they are talking about something that helps them. This story is hard to hear for casual TV viewers, let alone the victims themselves. I implore those who feel like they need to chime in on these crimes to focus on the losses that weigh on these women every day and attempt to serve as allies rather than aimless reminders of an unforgivable crime.

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Taylor Bauer

Taylor is from Aurora, IL and received both his B.S. and M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University, where he taught radio production and media management for two years. Taylor studies critical media theory, loves all things Nintendo and Xbox, and is an avid listener of NPR. He is also a self-proclaimed music nerd, and loves all genres.

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