Leniency favors celebrity, status

Azi Carter, Staff Writer

We have fallen short as a society in developing a system that prohibits sexual predators from climbing to the peaks of stardom and accumulating vast amounts of wealth before we decide to reprimand them for their crimes. The entertainment industry is at the top of the list with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and, most recently, R&B singer R. Kelly.

Celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R Kelly’s genre-defining career and playboy lifestyle has been riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia. Despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses to date none of these accusations have seemingly affected him or his career.

The six-part Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R Kelly” debuted in a special three-night event, Jan. 3-5. The series focuses on some of the women who have accused Kelly of sexual misconduct.

In an interview with The Guardian last year, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke said, “After 25 years of hearing growing grumblings, growing accusations, it’s reached a crescendo with the documentary.”

Accusations against Kelly date back to 1994 and the claims seem to follow a pattern. Kelly allegedly targets a woman or girl, usually very young, usually black, then grooms her through attention and praise.

Kelly is accused of using the promises of launching a music career as an excuse to get permission from a girl’s parents to spend time with her alone. Then it’s said Kelly isolates her from friends and family and begins establishing more rules that she must follow until he is in complete control of her life.

Burke later adds, “They were girls that some people would consider to be the throwaways or not worthy of advocating for, because a lot of folks saw them as complicit in their own abuse, there’s a failure to protect the innocence of black girls. Some people feel comfortable being like, ‘Okay they should have known better, or their parents should have known better.’”

#MuteRKelly emerged in the summer of 2017 calling on the music industry to stop working with and promoting Kelly.

Hashtag co-founder Oronike Odeleye recently offered a solution in an interview with Vox.com:

“To get the black community to divest financially from R. Kelly. If we can’t get him in a court of law, we can collectively say as a community, we’re not going to support you, we’re not going to go to your concerts we’re not going to play you on the radio, we’re not going to stream your music. We’re going to shun you for the things you’ve done, and you can feel the consequences of your actions in that way.”

Another movement against sexual harassment—Time’s Up, was founded in 2018 by Hollywood celebrities in response to Harvey Weinstein allegations.

“The scars of history make certain that we are not interested in persecuting anyone without just cause. With that said, we demand appropriate investigations and inquiries into the allegations of R. Kelly’s abuse made by women of color and their families for over two decades now,” said Lisa Respers France, a journalist for CNN.

In response to all the allegations, Kelly’s peers in the music industry have begun to disavow him. Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga apologized for collaborating with Kelly in 2013 and removed their song from streaming platforms and iTunes. Singer-songwriter John Legend and television talk show host Wendy Williams took part in the Lifetime series episode Time’s Up for Kelly and voiced their personal and professional opinions.

Regardless of what comes next for Kelly, Burke considers the reception of “Surviving R. Kelly” to be a victory.

“What will definitely happen is that these accusations will be in popular conscious forever. That goes without question, it’s out there,” she said.

The irony of it all is that Kelly produced a 19-minute song on Soundcloud titled “I Admit” where he admits his sexual indiscretions. According to Rolling Stone, Kelly is no longer represented by his label or publisher. Sony, which owns Kelly’s record label, and RCA, no longer includes Kelly on their artist rosters.

Both Kelly and his former music partners will continue to profit from all past music as long as those releases are in distribution. It is rumored that the split between the two parties have commanded big payouts in the millions in the past.

In a society where justice is often blind, it becomes our responsibility, individually and collectively to remove our blindfolds and use our voices to protect our most vulnerable. For our children and their innocence, the disabled and the elderly, it’s time to start a new conversation and form a new consciousness that protects and causes no harm.