When will we say enough is enough? Should actions be excused years later?
Looking at the way R. Kelly handled questions about his controversial past, you’d think the lengthy allegations of the singer’s sexual involvement with underage black girls just hit the news last week. The 20-minute long “interview” with Huffington Post live interviewer Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani ended with Kelly avoiding damning allegations made against him.
Nobody watching the interview should have expected a confession or any semblance of an admission of wrong doing. In spite of video evidence that depicted him having sex with and urinating on a minor said to be 13 at the time of filming, Kelly was, acquitted of making child pornography in a 2008 trial.
The interview was a striking turn for Kelly, who showed far more deference to Toure in 2008. In his first post-acquittal interview, Kelly responded to the straight forward question of “Do you like teenager girls?” with “When you say teenage, how old are we talking?”
On the HuffPost Live set, Kelly got defensive, repeatedly talked over Modarressy-Tehrani and commented on her appearance before finally walking off the set.
It’s difficult to know exactly where to begin with Kelly. His documented questionable behavior with underage girls begins at least in 1995, when the singer’s marriage to Aaliyah made national news. According to court documents, the late singer’s age is falsified as 18 (her bio at the time stated she was 15). Adding to matters was Aaliyah’s ominously titled debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothin But A Number.”
AThen there are the court cases. Former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis called the allegations filed against Kelly in civil court by underage black women “stomach-churning” in an explosive 2013 interview with The Village Voice:
“The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15 when R. Kelly began a relationship with her, detailed in great length, in her affidavits, a sexual relationship that began at Kenwood Academy: He would go back in the early years of his success and go to Lina McLin’s gospel choir class. She’s a legend in Chicago, gospel royalty. He would go to her sophomore class and hook up with girls afterward and have sex with them. Sometimes buy them a pair of sneakers. Sometimes just letting them hang out in his presence in the recording studio. She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself. Other girls were involved. She recruited other girls. He picked up other girls and made them all have sex together. A level of specificity that was pretty disgusting.”
Those who defend Kelly, while gleefully continuing to step in the name of love and not seeing anything wrong with being trapped, point to his acquittal, feign ignorance over the true nature of the allegations against him, or engage in an especially insidious form of victim blaming. R. Kelly appears to represent an ugly side of rape culture and the cult of celebrity. While it is deplorable to dismiss the accounts of adult sexual assault survivors, it is quite another to dismiss the stories of young black girls—teenagers. Or as DeRogatis describes, “dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing lawsuits.”
While Kelly is without peer when it comes to the length of time and depth of allegations, at some point, the singer becomes a proxy for a larger conversation about what sexual violence and accountable communities look like in lieu of the justice system.
In 2015, it is simply too easy to Monday morning quarterback the reaction people should have had to Kelly’s behavior in the 90s and the early part of the new millennium. There are two types of consequences for criminal behavior: criminal and social. Kelly found innocent for the alleged rape of young girls. However, the lack of criminal accountability does not absolve the necessity for community accountability.
Kelly has largely been free since his 2008 acquittal. Despite a disastrous #AskRKelly Twitter chat in 2013, his twelfth studio album, Black Panties sold more than 100,000 copies, earning a top-10 debut on the Billboard charts.
That good fortune could be slowly changing. While Kelly took center-stage at BET’s Soul Train Awards this month, his latest effort, The Buffet, tanked on the charts, moving a paltry 37,000 copies in its opening week. While correlation is not always causation, there have been a string of editorials questioning the previously unquestioned fan devotion to the Pied Piper of R&B.
There’s also the HuffPost Live interview, the first time Kelly was seriously pressed on the controversy surrounding his career.
Ironically, Kelly may have provided the key to finally holding him accountable.
“I’m going to always do my job until I get fired,” Kelly said. “And the only ones that can fire me, are my fans.”
R. Kelly is absolutely right. It’s long past time to fire R. Kelly.
Photo Credit: uber-facts.com