Source: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty
Some of the biggest misogynists I know are Black women. And if childhood experiences hadn’t already solidified this statement for me, the way countless Black women rushed to defend Robert Kelly against decades of documented abuse of Black girls sure did.
Many viewers of “Surviving R Kelly” hoped the in-depth investigative report would sway those who’d long argued Kelly’s innocence. I thought maybe seeing multiple accusers give multiple accounts of decades of assault and torture would be the wake up many of us needed. Instead, like clockwork, Black people came to Kelly’s defense with women leading the charge. There’s no shortage of discussions around the toxicity of Black men in our community. We often hear about the men who believe the length of a skirt determines the amount of respect a woman is owed and holler about victims taking too long to report their abusers, but the women who agree with them are equally dangerous, if not more. There’s a piece of us that instinctually wants to circle the wagons in defense of other Black women, knowing that often we’re the only ones who will. But some of the women we’ve been in defense of are just as problematic as the men we defend them to. With that said, it’s time we had an honest discussion about the women still defending Robert Kelly.
“Still a fan of his music! I said wat i said!!! Idgaf they all GUILTY and we all got issues/skeletons PERIODT!”
One notable pattern among women who ardently defend R. Kelly is their inability to recognize the innocence of young Black girls. Not a shock, countless studies say the reality of little Black girls is a life where they’re treated like adults, sexualized like women, and beaten into a child’s place. But how does a Black woman herself, someone who’s walked in the shoes of a little Black girl, develop such a hatred and animosity for that same little girl? As much as I wanted to be angry at the women who could watch their reflections being abused and find a way to blame the mirror, I pitied them because I knew their anger symbolized a more complex issue: self-loathing. It’s not easy to accuse countless women of being prejudiced against themselves but how else could such a phenomenon be explained?
We live in a society that has set out to intentionally defile the representation of Black women and girls all over the world and somehow we believed that we could remain immune to such self-defaming programming. Instead, we see Black women who have not only bought into their own stereotyping but have become agents of that same ideology. These are women who believe the worst about Black girls and likely hold the same negative views of themselves, and these same women are raising young girls as byproducts of this conditioning and raising young boys as perpetrators of this conditioning. A woman once told me that a mother who hates herself will hate everything she creates, and these women are prime examples of that dynamic. How could women who would choose a four-minute song over the safety and sanity of a 14-year-old girl be trusted to protect the young women in their lives? How could they be trusted to raise young Black boys who respect Black women if they themselves don’t believe Black women to be worthy of respect? The answer is they can’t, because you can’t act out of love when you’re consumed by the hatred of yourself.
“I don’t like what he did to his wife and those young ladies… it’s sick and I hope he gets help. But damn it that man can make some music!! Can’t take that away from him. After watching last night I played Greatest sex (my fav) to see if I could still like it and …. yep that song is just great.”
Self-loathing alone isn’t responsible for the denial-driven responses to Kelly’s recent exposé; a lot of women viewers are struggling with cognitive dissonance as well. Cognitive dissonance is a term used in psychology to describe the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory ideas, beliefs, or values. “…it’s sick and I hope he gets help. But…” The actual discomfort is brought on by a situation in which a person’s original belief clashes with new evidence or information surrounding that belief. Cognitive dissonance is believing that Robert Kelly is good because he makes good music and then hearing that he’s bad because he’s a pedophile, and then having to reassess your initial assertion of his goodness. This internal conflict for many fans proves to be too much, likely twice as troubling for longtime supporters with children, grandchildren and small Black girls in their direct care. And the conflict isn’t just in the beliefs themselves, it’s in a person’s actions as they continue to hold said beliefs– streaming the music of a performer charged with the possession of child pornography, buying concert tickets after seeing the man recruit 18 year old girls directly from the stage.
For many, the idea that someone they’ve enjoyed for so long could be such a horrible individual is too much to accept. Not only would it imply that they were also not as good as they thought, but that they were complicit in the behaviors and actions of the man they’d been supporting. Its obvious that so many of the women defending R. Kelly are simply trying to defend themselves, avoiding the internal conversation that calls them out for supporting a bad man and remaining complicit in his ongoing campaign of destruction. It’s accountability we want to avoid. It’s one thing to acknowledge that someone else has been doing wrong, it’s something completely different to admit that they did it with your help, and if supporting a bad man makes you a bad person, it’s easier to just deny that he’s bad at all. For many of these women, R. Kelly symbolizes the boyfriend they allowed to molest their young daughter, he symbolizes the great uncle who insists he hold their daughter on his lap when he visits, he symbolizes the granddad who comments on their daughters breasts and rear end every time he sees her. In their minds, R. Kelly can’t be bad because if he is, so are so many other men in their lives and so are they for allowing these men to remain there.
“Half of the chicks on here f-cked a grown man in High School and why wait 20 years later their just as guilty!!! It’s all bullsh-t to me #MyOpinion”
Another common thread I noted among the women defending Kelly is that many of them were victimized themselves. I found it ironic that these women were defending him while unknowingly sharing accounts of their own rapes and sexual assaults, bragging about all of the adult men who would pick them up from high school and engage in sexual acts with them, knowing fully well they were underage. They recounted how they desired the attention, how they often initiated the sexual contact, and how it was so common that no one saw the big deal. Despite minors being legally incapable of consenting to sex, making any sexual contact with a minor a crime, these women were convinced that the men they “dated” as children had done nothing wrong and neither had Kelly. And while reading through the accounts of multiple women, I recognized just how many were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, a condition that causes victims to identify with and even care for their captors in a desperate, usually unconscious act of self-preservation. It occurs in the most psychologically traumatic situations and its effects usually do not end when the crisis does.
When we grow up in environments where we are unprotected and exposed, we are all but guaranteed to be victimized in some way, shape or form. The reality of being whistled at by men as you walked to school every day, the reality of having adult men whisper that they’re waiting for you to turn 18, the reality of having adult men in your neighborhood proposition you for sex in exchange for clothes and shoes, for many of us, is too tough a reality to sit with. So our psyche develops safeguards to create the illusion of us having some control in the matter. Instead, we tell ourselves things like “He wasn’t my rapist, he was my boyfriend” or “He didn’t sexually assault me, I wanted it.” In an attempt to resolve the imbalance of power, our brain allows us to redefine the lease situations in a way that gives us the illusion of choice and control. Many of the women defending Robert Kelly against all of the facts and evidence are subconsciously defending their own abusers and the men who preyed upon them. Grappling with the convoluted notion that someone victimizing you weakens you or makes you the object of pity and judgment. For many viewers, accepting the truth about Robert Kelly would require that they challenge the societal messages that allow adults to put the responsibility on children to behave like adults when adults do not. For many, accepting the truth about Robert Kelly would require them to accept the truth about themselves, and not many have the guts to do that.
I pity Black women who defend men like Robert Kelly knowing all too well what Black women and girls go through as a whole. I sympathize with women who are incapable of seeing past their own pain to empathize with the pain of others. But as much as I recognize the patterns and conditioning at play, I cannot overlook the fact that Black women who refuse to shield and protect Black girls are a danger to our community at large and should be called out for their refusal. The abuse of young black girls is not a conversation reserved for our online communities and message boards. We don’t get to call women to task digitally but overlook their behavior in our every day lives. Women who believe young girls can seduce adult men, women who believe the more adult a child behaves the more adult she becomes, women who believe that because they were left to fend for themselves as children that other Black girls should face the same abandonment should be called to task in real life for creating safe havens for those who seek to abuse with impunity. Robert Kelly is just a microcosm of a much bigger issue plaguing Black girls and women globally, we are either going to be the solution together or together we’ll continue to suffer the consequences.