This week, Rolling Stone published yet another account of R. Kelly’s alleged predatory behavior, providing the umpteenth reminder that the singer continues to hide in plain sight. In “Surviving R. Kelly,” former DJ Kitti Jones recounts her past relationship with Kelly and accuses him of physically abusing her, forcing her to have sex with other women, and urinating on her. During a particularly scary fight, she says, “My heart was just beating through my chest...He just turned into a monster.”
It is an agonizing account of an abusive relationship, and it’s not the only one out there. In a fairer world, R. Kelly should be rotting in a prison cell in a state of perpetual irritation that he’ll never get to perform “Bump ‘N Grind” outside any venue not under the control of the Illinois Department of Corrections. No amount of “genius”—which has been long cited by fans who continue to monetarily support him in spite of a now decades-old accusations of inappropriate sexual relationships with minors—can excuse anyone’s predatory behavior.
R. Kelly, his chocolate factory, his Zorro-inspired masks, his chitlin-play esque “Trapped In The Closet” series, his fake-ass Sam Cooke impersonations, and most of all, his incessant and at times antagonistic displays of overt sexuality in his music and accompanying imagery should have never happened, and the man behind it all should be rendered a pariah expelled from the pop cultural zeitgeist.
Instead, in 2017, R. Kelly continues to thrive as an artist. What makes this all the more infuriating is that the Rolling Stone report comes at a moment in history in which powerful, predatory men are facing repercussions for their behavior.
Harvey Weinstein may reportedly remain dedicated to making films in the future despite being marred in scandal and now presently under investigation for rape, but for all intents and purposes, he is done in Hollywood. Bill Cosby may or may not face prison time over allegations of rape, but his legacy is forever tarnished and he, a self-important moralizer to poor black people, has been exposed as a hypocrite. Moreover, if Page Six is correct that the comedian is taking $30 million loan against his Upper East Side townhouse to pay for his mounting legal bills as he prepares for retrial for sexual assault, his fortune is shrinking. Cosby’s millions were built on a lie and used to obstruct justice and continue to violate women’s autonomy: Let him die broke.
We also now know just how much sexual harassment permeated the workplace at Fox News. Reports of said harassment led to the ouster of the late Roger Ailes, who served as chairman and CEO of Fox News, and later, its biggest star, Bill O’Reilly. In the case of O’Reilly, who is actively seeking a return to television, we are still learning details about how willing Fox News was to look the other way at allegations of O’Reilly’s sexual harassment for the sake of ratings.
On Thursday, CNN reported that political analyst, author, and regular regurgitation of bullshit Mark Halperin sexually harassed and assaulted numerous women during his time as ABC News political director. Already, MSNBC has released a statement: “We find the story and the allegations very troubling. Mark Halperin is leaving his role as a contributor until the questions around his past conduct are fully understood.” Time will likely not be kind to Halperin, who infamously referred to then-President Obama as a “dick.”
And yet, nothing has happened to R. Kelly despite similar reporting. This summer, Buzzfeed published a story that alleged Kelly has maintained a “sex cult.” The gruesome details therein—that he forces women to call him “daddy” and controls every aspect of their lives, down to when they can urinate—made the story go viral, but the tour went on and those who have continued to collaborate with him offered no comments on it. Shortly thereafter, Jezebel published an interview with another alleged former girlfriend who repeated some of the same accusations found in the Buzzfeed expose. The reporter behind the piece, Jim DeRogatis, has tried to warn the public about Kelly since his days as the pop music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.
None of that Kelly from touring—with the likes of successful female artists such as Monica and LeToya Luckett on the tour bill. One skim of Ticketmaster reveals that Kelly has arena tour dates through the end of the year. Kelly also remains a fixture on the radio. And based on Sam Smith wearing a T-shirt with his face plastered on it, Kelly remains a figure whose reverence is expanding with future generations rather than rightfully dying. Worse, many of his fans continue to be willfully ignorant about the accusations leveled against him. Because if you are buying a ticket to see R. Kelly perform, you are choosing to align yourself with a predator and dancing along to him in total complicity.
What will it take to get more of us to give a damn about R. Kelly’s alleged crimes? The answer may lie in who his victims are.
The difference between Kelly and other powerful men like Weinstein and Ailes is that Kelly’s accusers are primarily black girls and women. Black girls and women who are young or underage. Black girls and women who are poor or working class, particularly the ones involved in the cases DeRogatis investigated decades ago. Black girls and women who are not famous. It is also not easy for black girls and women of means and notoriety to earn the respect they deserve, so the burden on those without either to get people to care is even higher.
Meanwhile, Weinstein, no matter how powerful, could not match the celebrity of his accusers, which ranged from Mira Sorvino to Ashley Judd. Many of the women accusing Cosby of assault were white women; the most high-profile non-white accuser, legendary black model Beverly Johnson, was already famous. One can’t be certain that it was all white women accusing Halperin and O’Reilly of sexual misconduct and harassment respectively, but it is a reasonable assumption that most of them were, given the lack of diversity at mainstream media outlets. The same can be said of Megyn Kelly, a blond, white Fox News anchor and household name who spoke out against Ailes, effectively sealing his fate.
Of course, R. Kelly isn’t the only alleged predator thriving despite widespread rumors of abuse. Woody Allen continues to work with Hollywood’s young actresses and veteran Oscar winners despite allegations that he molested Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Dylan. Then there is the 45th president of the United States, the self-congratulating pussy grabber.
But R. Kelly has been particularly smug and open about his predatory antics. His accusations have followed him for 20 years and he’s left not only a widely reported paper trail in legal settlements, but in interviews when asked about whether he liked teenager girls, answered, first asked for clarification on how young in age constituted a teen. He was openly married to a teenage Aaliyah in the 1990s. When Kelly was acquitted on 14 counts of child pornography, five jurors claimed the absence of testimony from the alleged victim served as “big handicap” in the prosecutor’s case—a case that took prosecutors six years to get to trial.
We all know who R. Kelly really is. The question is whether he will he ever face any consequences. It may take a critical mass of victims to speak out, like in the cases of Cosby and Weinstein. But if the past is prologue, there is reason to worry. And even if Kelly finally faces the public banishment his accused behavior has commanded, it needn’t ever be lost on us why it took so long to happen.