Surviving R. Kelly
January 10, 2019 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Surviving R. Kelly is a devastating documentary series about the decades long horrific acts perpetrated by R. Kelly (free to watch at Lifetime's site with cable/satellite login). Heavy trigger warning for everything in this post. 11 Thoughts About Surviving R. Kelly Now That I’ve Had a Chance to Process It All. Feel uncomfortable talking about it because you're white? Sami Shalk has some advice about how to proceed. Rachel Elizabeth Cargle: When White People Are Uncomfortable, Black People Are Silenced. "Lifetime’s ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ shows what happens when being Black and a woman and working class render our truths inconsequential. This interactive site—created by and for Black women and allies—visualizes the systems that put our minds and bodies at risk."
posted by stoneweaver (40 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sami Shalk is mainly in the right, but I think she underappreciates the slipperiness of addressing things like misogyny and abuse as an outsider. Many artists and conventions within hip hop culture seem are abhorrent to me for a variety of reasons, but I'm slow to speak up about them, and I've certainly seen those that do taken to task for speaking out of turn. And I think folks have known R Kelly is a predator for a while, no?

But, yes, R Kelly is a shitty predator and folks should be talking about it.
posted by es_de_bah at 12:41 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


This and all the Roy Moore / Weinstein / Kavanaugh / Epstein (/Acosta) stuff has been really hard for me, having grown up in a family shattered by child sexual abuse. It just causes a rage to seethe right to the top of my being, seeing these public figures who could get away with these things because of all of the enablers around them, and their wealth and status. I have to be honest in confessing that it makes me think dangerous thoughts about what these types of predators deserve, and will likely never get.

I certainly don't feel simply locking them up - which, let's be honest, is almost never an indefinite solution - is a sufficient protection for the children / women / whothefuckever that these men will eventually come into contact with.

I'm glad rational psychologists and others can break down this type of thing, but we're so incredibly far from where we need to be as a first world society in making this kind of thing beyond the pale stamped-out. When celebrities and politicians can get away with it for literally decades on end and never face any serious consequences, should it really surprise us that it's happening every day to children in our own communities?

My motto has become what someone said on the DeGrasse-Tyson thread: let the cleansing fire burn. Burn em all.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:44 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


[Deleted a couple of comments. If you want to repost your stuff without reference to the offhand dismissal in the first one, that's totally cool. Contact us if you need the text.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:48 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The whole time I was watching that series the one ever looping thought was - if any of these girls were white, he would have been jailed ages ago. I wanted to punch the one juror they had who basically acquitted him because he didn't like the girls involved.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:55 PM on January 10 [24 favorites]


Sami Shalk is mainly in the right, but I think she underappreciates the slipperiness of addressing things like misogyny and abuse as an outsider. Many artists and conventions within hip hop culture seem are abhorrent to me for a variety of reasons, but I'm slow to speak up about them, and I've certainly seen those that do taken to task for speaking out of turn. And I think folks have known R Kelly is a predator for a while, no?

Not only that, while I won't say she is wrong about what she's describing with regard to her own experiences with people she knows, she's demonstrably wrong in general. Discussion of this documentary has been all over Twitter, white or black. People, white or black, have been talking about R. Kelly's crimes for years.

Shalk grudgingly acknowledges this with one a single aside, but the reality is that there has been a significant defense of Kelly within the black community, or at least a willingness to not push the issue. In almost every discussion of this that I've seen there's always a contingent of black (and some white) commenters framing the Kelly accusations as attacks on a successful black man.

Shalk's comments, and to some extent the FPP, is trying to force this into a simplistic "white silence, black suffering" narrative, but that doesn't quite fit here, and the black complacency surrounding this is the uncomfortable conversation people are avoiding.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 1:01 PM on January 10 [14 favorites]


In case I sounded in any way dismissive of the race issue at hand here - I fully agree with the argument that race is at play here, and that this might have gone differently if race factors were different.

I just feel that things like the race or gender or any other facet of the child that was sexually abused is something of a red herring. No child should ever be abused and all perpetrators should face the same consequences for these kinds of crimes regardless of either the perpetrator or the victim's individual characteristics.

Everyone should be outraged about this, every God damn time it happens.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:07 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


"Even somebody I know who has managed to attempt to defend R. Kelly on many occasions hit up a group chat and said that the doc changed his perception. One down, many a wayward soul to go.

The series brought to light issues new and old, and now that I’ve had a chance to really process what I saw, here are some of the overarching thoughts (they will not be in the order of the timeline presented in the documentary).

1. There is no more “plausible deniability” for those who defend R. Kelly. Because some folks either hate reading or just don’t (or both), perhaps (and I recognize that I’m being gracious) they managed to miss all of the articles and exposés written about him. But now? Everybody can see it, lock, stock and barrel, and if you’re defending him at this juncture, you need to admit to yourself that you’re defending an abusive, sexually assaulting, violent, psychopathic monster."
posted by stoneweaver at 1:24 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Since reading Dr Shalk's thread, I've been thinking about this a lot. I work partly in classical music and theatre. In both those industries, we've seen serial abusers exposed who got a pass or a blind eye for years because they were famous and in positions of power. (James Levine and Kevin Spacey leap to mind; there are others.)

I'm not immersed in hip-hop culture, but I'm glad R Kelly is potentially facing criminal charges. And I say this grieving, in part, for those songs of which I'll never again be able to feel uncomplicated enjoyment. They were good songs. But he took that enjoyment from us and threw all that good music away like trash when he became an abuser.

So, absolutely, #MuteRKelly. Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora have all removed his music from promoted playlists, but that's the bare minimum. I'd rather they took away his ability to profit altogether, but I guess that would have to follow a criminal conviction.

For those who argue "separate the man from the music": the classical music world has some perspective on that. It works fine when the composer is long dead. When they're alive and can profit from their work, not so much.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:35 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


I think there can be a perceived tension between blanket directives offered to privileged people along whatever axis who want to be helpful: "stay in your lane" vs. "don't be a bystander," for instance. But I think part of that tension (not all! power structures are devilish things!) is a desire to rely on blanket directives so that you can be confident that you're "being good" rather than to really think through the competing values and gather all the necessary information for context so you can make the necessary judgment in the particular case. The decisions are hard, and that means that at least someone somewhere is going to think you are wrong; you may actually be wrong. But being wrong, while extremely painful, will only be conceived as annihilating if you are picturing the marginalized group in question as some kind of relentless unforgiving judges for whom an error of judgment means being cast out into the outer darkness forever. The excruciating fact is, inaction and silence won't keep you "good" either. Structurally or individually, you're going to be hurting the marginalized group one way or another. You need to listen carefully, you need to try to allow for your own biases, you need to recognize when something truly just isn't your business, but, in the end, you have to take responsibility for your own moral judgment and not hope that abdicating to "stay in your lane" will somehow save your soul.

In short: fuck R. Kelly. I hope everyone whose own pain is being stirred up by this documentary is getting the support they need.
posted by praemunire at 1:39 PM on January 10 [28 favorites]


Larry Nassar's (gymnastics doctor) victims were mostly white. it might be interesting to think of children as a marginalized group.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:42 PM on January 10 [25 favorites]


grieving, in part, for those songs of which I'll never again be able to feel uncomplicated enjoyment. They were good songs. But he took that enjoyment from us and threw all that good music away like trash when he became an abuser

This is a little bit puzzling to me. This was not a question, as with Levine, of a cover-up, with information circulating largely on the whisper network. Substantial allegations about R. Kelly's behavior have been around for decades at this point. His first known settlement for sleeping with an underage girl was the same year as "I Believe I Can Fly." The Chappelle sketch, which got great play in pop culture, was done in 2003, after Kelly's arrest for making child pornography. I don't want to hold you individually responsible for a mass phenomenon, but it feels like this question is on-topic: how is it anyone could have had "uncomplicated enjoyment" of his music all this time?
posted by praemunire at 1:53 PM on January 10 [38 favorites]


praemunire: you're right. Partly I should have phrased it better; but partly I was just uninformed, and I do take responsibility for that.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:57 PM on January 10


Gary Glitter may be a good precedent for how to deal with R. Kelly’s back-catalogue. Can one still buy or stream Glitter’s music? If so, who gets the royalties?
posted by acb at 2:01 PM on January 10


We need to listen to teen girls. Even when they are speaking up about those really nice men who may have helped them in some way. Even when those men have more money/power/cultural capital. Even if those girls are sexually experienced.

We still live in a world where it's ok to openly sexualize teen girls. Where it's really hard to carve a safe space out to figure out your sexuality when you are a teen girl. Where you shouldn't feel like it's your fault because you should have known what would happen if you went there with that dude.

R. Kelly openly cruised high schools and malls. It feels weird to call it an open *secret* given how known it was.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:02 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


Last year my son learned to sing "I Believe I Can Fly" at preschool. He'll still sing a bit of it every now and then and when he does I'll just smile, inwardly sigh, and ask what else he can sing.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:04 PM on January 10


R. Kelly's long-standing evasion of justice is not endemic to "hip hop culture," of which R. Kelly isn't apart. That isn't even his genre; R&B cannot be conflated with it. And since "hip hop culture" is often a shorthand for "Black culture," I quite strongly encourage folks to be mindful of that.

the black complacency surrounding this is the uncomfortable conversation people are avoiding.

That is not at all what I've seen.

I've felt really weird about non-Black people discussing the intra-community conflict over this dude. To do so successfully requires nuance beyond the scope of R. Kelly and his deplorable-ass choices, nuance beyond rudimentary knowledge of Black culture, etc. Like...everyone I know saw the Boondocks episode. We knew well before then. And all of us wanted this dude thrown right up under the jail.

This is rape culture, which knows no genre or industry boundaries and makes ample room for pedophiles to target children. This is patriarchy. This is misogynoir, in which people both Black and non-Black have been heavily complicit. We do not, in the United States let alone globally, place much value in the voices of Black women and girls. Especially when they come from backgrounds like that of R. Kelly's survivors.

And that's not, by a bloody long shot, exclusive to the Black community.
posted by Ashen at 2:07 PM on January 10 [72 favorites]


it might be interesting to think of children as a marginalized group

they are a vulnerable group (as women, POC, immigrants, LGBTQ etc. often are...) therefore in need of the strongest protections society can provide against potential abusers. those who have already suffered such trauma are also a vulnerable group because they are pre-disposed (due to that trauma) to fall prey to such predators again.
posted by supermedusa at 2:07 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]


We were warned, but no one paid much attention.
posted by tommasz at 2:19 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


That IndieWire article is wrong in a way that is kind of a big deal. It says the Boondocks episode is from 2015; it is actually from 2005.

And everyone knew about Kelly a long, long time before even that.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:31 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


My bad; the IndieWire article says 2015 in one place but 2005 in two others.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:33 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Ugh, the Chappelle Show sketch helped make it clear that it was ok to joke about. So how could it be abuse, right? Looking back, people at the time argued that the video was consensual. And being a famous man means all the young groupies you want, so R Kelly is behaving perfectly normally.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:37 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


... if any of these girls were white, he would have been jailed ages ago. ...
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:55 PM on January 10 [8 favorites +] [!]


This is demonstrably not true. Society doesn't care about girls. Sometimes society (white men) will care about themselves by proxy of white girls, and sometimes society (white people) will hate black people by proxy of white girls, but society does not care about girls.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:37 PM on January 10 [40 favorites]


I think it may be more complicated than that. society cares about white girls as property, as potential bearers of white children, and thus (some) men are moved to protect white girls as extensions of themselves.

to the extent that it is true that society does not care about women or girls (I am female and do not disagree with this sentiment) women of color count for even less. their lives, their pain, their stories. sometimes it behooves society to listen to and care for white girls (for its own profit) but seldom if ever for the brown and black girls...
posted by supermedusa at 3:13 PM on January 10 [20 favorites]


Yeah it's kind of hard to laugh about R. Kelly these days. Funny as The Boondocks episode about him might have been you can only laugh so hard at/with a sexual predator.
posted by East14thTaco at 3:59 PM on January 10




the Chappelle Show sketch helped make it clear that it was ok to joke about

The one thing one can say in that sketch's defense is that (IIRC) the young women in the mock video don't look underage. It's mocking the kink rather than joking about statutory rape. That's a diversion from the actual facts, which is its own problem, but it's not quite the same as saying that adult men having sex with young girls isn't a big deal.

I think it may be more complicated than that. society cares about white girls as property, as potential bearers of white children, and thus (some) men are moved to protect white girls as extensions of themselves.

...from a black man. If R. Kelly, black musician, had been assaulting young white girls, he probably would've gotten in trouble much earlier. If both he and his victims had been white, maybe not. By predating within his community, he manipulated the racist dynamics of society in a truly horrible way (working both ends--white people not motivated to protect young black girls, some black people willing to defend or excuse his behavior because he was black and/or because they aspire to the patriarchy themselves, some victims probably less willing to come forward out of a sense of loyalty).
posted by praemunire at 5:34 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


“I don’t know what he did outside of school. But in the school, there was no hanky panky. If they were involved in that, the sad thing is, it takes two to tango."

Who the fuck are these people? Do they read about murders and think "Well, killing is bad but there wouldn't have been a murder without a victim, so who's really to blame?"
posted by Sangermaine at 6:20 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


This abuse and abuser, some details are particular to Kelly, some are in a pattern with others. How do we turn open-secrets-that-should-be-damning into actual,uh Damning. In the Cosby cases I think several attempts were made years before the dam broke and some other comedians finally gained traction in getting the accusations taken seriously.

We should look at what it takes to make people investigate the billowing smoke that these abusers give off. Often the abusers survive by endurance, they beat the charges and the very fact that they persist makes people turn the abuse into a sort of bizzare footnote to their continuing celebrity. It should be an endnote. We should review the other accusations we've dismissed or gotten used to and revist them. There is no statute of limitations for social justice, even if there are some for civil and criminal charges.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 6:32 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


I watched live (to keep up with Twitter) and was bummed that it didn't work out to have it on fanfare.

None of the information in this doc was new. What was new was the form - a lot of people don't read long-form journalism that has been covering this. The doc was a little manipulative at times and did a lot of repeating of information to drive points home. It was annoying but I see why they did this. What was also new was direct testimonials from multiple victims. There was a BBC documentary recently that had some video but for the most part the reporting hasn't been in their own words. That is compelling. Also the addition of the dramatic "rescue" of one of the women was great TV. Some speculate that it was set up though.
It was also nice to see some celebrities - mainly John Legend - take a stand.

The main journalist who has been covering r. Kelly for 20 years - Jim Derogatis - wasn't in the doc because he is making an alternative documentary with Buzzfeed. It was a little odd. The producer of this doc did give him some shout outs on Twitter. It was awkward tho.

The fact is, lots of PoC and some women knew about this. White men? Not so much. Their knowledge ended at the pee tape. They didn't know about the 'harem' or abuse.

There are detailed forums full of people that follow the 'harem' closely on social media and their takes on all of this have been super interesting. They don't think anything will change.
posted by k8t at 8:48 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


This abuse and abuser, some details are particular to Kelly, some are in a pattern with others. How do we turn open-secrets-that-should-be-damning into actual,uh Damning.

The answer is, most likely we won't.

Remember when people here were laughingly dismissive of Kanye West's feud with Taylor Swift? How she had to be the bad person? How his putting a naked doll of her in a video was considered just transgressive humor? Remember how people were only half joking about making him a presidential candidate?

Let's be honest. The only reason people aren't still rubbing their chins and murmuring about Kanye being a "brilliant if troubled genius" is he became politically inconvenient and an embarassment. Nothing about what he did toward a woman changed anything.

And how long were Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey and Dan Shooter and Michael Oreskes and Roman Polanski and the others able to get away with what they were doing? Kelly fell into a brief period where women's voices about the injuries they've received are being heard, and given a few moments of credence. But, if the backlash is building, and if it's strong enough, MeToo will pass, and R. Kelly will eventually be back in business, with his fans dismissing and making jokes about the documentary.
posted by happyroach at 10:13 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


For the multiple people denying there is a racial aspect of why these victims were routinely ignored, one of the people interviewed for the doc admits that he dismissed the claims because the victims were black women. Black women experience intimate partner violence at higher rates than women overall. Don’t ignoring the racial aspect of this. It’s there.

It is possible to be both sexist and racist. Or ablist and homophobic. Or ageist and xenophobic. Or all of the above. Bigotry cross pollinates.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 12:06 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


I just feel that things like the race or gender or any other facet of the child that was sexually abused is something of a red herring. No child should ever be abused and all perpetrators should face the same consequences for these kinds of crimes regardless of either the perpetrator or the victim's individual characteristics.

This sounds a little like its getting into "all children matter" territory, where this situation does seem to have been compounded by the fact that black women, in particular, have a higher hill to climb to get people to listen to them and be believed.

Moving on from that, my main comment when people talk about R Kelly is his marriage to Aaliyah, where they went to Illinois and forged her age at 15 years old. Then 2017 or 2018 news started coming out of Atlanta about him keeping women locked in his house. I feel like that got alot of attention and the journalist who had been reporting on this for years was getting alot of airtime too. People at that time started talking about boycotting him.

(I will admit that I was not really a fan of R Kelly so I wasn't really following along with the saga much and there could have been more talk before then, I just didn't hear about it until it became national? at least Atlanta-wide news.
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:01 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


The main journalist who has been covering r. Kelly for 20 years - Jim Derogatis - wasn't in the doc because he is making an alternative documentary with Buzzfeed. It was a little odd. The producer of this doc did give him some shout outs on Twitter. It was awkward tho.
I don't have cable and haven't seen the documentary, but I actually think it may be better that DeRogatis wasn't involved. I'm glad he's being recognized for his role in uncovering Kelly's crimes, because he pursued this story relentlessly for almost twenty years, and it seems to have been a pretty thankless task most of the time. But he's also the only white person with any significant role in this saga, and I think there's a real danger of making this another story about a white savior. I think it's better to foreground the victims, the perpetrator, and the people who were complicit.
(I will admit that I was not really a fan of R Kelly so I wasn't really following along with the saga much and there could have been more talk before then, I just didn't hear about it until it became national? at least Atlanta-wide news.
I was in Chicago at the time of the pee-tape trial, so I may have heard more about this than most people, but I feel like people knew for a very long time. It showed up on Metafilter in 2013. (And unfortunately, there are a lot of jokey references to the pee tape in comments on posts about R. Kelly before then, but I guess maybe people just knew there was a tape and didn't realize how young the girl in it was?)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:27 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I was in Chicago at the time of the pee-tape trial, so I may have heard more about this than most people, but I feel like people knew for a very long time.

One of my college's comedy groups did an R. Kelly sketch that included references to the pee tape in January 2003, long before that went to trial. People must have known, otherwise the jokes wouldn't have made any sense. I saw that sketch several times, laughed at it, then kept listening to R. Kelly for years. There's no excuse, obviously, and all I can do is reflect on why I did that and try to do better next time, but yeah, people knew. I knew.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:56 AM on January 11


I'm hesitant to make "what if his victims were white" comparisons because this stuff is messy enough that I don't think it's that simple to unpack without talking about multiple systems at work. And I feel like it can shift the focus away from the actual victims. That his victims were black girls made it easier for a whole host of people to dismiss or not even bother paying attention.

I think the willingness of the public to continue to play/review his music, book his shows, publish interviews after the trial started says a lot about the willingness to minimize his victims. Trapped in the Closet basically made him an indie (aka predominantly white audience) darling. We have IFC to thank for the Trapped in the Closet videos.

I also think the way we talk about rape culture has changed a little bit for the better. This Slate review from 2007 refers to the 14 year old girl in the video as Kelly's "underage paramour" and I'd like to think an editor would be less like to allow that through in 2019.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:58 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Tiny Hopeful Voice from Left Shoulder: People are speaking out and being heard. This is progress.
Bitter, Pessimistic from Right Shoulder: BTW, since the doc aired R. Kelly's sales are up substantially.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:15 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Who the fuck are these people? Do they read about murders and think "Well, killing is bad but there wouldn't have been a murder without a victim, so who's really to blame?"

What they think is: a girl who would have sex at fourteen with a much older man was obviously a slut anyway, so why worry?

This is not a particularly rare point of view.
posted by praemunire at 1:42 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


“R. Kelly and the Cost of Black Protectionism,” Jemele Hill, The Atlantic, 11 January 2019
posted by ob1quixote at 4:40 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Who the fuck are these people? Do they read about murders and think "Well, killing is bad but there wouldn't have been a murder without a victim, so who's really to blame?"

What they think is: a girl who would have sex at fourteen with a much older man was obviously a slut anyway, so why worry?

This is not a particularly rare point of view.
posted by praemunire at 4:42 PM on January 11 [8 favorites +] [!]

I saw this on facebook but I want the sentiment here: "No girl is fast enough to catch a man that wasn't already attracted to children"
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:47 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I Believe I Can Lie, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw - "Now, with the momentary attention squarely presented by “Surviving R. Kelly,” the time to grapple with the larger racial and cultural narratives that derogate and dismiss the safety and autonomy of Black women and girls within anti-racist discourse itself is ripe. The well-documented history of sexualized racism that white Americans have used to victimize Black men can no longer serve as an alibi for anyone to excuse or downplay the disparities in power that permit influential Black men to abuse and sexually victimize vulnerable Black women and girls."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:01 PM on January 17


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