I completed the Surviving R. Kelly documentary this week. I ran the gamut of emotion when I was watching the various testimonies included in the documentary. However, one of the emotions on the gamut was never surprise or disbelief. There are some modern day R. Kellies that live right here among us in Barbados. We play the roles of enablers just as Mr. Kelly has his army. So really, surprise was not one of the emotions I had.
Let me begin by saying that I hope many of you take the opportunity to watch the documentary. It cuts at the heart of many of the issues associated with sexual violence, not just from the perspective of the survivor but also from the perspective of the perpetrator. R. Kelly and his brothers both admit to being sexually abused in their childhoods. Unaddressed sexual violence against a child can result in that child becoming a perpetrator of sexual violence.
Another telling factor in Kelly’s alleged behaviour is his special educational needs. Kelly’s brothers and his circle articulated his struggle with his ability to read and write. Andrea Kelly, his ex-wife, also indicated that R. Kelly was able to get her trust in the beginning stages of their relationship by him asking her to teach him to be a better reader. His frustration about the shortcomings and challenges with his reading is another possible factor in his need to humiliate woman. His feelings of insignificance and his low self-esteem fuel the way that he treats women.
There were also many lessons about how we perceive black girls that are as pertinent to the R. Kelly story as they are to Barbados. When trying to explain how R. Kelly has been able to amass several victims over years, the singular theme that emerged is how we perceive black girls. The victims of R. Kelly have been the ones made to bear the responsibility for his choices and actions. Additionally, some of the families of some of the girls were willing to accept money in exchange for the violations.
Finally and perhaps most significantly, it was difficult for the survivors and victims to be believed simply because they were black women. They were perceived as fast; they were perceived as money grabbers; they were perceived as groupies who deserved what happened to them. There is no value for the black female body and this has been one of the most entrenched and unchallenged remnants of the Trans-Atlantic trade in African bodies.
There are men in America and these Caribbean territories who we perceive – and who perceive themselves – as progressives whose track record with respect to the treatment of woman and their support of women is less than acceptable. We treat them like R. Kelly. There is an unspoken and unchallenged veil of protection cloaking these men and whenever an allegation raises its head there is a chorus of defenders.
Many of them have relationships with large age disparity, like it is alleged R. Kelly does. Many even have sexual relationships with under-aged girls, like it is alleged R. Kelly did. Many have multiple relationships while married without considering the emotional pain caused to their wives, like R. Kelly did and many also have complicated or non-existent relationships with their biological children like R. Kelly is alleged to have.
Surprise really is not an emotion we are allowed to have with the airing of this documentary. The raw truth is, all of us know an R. Kelly. Many of us are married to R. Kelly, several more of us have had encounters that make us survivors. That is the bottom line.
Earlier this month, the Barbados TODAY published statements attributed to Minister Cynthia Forde and myself with respect to the wandering law and how we treat to children who wander in Barbados. The comments to the article broke my heart. For the record, let me say that I receive $120 per meeting for being the Deputy Chair of the Government Industrial School and those who believe that that was the ‘supper I sang for’ are very misguided. That post is volunteer work I am humbled to offer my country. I see it as a return on investment for a country that has poured thousands into educating me.
Past those ridiculous comments, there were those about how ‘hot’ the girls who wander are and how much man they want. The people making the comments do not seem to have enough awareness or knowledge of biology to know that a pubescent girl does not just up and crave sex or sex with a grown man. Girls who seek those encounters, in almost 100 per cent of cases, have been abused and exposed to sex in forced ways.
A complex cycle then ensues which sees them repeating and falling further into sexual deviance – basically the same thing I think happened to R. Kelly based on the story aired. He is as much a victim as he is a perpetrator. The sooner we understand that the root causes of wandering are not ‘wutlessness’ in the Barbadian female, the sooner we can hold the R. Kellies we all know to accountability.
In celebrating the Yugee Farrell victory a few articles ago, I made the point that if we, the activists in the woman space in these Caribbean territories were serious, we would have to make many men uncomfortable in the upcoming days and months. If it were possible to be any more convinced, this documentary has done it. We must #muterkelly for the sake of our daughters. The ones that live among us pose more imminent danger than the one in America.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)