False witness; in our country it’s against the law, but in our community, it’s so much worse than that. To black people, false witness is as sinister as Satan himself.
False witness has gotten our husbands hanged, it’s gotten our sons strangled and our babies’ faces blown off.
So when we hear an accusation of wrongdoing made against one of our young men, quite naturally, we want to circle the wagons. We refuse to hear, see, think, believe or even acknowledge that he did anything that requires the involvement of the legal system without major receipts. We need to see the video, text messages, phone calls or anything else that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pookie did exactly what they said he did.
And even if evidence does exist, we’re still super skeptical of its legitimacy. “The police are out to get him,” we’ll say. “That video could have been altered,” we’ll rationalize. Or, you know, “everybody drives a black Dodge charger, it’s clearly a case of mistaken identity.”
And while explaining away illegal behavior may sound totally irrational and perhaps even a little crazy, centuries of innocent men of color ending up on death row and frightening modern day scenarios involving black men (think Eric Garner, Philando Castille or even J. Cole) have made us a little leery of getting the legal system involved in any suspected criminal activity. Even if we see the person as likely being guilty, we still feel conflicted about “letting the man get him,” as the wrath of our legal system can be particularly swift and inhumane for men of color. But at what point does the cost of protecting potential bad actors become too high?
Enter R. Kelly.
Now, R. Kelly is the quintessential candidate for black women wagon circling, if there ever was one. He has, after all, spent the last 20 years singing love songs to black women. And even if love songs aren’t your thing, he inspired you when you sang “I Believe I Can Fly” at your kindergarten graduation or he got you hype in college when you bumped the “Remix to Ignition” in your dorm room. And his life story of going from an illiterate, homeless teen singing in the subway, to an international superstar is the stuff fairy tales are made of. I mean, you really want to root for this dude. But the cloud of rumors that keep circling over his head makes that a little tricky.
For nearly 25 years, rumblings that R. Kelly grooms 15 year old children, ingénues–totally inexperienced in the ways of life and love–for sordid sexual relationships have refused to go away. Stories that the singer manipulates, controls and frightens young girls into complete submission continue to swirl. Yet and still, we don’t want to wash our hands of him. We’ll blame the parents of the girls, saying they should have done a more effective job of keeping tabs on their kids (even though many of us know parents can’t be everywhere and catch everything their teens do). We’ll blame the girls themselves, calling them “grown” and saying they know fully well what they’re doing when they get involved with a man like R. Kelly (save the fact that if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us didn’t know what we were doing in life & love at age 18; even if we thought we did. Heck, some of us are 38 and still clueless!) We’ll even go to jail to defend R. Kelly, as was the case in 2008, when then 48 year old Debra Triplett spent 34 days in jail for shouting–not once, but two times — “Free R. Kelly,” in the hallway of the courtroom where R. Kelly was being tried on child pornography charges.
When asked after her release from jail, if she still she still liked R. Kelly, Triplett (who actually served more time in jail than Kelly ever did) said “I don’t love him, but I’m still a fan.”
That about sums it all up, doesn’t it? We don’t love him, but we still really like him and want to look out for him and protect him, because, well, he’s such a great singer, we think he’s singing to us and we don’t want to see “the man” bring him down. And he may be great, but let me ask you, would you leave your 15 year old daughter alone with him?
And therein lies my entire point. Why defend a man who makes the world less safe for your daughter? Is keeping him free and unscathed by law enforcement worth your daughter’s innocence? Is a pretty song worth her virtue? Then why keep tripping over ourselves to defend him?!
Perhaps this is all one big, awful coincidence and Mr. Kelly is guilty only of putting himself in a situation to be falsely accused of the same gross crimes over and over again. Or perhaps “the man” really is out to get him. And if that’s the case then, so what? He’s an extremely wealthy man, with an excellent legal team who’s beaten the legal system thrice before. I assure you that even if law enforcement is out to get him, he’ll be all right.
There are plenty of innocent black men who’ve never touched a child who may actually need you to rally. R. Kelly is NOT one of them. Let that man go, let’s pick another battle and put our daughters first.