Content Note: in depth discussion of the effects of domestic abuse and sexual assault, R Kelly, abuse of minors, and racism; mention of religion.
This piece links to several articles with in depth descriptions of sexual assault, and many do not include content notes.
Today’s guest post by Clarity J is a perfect example of what Yopp does best. The R. Kelly story originally peaked about a month and a half ago, but Yopp doesn’t specialize in immediate responses to the news. It focuses on reflections that take time and distance and that ultimately will serve a purpose for future news stories. Such is this case with today’s piece, told with a depth of soul and nuance that I could not hope to achieve in covering the same topic myself. Immediately before this piece went up for publication, Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, involving four victims, at least three of them who were minors. We wait to learn what the results of those charges will be and whether these survivors will have their voices validated at long last.
"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence."~Frederick Douglas
“For nearly three decades R. Kelly’s alleged abuse of young Black women has gone largely ignored—by the legal system that has ruled in his favor; by the media that either sensationalized or diminished these allegations; by Kelly facilitators, who aided and abetted criminal and immoral behavior; and by the Black community which has protected this villain and devalued its girls.”~Elle.com
After the recent, “Surviving R. Kelley” docuseries was shown on Lifetime, Jada Pinkett Smith posed a question on her twitter feed. Why were R. Kelly’s songs suddenly rising in the charts? Commenting on the content of R Kelly’s abuse of young girls, she wondered, was the reason people were buying his music was because Black girls don’t matter?
Is it ‘normal’ to feel inadequate as a black woman? Is it ‘normal’ to feel undeserving as a black woman? Is it ‘normal’ to feel ashamed as a Black woman? Is it ‘normal to feel invisible and voiceless as a Black woman?
Yes, yes, yes —it is in the U.S. and the bar lowers even further if you are female, Black and immigrant; female, Black and gay; female, Black and transgender; female, Black and beautiful; female, Black and mentally ill; female Black and strong and on and on and on. How twisted is that? However, as all the forces align to tell Black women that we don’t matter and our voices are not needed, some of us are stepping up and out to prove otherwise.
Those who dare to say nada or those who dare to discredit our existence should revisit the docuseries and take a look at all those brave women who voiced their shame and pain to share their stories in this climate of appalling negation. To me, in defying all the haters, naysayers and perpetrators these young, Black women were clearly drawing a line in the sand. They were unequivocally saying in unison: YES, WE MATTER!—It does not matter if you think otherwise.
This question posed by Jada Pinkett Smith stimulated my thought processes on massive levels and in massive ways. Why? Why do we not matter even to those who look like us? Why do we not matter to some of those who share a gender with us?
“R. Kelly's acquittal concretized a message that Black girls are disposable.”
This mind-blowing quote in the article published on Elle.com, “R. Kelly’s Victims Were Ignored for 30 Years. It Has ‘Everything to Do With the Fact That They Are Black Women,” further affirmed a message that is sent daily to Black women. The article shares that R. Kelly was cleared after being indicted with 21 counts of child pornography. The case had video evidence of him urinating on a female minor, but even this evidence did not stop the support he receives from his fans.
Sadly, his support in the Black community is still strong even in the face of all his horrific exploits against young Black girls. It was especially difficult for me to read the online support of this man by Black women. How can we as a community expect the majority in this country to care about Black women if we show so little care in our own communities?
“Over and over again society has communicated to me that I must feel ashamed, rendered me invisible and silenced my voice because of my race.”
Over the course of my 55 years, I have lived the firsthand experience of most of the above tropes at the risk of losing almost everything. Over and over again society has communicated to me that I must feel ashamed, rendered me invisible and silenced my voice because of my race. Those girls who shared their harrowing stories of abuse are survivors, and I for one believe that their lives matter because I too am a survivor. I know how hard it was to arrive in the space they now inhabit.
Many years ago, I was born into a life of domestic violence, which set the stage for dysfunction and abuse over the course of my life. My first memory was my mother’s screams as my father pummeled her in the street outside of a relatives house. She ran from his abuse taking my younger brother and me with her to escape the constant onslaught. I remember a small, pitch black room and the smell of kerosene oil as the flickering, golden flame of a lamp silently sashayed in the impenetrable darkness. This unfaltering light became the metaphor for my life as I grew and matured.
The violence of that night against my mother played out over the years of my life as I struggled to assert a sense of normalcy upon a chaotic life-scape. My life from the very beginning was informed by negatives. However, the one thing I have retained amidst the onslaught of suffering is a strong core rooted in a deep, spiritual conviction that my life matters; my essence is valuable; my safety is worth protecting and fighting for. The little flickering light of the kerosene lamp in that darkened room, during my early years, illuminated all darkened corners and crevices keeping me tethered to an unseen force, which has sustained me.
In other words, although the above list of nullifying aspects was a part of my everyday reality there remains a light within me that cannot be extinguished by anyone or anything. As a result, I have raised my teen daughter to value her life, her body and her voice in an environment that is hostile and communicates otherwise to both of us.
The most important thing I remain grateful for is my mother’s insistence that I maintain a practice of faith. She insisted that my brother and I attend church to learn about God’s word. To this day I am grateful for her efforts. It is because of her commitment that I still stand here today. No, I am not a practicing Christian and over the years my beliefs have shifted and changed. Yet, the core of what she taught me about faith and spirituality has remained. In the midst of her own struggle to self-actualize, she believed her life mattered and passed this principle on to me.
As the effects of domestic violence played out over the years, in a preponderance of negative ways, I often tapped into that part of my being that remained undefiled from incidences of sexual violence, harassment, bigotry and more. Growing up as a Black, young woman, receiving just a modicum of cultural respect for my existence would have allowed me to assert my life in a positive way; instead, I failed and floundered too many times to count. Yet, I always stood back up tall and strong.
“There comes a time in a survivor’s life when the pain and resentments one carries within reaches a critical mass. You live in a place of self-hate, self-effacement, self-debasement for such a long time that something has to eventually give and you choose to live or die.”
As I watched these Black women tearfully bare their souls to the world on national television, pictures of my life unreeled before my eyes. Instinctively, I knew what it took for them to share their truth and the risks and costs of doing so. Yet, there they were displaying their trauma for all to see. The backlash was inevitable and I am sure they knew it would come, but they persisted. Why would they put themselves out there to be sliced, diced and criticized?
Since I cannot speak for them I will speak from the perspective of my life as a survivor. There comes a time in a survivor’s life when the pain and resentments one carries within reaches a critical mass. You live in a place of self-hate, self-effacement, self-debasement for such a long time that something has to eventually give and you choose to live or die. It is that simple. When my critical mass finally hit me I had a choice: choose to live by finding release or die and take the burden with me.
I chose to live; I chose to believe my life mattered—my voice mattered.
Once I made that decision the calcified layers of dysfunction slowly peeled back revealing an underbelly that was slowly decaying from the inside out. My newly recognized spiritual self acknowledged my value as a human being with desires that are valid, relevant and important to pursue and express. My newfound faith taught me to take responsibility, to face my darkest fears and to be steadfast in the face of adversity. It did not matter that I was Black, female or an immigrant. What mattered were my values as a living being. In this way, I began to heal and to thrive.
So finally, my response to Jada Pinkett Smith's question is this: Black women and Black girls’ lives do matter, just like the lives of all living beings matter and it is high time the United States of America and the rest of the world gets with the program.
I believe the young women in the R. Kelly docuseries spoke out because they finally arrived home to their truths and decided to courageously raise their voices so that all could hear. In doing so, they have finally asserted their power against the insidious, silent legacy of abuse. They are at the forefront of a much-needed change in attitude and approach to difficult matters such as these. Those who choose to deny them their relevance or their choices due to their gender, skin color and racial stereotypes should look into the mirror of their own lives and ponder why it is so hard to deny these soulful warriors their moment of light and truth.
About the guest blogger: Clarity J spreads love and light daily on Instagram @clarityisjustsohip via her art and writings.