The Second Coming: "Surviving R. Kelly Part II" and Racial Misogyny
Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” This quote comes to mind when examining new revelations made in the second installment of Surviving R. Kelly.
The first installment of Surviving R. Kelly drew in millions of viewers, igniting enormous conversation surrounding sexual assault, victim-blaming, and attacker accountability. The second installment seemed to have picked up where its predecessor left off, unpacking a series of events following the premiere of the first installment and the conversation that followed. But what was uncovered in the second installment was the role in the negligence the larger collective played in the abuse and imprisonment of these Black women.
"WE ARE THE ROOT OF HIS POWER"
Frederick Joseph writes in his 2020 article for The Root- “Continuing to Support R. Kelly Is an Assault on Black Women”, “The fact that there is a galvanization to support him in spite of the atrocities he’s reportedly committed is the manifestation of a generational assault on black women…R. Kelly is only able to hire his attorneys…because we still stream his music. He is only able to employ people who create hashtags and pages berating and shaming these victims because we attend his concerts. We are the root of his power.” By continuing to support this Black man who has invested thirty years in creating music that has stood the test of time, America has continued to ignore and desert Black women.
It seems like a far stretch to equate supporting a Black male R&B singer with a history of serial sexual assault with the endorsing the cultural rhetoric of racial misogyny. But what the aforementioned Malcolm X quote alludes to is that this has been part of the legacy that has continued to mis-shape Black America.
Why another installment? If R. Kelly has been muted, he has been charged and is facing trial, why entertain the idea of a second look at an already murky legacy? Because there is something to see looked at in the reception of this docuseries and the content featured. From the death threats to the victims that chose to step forward, to the families and close confidants also affected, reveals that it doesn’t stop with R. Kelly and the women. It doesn’t stop with the families and allies also involved. It doesn’t even stop with the readers of this article or even the continued supporters of R. Kelly’s music or the docuseries.
If it didn’t stop then, why would it stop now?
This whole phenomenon once again reveals the age-old problem of inequality between Black men and Black women. A problem Black America historically has never wanted to address or acknowledge.
One of the biggest hypocrisies in understanding minority experiences is the underemphasis of experiences of Black women in exchange for the sole focus of experiences of Black men.
BLACK WOMEN AS 'CULTURAL BEARERS'
Black women are often looked at and revered as the “cultural bearers” that hold the community together, as seen in popular culture from sitcoms to films, but even in sociocultural movements from Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Sabrina Fulton-Lezley McSpadden- Gwen Carr- part of the ‘Mothers of the Movement, and of course, the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors. But in the same vein, Black women have no cultural agency when placed in situations of violence, especially at the hands of a Black man.
R. KELLY'S QUINTESSENTIAL "AMERICAN DREAM"
Look at the example of Anita Hill 1991 testimony against Clarence Thomas. Thomas compared the allegations made against him to a lynching. By him, a Black man, making it about race, he implicitly denounced Hill, a Black woman, having any credibility. Victoria Massie, in her 2016 article for Vox- “How Racism and Sexism shaped the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill Hearing”, writes, “when Thomas compared the hearing to a lynching, he likened the allegations toward him to the racist stereotype that black men are hypersexual. This deflected Hill's sexual harassment claims against him, and fueled ideas that Hill was somehow a ‘race traitor’…Hill was put on the defensive because of both her race and her gender, feeding into racist stereotypes about black women's sexuality.”
It should be noted that R. Kelly is a cultural figure in Black America and has been revered as such because he is a Black man that came from humble beginnings in Chicago to become one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. He has the quintessential “American Dream” story the way Thomas had as well. So, it should be no surprise the same way Anita Hill was villanized, these women bear the same brute.
That is a reason why there was a second installment. That is the reason why it hasn’t stopped. Another classical case of racial misogyny.