R. Kelly: The Intersectional Climax of Sexism and Racism

By Leyla Saah

Popular culture has been exploding lately over sexual misconduct accusations against R&B star R. Kelly. This piece will review the case(s) built against him through an intersectional lens—how does his status as a celebrity, as a male, and as a black person affect the way the public is reacting? In this situation, issues of sexism, misogyny, racism, and internalization intertwine, creating an infinitely complex situation. For this piece, focus on the ways in which several systems of oppression intersect with a special look at the black male community’s reaction to the allegations.

R. Kelly: The Role of Race and Gender in the #MeToo Era

In an era in which powerful men across professions are finally being held accountable for their predatory actions, R&B artist and producer R. Kelly has yet to face any legitimate consequences. While publicly cultivating a highly successful career in the music industry, producing some of R&B’s greatest hits like “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly”, Robert Sylvester Kelly privately engaged in sexually violent and abusive behavior towards black women and girls: Kelly routinely groomed underage fans who, upon meeting Kelly through a mutual connection, would begin to spend an increasing amount of time with the star before eventually moving into his mansion. Then, through manipulation tactics and various forms of abuse, Kelly would wrest almost total psychological control over the girls; he created an environment in which it was nearly impossible for them to seek help or leave. Although R. Kelly’s case has much in common with those of other powerful predators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, Kelly’s racial identity further complicates his story. Some have argued that because he’s a black man, Kelly’s sexual history is overly scrutinized. And yes, it is true that throughout much of American history, black men have been depicted as sexually aggressive and predatory. This stereotype has been used to justify acts of violence against black men, such as in the case of Emmett Till, an African American child who was sadistically tortured and murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman. While it is impossible to deny this history and its legacy in today’s world, it does not discount the very real violence Kelly has inflicted on numerous black women and girls, who experience both racial and gender-based prejudice. This prejudice has allowed men like R. Kelly to continue their predatory behaviors, as our society is less bothered by the brutalization of black girls than white girls. Frankly, if Kelly’s victims were white, it’s likely that Kelly would be in prison today. However, because they’re black, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him behind bars anytime soon. Ultimately, this case shows that as a society, we need to work to undo our implicit and explicit biases about black men and women while simultaneously holding men accountable no matter who the victims are. It’s time to believe black women and take their pain seriously. #MuteRKelly.