As the controversy regarding Lifetime's docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" continues, so do our views of his music. I am attempting to write this post in the spirit of being unbiased, knowing full well that is difficult for me to do as I myself am a survivor of abuse by an older man when I was a teenager. The pain of it all came rushing back as I watched each episode of the program, reminding me of things I'd rather forget, and like most people, I took to social media to share my thoughts.
Needless to say, there is a sharp divide between those who think R. Kelly should be arrested and his music silenced, while others openly and candidly state they love his music and plan to carry right on listening to R. Kelly songs. Prior to seeing this docuseries, I had not heard of the campaign to #muterkelly, but after watching the show, for me, it seemed only logical and ethical that having his music removed from the airwaves is the right thing to do...until I saw a young, black woman respond on Facebook today that she can "separate the man from the music." This truly struck a chord within me...pun intended.
Can we separate the man--R. Kelly-- from the music? Should we cast aside his entire catalog of work because of his egregious errors and perverted predilections?
As I was working out today, surrounded by what I call "The Resolutions," you know, the newbies with made up, motivated minds determined to get fit for once and all, I wondered if it was a fair comparison to consider people's perception of fitness instructors and their expectations of how they should look. While I am grateful for my curvy, fit physique, as a mom of six daughters, I am nobody's fitness model with chiseled six pack abs and cellulite free thighs. I guess what I'm saying is, what if people judged me by my outer appearance (being an imperfect woman teaching fitness classes) and then considered me unfit, or unqualified for my role? I recognize this is a bit of a stretch here considering we are talking about underage girls being preyed upon by an adult man. But just humor me a moment and think about it. Don't we separate the person from the profession all the time?
I started thinking about the time I was lambasted for asking if people expected fitness instructors to look fit. My blog, "Fat fitness professionals: do you respect them?", to this day, "blesses" me with random inbox messages from Zumbanistas calling me an insensitive fat shamer. They have told me quite vociferously that what people look like (in this case being overweight) does not equate to what they can offer (such as inspiration and a great workout).
Granted, this may seem a little elementary in comparison, but let's take it a step further: Don't we separate Catholicism, the religion, from the actual priests who've done all kinds of lascivious, perverted stuff to children? I haven't seen one protest to shut down the Vatican or close entire Catholic churches and schools. They simply fire the priest.
And what about Bill Cosby? When his accusers came forth, networks promptly removed any and every program that contained any likeness of him in it, while Charlie Sheen's "Two and Half Men" went on a brief hiatus, and yet, he ultimately landed right back on air, with new streams of income to boot--which takes us to the race issue--the very issue that always slaps minorities, and specifically black women, right in the face.
Throughout the R. Kelly docuseries, many interviewees asserted that had these been little while girls, the fate of R. Kelly would be entirely different. While I have much uncertainty about many things, of that truth I am clear. To abandon all of my hard-earned, formal academic vernacular gained from my two degrees in English from DePaul University momentarily, of this we can be sure:
Ain't no way in hell there would be dozens of little young teenage white girls getting scooped up from concerts, appearing in sex tapes getting peed on having oral sex, living up in hotels without speaking to their parents for YEARS, with R. Kelly freely roaming the world. His ass would either be dead, or up under a jail!!!
So now what are we to do? The idea of people being unable to "step in the name of love" and believing "they can fly" infuriates many who think you can enjoy his music without condoning his actions.
As a believer, I know that "we all fall short of the glory" and no man is without sin, which forces me to really consider my views on what I think he deserves because I know "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." I began to think of the power of grace and mercy, which in no way means we are pardoned and exonerated for our actions, because whether you are believer or not, what goes up must come down. You do reap what you sow. There are consequences for your actions. As my grandmother used to say, "If it don't come out in the wash, it'll come out in the rinse." Eventually, it all comes out in the end and we pay for our actions--at least historically black people do. R. Kelly, take it from brother Bill, you can run but you can't hide. Eventually they are going to get your black ass come hell or high water. With your upbringing in the church, I'm sure you've heard this expression and already know this.
As for the memorable music of R. Kelly, I am left with the question I have posed, wondering if we can separate the man from the music. It feels like a difficult choice until I start thinking about some man telling one of my prepubescent twins "it seems like you're ready" or they start singing "age ain't nothing but a number," and "I don't see nothing wrong, with a little bump and grind...", at which point I would promptly tell them to turn that shit off.
As we all struggle to come to grips with our views of R & B legend, Chicago's own musical genius R. Kelly, let's make it our intention not to struggle with things we can control. When I was 14 and my mother's 27yr old boyfriend was sneaking out of her bed and crawling into mine, I was so confused, powerless, suicidal, depressed, lost, and lonely. I am the only person I know who went to four different high schools for every year I was in school, where my path actually crossed with Robert's during my third year at Kenwood Academy. So many people knew what was going on with me and my mother's boyfriend, including my mother herself, and yet, he lived with us for six years. You can read about my initial reaction to the R. Kelly docuseries and the painful memories it incited here.
Like every other young girl I've heard condemned, my experience was also shuffled aside because "I was fast." I have been left to find my way without much family support with this sore spot festering even today. I am thankful to see all the campaigns to help young girls and women who now celebrate and declare that they are survivors, but there are many of us unsung heroes who have grown up and moved on to raise our families without so much as an apology or spoken word. I am asking as one who's been through this, please take it easy on the girls and women who are now trying to heal. It takes a lot of courage to publicly tell the world private sins you wish you could forget. No amount of money takes away the confusion, guilt, shame, and regret, so please stop accusing them of that, and, if they do get some form of financial restitution, don't they deserve it?
I'm not sure I can separate R. Kelly, the man, from his music. Knowing what the messages are steeped in and from which they derive, as fun and as memorable as many of the songs are, feels morose to me. Perhaps like all the other junk flooding the air waves today, we will all be left with the choice to skip or change the channel. Like I tell my girls, I'll just turn that shit off.
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About Me: I'm a wife and mom of six daughters known as "The Fitness Evangelist" because of my ability to take ordinary fitness classes and turn them into worshipful experiences. I have graduate degrees in Writing and Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and I'm also a certified fitness instructor through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. I help people with their health and fitness goals any where in the world through my online business with Total Life Changes. For more information about TLC, you can visit my website at http://totallifechanges.com/elanainspires. IBO #8154411, or feel to free email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.