clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

R. Kelly’s conviction a victory, especially for Black women, in a battle we can never stop fighting

We see a strong line from society’s refusal to believe Anita Hill in 1991 to a Brooklyn federal jury’s decision on Monday to believe Kelly’s many young Black victims.

R. Kelly
AP Photos

The challenge when considering R. Kelly’s many offenses has always been sorting the criminal from the merely sordid.

Now, a jury in New York has done a good deal of work on that for us — there was a whole lot of flat-out criminal misconduct — and Robert Sylvester Kelly is sure to go off to prison for a good long time.

Among the only big questions we might still have are whether radio stations and music streaming services will continue to offer his music — hell, no, if we’re the DJs — and why so many big-named stars continued to collaborate with him over these many years when his criminality was not officially confirmed but his awful sordidness was beyond dispute.

What were you thinking, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber?

Kelly’s conviction is a victory for the #MeToo movement, we suppose, but it’s sure sad to think that a new social movement was required to condemn and bring to justice a pedophile who preyed on, controlled and exploited 13-year-old girls. We’re pretty sure our grandparents’ generation had issues with that, too.

Kelly conviction is more pointedly a victory, or at least a small kind of progress, for the rights and safety and dignity of Black women, who so often seem excluded from the conversation — and excluded from society’s sense of outrage — when we talk about male sexual predators.

Anita Hill to Kelly accusers

Some will argue otherwise, but we see a strong line connecting Anita Hill, the Black woman lawyer of great credibility who in 1991 was reviled when she accused her former boss, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment and the young Black women who bravely came forward to call Kelly to account. They, too were reviled — there’s no stopping the internet — but they were heard and believed where perhaps it mattered most, before a federal jury in Brooklyn.

If shaming the R. Kellys of the world does nothing to turn the tide of misogyny and patriarchy that leave American women all too vulnerable, maybe a few decades behind bars for Kelly will send a stronger message.

Because, honestly, aren’t you just fed up with it? From Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly to Woody Allen to Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer to Steve Wynn?

To R. Kelly?

And did you hear this weekend about the allegations that a couple of fraternities at Northwestern University drugged people without their permission? If this is true, we have to wonder. Did these young men at a prestigious university never hear of Bill Cosby?

Sun-Times broke the story

It was this newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, that first broke the story of R. Kelly’s creepy life in the shadows with underage girls. The celebrated columnist Irv Kupcinet reported in 1994 that Kelly had married his protege Aaliyah Haughton, who Kelly said was 18. Haughton’s high school year book, Kup noted, put her age at just 15.

Then, in 2000, Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon M. Pallasch broke the first story that Kelly was having sex with teenage girls. They delved into several lawsuits filed against Kelly by women he targeted when they were underage.

But it would take years and decades and a sea-change of thinking before Kelly finally, on Monday, would be held to account in a court of law. An earlier trial in Illinois, on similar criminal charges, had ended in his acquittal. Not this time.

Other news outlets largely ignored the story for the better part of 20 years. Why was that? Feel free to speculate.

But one tenacious reporter above all, DeRogatis, never stopped digging, even after he moved on from this paper.

R. Kelly was found guilty. On all counts.

Good.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.