Our Pledge To You


Fallout from ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ documentary tests black community’s loyalties

#MuteRKelly protesters outside R. Kelly's studio in Chicago on Wednesday.

#MuteRKelly protesters outside R. Kelly's studio in Chicago on Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

I was reluctant to appear in the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary because I knew the negative pushback participants would get.

After all, while more African-American young people might be politically active, one thing hasn’t changed: A black person who addresses a black celebrity’s wrongdoing is still viewed as a pariah.

Scholars describe this as “black protectionism,” and it is in full swing in the wake of the documentary about allegations of sexual misconduct by the popular Chicago R&B singer.

Black protectionism explains why, just two days after the airing of the last segment, in which several victims — including Kelly’s ex-wife —  explicitly detailed allegations of sexual, mental and physical abuse, his fans still packed a club for the singer’s 52nd birthday party.

“Within the Black community there is almost palpable affinity for Blacks who have ‘made it.’ African-American success stories are closely watched and guarded,” Katheryn Russell-Brown, author of “Black Protectionism as a Civil Rights Strategy,” wrote in the Buffalo Law Review in 2005. “Those who have managed to obtain large-scale success, in spite of legal, political, economic, educational and social barriers, are treated as racial pioneers. It is predictable, then, that Blacks would be suspicious of any criminal charges leveled against members of its protected class.”

The support for black men who have been accused of sex crimes, though, goes beyond trying to ensure that they are treated fairly by the criminal justice system. Many of us either excuse the behavior or ignore it altogether.

Comedian Bill Cosby, for instance, was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault last April and in September was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Yet you can still catch reruns of “The Cosby Show” on TV One, a digital cable and satellite television network targeting black viewers. TV One is the only American network to offer the series.

“Cosby was in the position to help other African-American women advance their career opportunities in the field of entertainment and instead he used his power and stardom to take advantage of these women,” an outraged reader from Blue Island told me in an email.

“Why are ‘Bill Cosby Show’ reruns still available? Ugh. He sickens me,” she wrote.

The answer, of course, is that not enough black people have demanded the show be taken out of the cable station’s lineup.

It would be difficult for me to watch an old episode of the “The Cosby Show” without feeling that Cosby betrayed the community.

Despite the parade of victims in the documentary about Kelly, there are women who have turned their backs on these women and are supporting their abuser.

“Liar,” a woman shouted to a group of women who protested outside Kelly’s recording studio on the West Side on Wednesday.

I understand that Kelly is innocent until proven guilty, but I also understand that where there is smoke there is likely fire.

Too many adults tolerated black girls being sexualized in popular culture, particularly in hip-hop videos. As a result, these girls were desensitized to the verbal and mental abuse.

It’s no wonder it took years before they could come forward. They didn’t think they deserved better.

As with the #MeToo movement, other men who have sexually harassed women are going to be unmasked in the aftermath of the Kelly documentary.

Veteran music writer Toure’, who appeared in the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary, was pushed to apologize after a makeup artist said he subjected her to lewd sexual comments while working on a TV show in 2017. “I am sorry for my language and for making her feel uncomfortable in any way. As a lead on the show, I should have refrained from this behavior,” Toure’ told Essence magazine.

“He really needs to take a seat,” his accuser said in an Instagram post.


• Eye-opening R. Kelly documentary on Lifetime an ‘uneasy’ must-watch
• Read the original Sun-Times coverage of R. Kelly’s trial and more

Let’s not forget what this story is really about. Kelly is being accused of having sex with underage girls, a serious crime. He also is being accused of physically abusing those girls and, in some instances, holding them against their will, also serious crimes.

Anyone with information about any such acts should contact the Cook County state’s attorney’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Division at (773) 674-6492.

Despite the vile ways in which young black girls have been treated in the culture, what happens to them does matter.