A ‘Pied Piper’ Can NEVER Be the ‘King of R&B’

A Sexual Assault Survivor's Take On The R. Kelly Debate

Her Voice

Lord y'all. Where do I begin?

Like a lot of you, I sat down last night and watched the first two episodes of the six-part docuseries of Lifetime's Surviving R. Kelly. However, I'm not so sure my reasons behind doing it are like most.

My friends and even my (marriage life coaching) clients know that I'm the type of person who isn't nearly as interested in "the tree" (the way a person appears to be or even currently is) as I am in the "the roots" (what's going on underneath it all and the history that led them to where they are).

And so, as a sexual abuse and assault survivor myself, while I was a mixture of saddened, horrified, and empathetic with the various women that R. Kelly has manipulated, controlled, and abused over the span of his entire career (some of us should really let that sink in), it was honestly the first 30 minutes of the first episode that really stuck with me.

But let me lay the foundation for where I'm going with this first.

I was a freshman in college in 1992. R. Kelly and Public Announcement were already out and it was in the late fall of the following year when his solo LP debuted. March of 1993 is when I had sex with my first official boyfriend (I was molested by a family member before that time, but my first love is who I would've chosen to give my virginity to…had I had the chance to choose). The song that was playing in the background was "Honey Love". By winter, "It Seems Like You're Ready" was like a staple in my relationship (and sex life). A girl never forgets her first time so yes, ironically, for better or for worse, R. Kelly will be forever etched into one of the most impactful sexual and emotional experiences I've ever had.

Because of that, I think there is a weird connection I've always had towards him. I didn't just like his songs, they moved me. "Dedicated". "Sex Me". "Your Body's Callin'". "I Can't Sleep". "I Wish". "Just Like That". "When a Woman's Fed Up". "Strip for You". "The Greatest Sex". "R&B Thug". "I'm Your Angel". Y'all already know I could go on…and on…and on. Because no matter how sick he is — and Robert Kelly is indeed not well — it's irrefutable that he's a musical genius. And therein was my conflict.

Maybe that's why, several years ago, when The Boondocks did the oh-so-classic episode of how R. Kelly basically entertained his way through his court proceedings and got off because of it, I found it to be profound but also quite funny. He had already not-so-allegedly urinated in a child's mouth on video tape. And just like writer Jamilah Lemieux asked in the doc-series, "Where was Essence? Where was Ebony? Why didn't the culture say that something's wrong?" At the time, the animated character (who usually had more sense than most of the adults on the cartoon) Huey stood before the court and said, "What the hell is wrong with you people?! Every famous n*gga that gets arrested is not Nelson Mandela." #facts

And really…what is wrong with us? How could things get so far that there is now a six-part documentary series with woman after woman sobbing about the nothing-short-of-torture they've been through at the hands of someone so many of us are still in conflict about?

This is where "the roots" that I referred to earlier come in.

As someone who was molested by a family member for years and then sexually-assaulted in high school by two young men while at the school, only to have family members and then an entire school administration try and figure out how to do everything but what should've been done (which was notify the police so that all three perpetrators could be arrested), it triggered me. How is it that there are people whom are following the R. Kelly situation say things like "Why are they just saying something now?", "If they didn't want it to happen to them, they should've just left" or "Clearly they liked it…they kept doing it." Unless you've been mentally controlled and emotionally traumatized by a sexual predator, you have no idea the kind of hell it can put you through. How confusing, complex, degrading, and baffling it all can be. And then, on top of that, to have people who can't relate re-victimize survivors by telling them how and when they should handle their own violations?! From the very bottom of my heart, anyone like that, please kindly just shut up.

Yet, as I was listening to these women, something hit me.

The first episode opened up with R. Kelly's childhood. People who knew him said that he was quiet, shy, and gifted. He couldn't read (and apparently, based on what his ex-wife Andrea said, he is still illiterate as an adult). He was great at music. He was quite awkward. And he had been molested, by family members, from the ages of 7-14.

From the famous Tavis Smiley interview where R. Kelly spoke of the abuse while saying that he didn't think it was appropriate to uncover his victimizers, to his music teacher and mentor Dr. Lena McLin saying that she could tell things were wrong at home because it came out in his music, to several of his victims saying that he demanded they call him "daddy" while using lines like, "If you really love me, you'll [do what I ask]" (which is exactly what a lot of predators of children say), to his brother Bruce who was also molested describing R. Kelly's desire for younger women to be a "preference", to R. Kelly saying himself that he was a man who performed in order to lure young children (eh hem, that is what a Pied Piper is) — what came to my mind was something that I once read (and firmly believe) while I was processing how my own molester could do what he did. Someone who also grew up quiet, shy, and gifted.

There are plenty of scientific studies to support that at whatever age a child has been traumatized, they emotionally remain that way until they receive therapy (check out "Childhood Abuse May Stunt Growth of Part of Brain Involved in Emotions"). As some of the people from the beginning days of R. Kelly spoke of him repeatedly seducing 14-year-olds, that theory kept repeating in my mind.

Someone who had his own power taken away at 14 is now, as an adult, making it his mission to do the same thing to 14-year-olds. Y'all, this isn't about sex. Like most sexual offenders, it's about power. He's not "sexin'" these women, he's doing to them what was done to him. He's violating them. He's hurting them. Like his music mentor said, whether he thinks he's so-called protecting his abusers or not, R. Kelly is taking out what was done to him on countless women. I personally believe that he's either rationalizing it or denying it because "childhood abuse stunts emotional development". In other words, a part of me thinks he's right where he was when he was 14. At least emotionally. Because he never got help for his own abuse.

Putting all of this together in my own mind, aside from what these women's bravery is doing in order to heal themselves and be a voice to those who are not yet ready to speak up about their own victimization, whether they recognize it or not, they are also sounding the horn to something that we overlook far too much — the sexual abuse that happens to many young boys and men. Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 have reported experiencing sexual abuse or assault (with the operative word being "reported").

What R. Kelly has reportedly done is beyond sickening, it's criminal. Full stop. But so is what happened to him back when he was the same age as some of the young women he's pursued. And boy, does it bring new meaning to "hurt people, hurt people". Again, what he's doing isn't about sex. It's about unresolved pain.

A couple of weeks ago, R&B singer Jacquees had us all in an uproar about who is the current king of R&B. Understandably, R. Kelly's name was thrown into the ring. But out of all of the blogs and vlogs that I saw on the topic, Diddy's definition stayed with me the most:

"Let's get to the topic of R&B: we talking about rhythm and blues, we talking about sharing your soul, and making love through your music. We're talking about adoring a woman. Not just putting it down or talking about how you just want to smash her, I'm talking about adoring her. So in order to be the king of R&B you first gotta start making some R&B, you have to be vulnerable, you have to be speaking about love, you have to be able to affect women in a positive way and your ass has to be able to sing."

R&B is about adoring a woman.

Between the docuseries and this definition, none of us should be in conflict about if R. Kelly, the self-professed Pied Piper, is "the king" or not.

It's becoming more and more apparent that R. Kelly doesn't adore or even like women, healthy sexuality (one woman said sex with him felt "not natural"), or even himself (how could he?). And that alone totally taints how much of a musical genius he is. That alone leaves a residue of filth and conflict in every song he's written or performed (because if you watched the doc, you peeped the inspiration behind Michael Jackson's hit "You Are Not Alone"...right?).

This alone should make us all want to stop listening to his music (not just until the doc is over but PERIOD) and then do what he requested years ago in "I Wish" — pray for a brother — while still supporting these women in however they want justice to be sought and served. Because whether R. Kelly realizes it or not, he is caught up in a vicious a cycle of victimization and self-victimization. Not one or the other. Both.

Bottom line, no matter what R. Kelly's "tree" has accomplished, his "roots" reveal that he was introduced to sex in a very demented way. The way he's living his life — in the studio booth, on stage, and in his own compound…I mean, home — is a constant reminder of this very fact.

It's not sexy. It's painful. Very. And that is nothing short of sad and tragic.

And how can any sane person slow drag or have sex to a narrative like that?

Surviving R. Kelly – Survivors Speak Out (Part 1) | Lifetime youtu.be

Featured image by Rolling Stone via @lifetimetv.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

Lawd, lawd. I'm assuming that I'm not being too presumptuous when I start this all out by saying, I'm pretty sure that more than just a few of us can relate to this title and topic. I know that personally, there are several men from my sexual past who would've been out of my space a lot sooner had the sex not been…shoot, so damn good. And it's because of that very thing that you'll never ever convince me that sex can't mess with your head. The oxytocin highs (that happen when we kiss, cuddle and orgasm) alone can easily explain why a lot of us will make a sexual connection with someone and stay involved with them for weeks, months, years even, even if the mental and emotional dynamic is subpar, at best.

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