Women of color brought R. Kelly to justice

November 12, 2021

From the November-December 2021 issue of News & Letters

Last month superstar rapper R. Kelly was convicted of nine counts of racketeering in a New York federal court. Acknowledged as an artistic genius, a prime influencer of hip-hop for his three-decades-long career, Kelly had been acquitted in a 2008 trial for crimes of sexual abuse and exploitation of underage girls and boys. His support network for his “criminal enterprise” finally enabled the racketeering charges to stick. But ultimately Black women, most notably Dream Hampton, executive producer for the 2019 Lifetime TV series “Surviving R. Kelly,” the #Metoo movement and Black Lives Matter brought him down.

WOMEN IGNORED, RAPES CONTINUED

Attempts to prosecute R. Kelly began in 1991 when the Chicago Police Department ignored rape charges brought by a Black teenager, Tiffany Hawkins. A 2002 viral video resulted in the 2008 trial.

In a recent interview on Detroit Public Radio, Hampton pointed out “He actually had a more sophisticated operation after being acquitted. He never decided to seek help for himself, as an abuser and a victim of abuse. He was hyper aware of what he was doing…He paid off the 14-year-old’s parents and kept her close to him.”

Hampton made her documentary in 2019 “because the community did not hold him accountable. Those girls and fans who gave him money at his live performances were contributing to a criminal enterprise… His currency was not just money. The Black community supported him financially and gave him love. If you love R. Kelly, point him to healing. Himself and others. None of those girls have had a day of therapy, because therapy takes resources.”

Hampton’s documentary, unlike other documentaries about Kelly and similar abusers Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein, bore witness to the “life sentences” of his victims. Hampton insists on the complexities and broader context beyond the individual abuser and abused. “This is a cultural conversation. I’m never going to apologize for standing up for Black girls in my community. Grooming girls to be your slave is global—I learned it from Genesis. It’s about control. This is not unique to our community. But I made this about my community.”

—Susan Van Gelder

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