I along with countless of viewers watched stoically at Lifetime's "Surviving R Kelly," a three-night documentary in which family members of R Kelly, associates, and women speak out about his controversial past of manipulation, predatory behaviors, physical and sexual abuse, and pedophilia.
As the last episode of the docuseries ended, I felt a whirlwind of emotions. I felt anger. I felt despair. Most of all, I felt confused that we live in a world where a famous person can get away with such an abusive cycle for decades and yet there aren't any repercussions to his actions.
I felt myself asking, "How is this man not in jail? How did this go on for so long?" but then as I reflect on my own life and situations that hit closer to home, I step back and realize that I'm actually not shocked at all that things could escalate to this point.
Think about it. Almost everyone will agree that people who abuse others in such a way are sick individuals, but people forget that almost every story with a perpetrator is intertwined with multiple enablers.
In the first two episodes, there were many stories recalled by associates and producers of R Kelly who said they knew that he went to high schools to pick up girls and while it made them scratch their heads, they didn't think to actually ask him why he was there. They even saw numerous young girls in his studio but did not check IDs. In an even more detailed part of the series, R Kelly's former tour manager stated that he forged a marriage certificate between Kelly and late Aaliyah Haughton, who was only 15 during the ceremony. Kelly was 27.
I don't want to take away from the vile things that R Kelly did, but it does stand out more than anything how realistic it is to see that he didn't do these things alone. He had people helping him directly and indirectly.
"Surviving R Kelly" is more than just narratives about R Kelly. It's symbolic of how easily too many of us turn a blind eye to abuse and predatory behavior.
It's about the people who watch as a guy purposely gets a girl more and more drunk at a party so he can "take her home." It's about the people who instill ideas in young boy's heads that hooking up with a grown woman is the key to manhood when in reality it doesn't make it any less abusive just because the genders are reversed. Even more applicable, it's about the people who blatantly ignore young, black girls and label them as "fast" because our bodies are more likely to be sexualized due to historical and racial stereotypes.
As seen in the fourth episode, John Petrean, a juror from R Kelly's child pornography case, explains that he didn't find Kelly guilty because he didn't believe the girls simply because of the way they looked. In the final episode, Chance the Rapper says that he made a mistake by collaborating with R Kelly and he didn't value the accusers' stories because they were black. He further explained that people typically see big stories like this when it involves lighter skinned women or white women.
Both scenes are also a painful reminder that we have even more of a tendency to dismiss predatory behavior if the victims are black.
So next time I see a headlining story about a sexual predator and ask myself how it could have gotten to that point, I'll remind myself that these situations aren't far-fetched. It's a reflection of the rape culture we live in and the disregard of black women's trauma that we see every day whether we choose to brush it aside or address it.