Why didn’t America believe the Black women who accused R. Kelly?
For decades, Kelly had faced allegations that he was a child molester. He was tried in 2008 on child pornography charges, but with his acquittal in that case, he seemed untouchable. Kelly, after all, was a celebrity, and not even the existence of videos could convince America of his guilt. Instead of condemning his predatory actions, we praised Kelly’s talent as a songwriter and performer and excused the behavior that was right before our eyes. Some even blamed the victims for placing themselves in Kelly’s orbit.
The victims. That’s who this was always about — and our failure to recognize what was happening was tied up in their identities. The vast majority of Kelly’s accusers were young Black girls, and as such, their credibility was always in question, because in a society where racism and misogyny so often intersect, Black women and girls seldom receive sympathy — and that’s why it took so long for Kelly to be convicted.
If Kelly’s victims were white women, the authorities, the media, and society as a whole would have moved heaven and earth to convict him decades ago. That’s because the stories of white female crime victims take priority over nearly everything else. There’s even a name for it: Missing White Woman Syndrome. For proof look no further than the latest example — the case of Gabby Petito.
Were it not for Black women in media like Dream Hampton, who produced the documentary, Surviving R. Kelly, there might be no conviction. That’s why what Hampton said after the verdict rings so true.
“I want to believe that this means Black women and girls will be heard,” she said.