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5 Things to Take Away from the Lifetime Documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly’

The black community is a force to be reckoned with. As a culture that has been through a lot worldwide, members of the black community are known to be survivors, hard workers and achievers. But showing a strong face comes with consequences. These problems do not only stem from the rigor that links back to the systematically oppressive systems we deal with, but also to issues within our communities.

The three-night Lifetime docu-series "Surviving R. Kelly" displays a plethora of victims, ranging from girls as young as 12 to middle-aged women, discussing the emotional, physical and sexual abuse they endured. This is accompanied by a great range of psychologists, witnesses, reporters, singers and radio hosts discussing the wrongdoings of Robert Kelly’s 30-year history of abuse.

Despite the angry, rejecting, tearful, and at some points "memeful" tweets displayed during these three nights, it is important to recognize the negative attitudes brought against African American girls and women victims. These women are not taken seriously, especially when the abuse lies within our community from successful figures ranging from black artists, actors, pastors, clergymen, lawyers, judges and police officers to family figures such as brothers, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. Attitudes range from perceptions that black women are trying to bring men down to other arguments that raise the question of “What about Harvey Weinstein or Woody Allen?” These attitudes dismiss the hardships that African American women and children face when suffering from abuse, making it seem like abuse shouldn’t be criminalized.

There are five ideas that one should take away from watching "Surviving R. Kelly.":

1. Sexual Abuse of Children is Harmful

The impact of sexual abuse suffered by a child may result in a cycle of the victim turning into an abuser when older. If the child does not obtain professional help, the chance of developing healthy coping methods is less likely to occur and is replaced with unhealthy mannerisms. When looking at the documentary, the viewers hear from Carey Kelly, R. Kelly’s younger brother, that R. Kelly was sexually abused as a child. R. Kelly discusses the abuse in his memoir, Soulcoaster. Clinical psychologist Dr. Candice Norcott mentions that children who suffer from abuse want to be in power instead of the victim, which connects to the number of allegations.


2. Hypermasculinity and Its Relationship with Victim Blaming

Hypermasculinity is an exaggeration of stereotypical male behavior. Examples include aggression and sexuality. The word “fast” is commonly used towards a young girl, whether if it relates to her embracing her sexuality or simply wearing a tank top and some shorts. The phrase “fast” shifts the blame off the men who are predators and onto the girls instead. Phrases like “He can’t help it!” are used to excuse the irrationality and dangerousness of the adult male’s actions. R. Kelly’s chorus teacher, Lena McLin, comments on the behaviors that Kelly displayed in school which follow the examples of hypermasculinity. Regardless of McLin telling him to knock it off, his dangerous attitudes progressed and become worse because of a lack of accountability that is not only seen through R. Kelly but in many men today.

3. The Façade of Religious Leaders and Followers

Religion gives the black community perseverance. Pastors such as Nat Turner or Martin Luther King Jr. have been the forefathers of protests for liberty and freedom. The issue, however, is the existence of false prophets. A Bible verse that comes to mind is Matthew 7:15. Forgiveness is an important principle, but the part of promising change or repentance is nowhere to be found and is not expected because of the idolization of the successful black man. Despite the allegations, R. Kelly’s performance at Whitney Houston’s funeral led pastors and church members supporting him because of his version of “I Look to You”. People can be raised in the church and still be vicious monsters, but because we see one coming to the place of God accountability becomes lost.




4. The Bystander Effect

Many people in R. Kelly’s life such as Demetrius Smith were aware of the wrongdoings going on. NDA settlements from Sparkle’s family, Aaliyah's family, and Lizzette Martinez’s family allowed for the silence of many victims to continue. Many of us are aware of the predators in our own homes and in our own neighborhoods. Some of these people are successful and because society has placed black people in a box and stereotyped us, we don’t care enough about those who will be suffering, as long as a successful black man is winning. People become accomplices all because of money, fame, and glory, causing minors to be near and harmed by well-known predators.


5. Society's View of Black Women

Out of all races and ethnicities, black girls are seen as less innocent. Misogynoir is the reason behind this. Because of black girls having features such as bigger lips, hips, and developing quicker, they are blamed for abuse and for “bringing down the success of black men” when coming forward. Stereotypes of black women being “angry” or having a higher emotional or pain tolerance causes not only our community to not care, but the majority of America to not care as well. We can’t be seen as victims because we don’t display the “standard femininity” that society believes all women should have.

At the end of the day, this isn't an article meant to encourage alt-righters, KKK members, or racist individuals to bring down the black community. It's a cry for help to show that we need to take abuse towards black girls and women seriously. "Surviving R. Kelly" is a sign that we need to grant the young black women in our community justice for the wrongdoings that have been committed, no matter who falls as a result.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Domestic Violence call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

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Trading long winters for long summers, Deborah has been living in the Sunshine state to complete her education. Deborah currently attends the University of Central Florida where she double majors in political science and psychology with a minor in journalism studies. Her hobbies consist of singing, gardening, writing, reading, and playing on the ukulele. If you want to find her outside of studying, you’ll see her at the local coffee shop reading a DC comics book.
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