R. Kelly, the Media and the Status of Black Women

A journalist revisits his 1990s investigation into the singer’s lurid history and is reminded of society’s ongoing disregard for black women. 

R. Kelly
R. Kelly Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Clear Channel

“Nobody Matters Less to Our Society Than Young Black Women”

It has been nearly 15 years since music journalist Jim DeRogatis caught the story that has since defined his career, one that he wishes didn’t exist: R. Kelly’s sexual predation on teenage girls,” Jessica Hopper reported Monday for the Village Voice, referring to the R&B singer best known for “I Believe I Can Fly.”

Hopper’s story was headlined, “Read the ‘Stomach-Churning’ Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full.” By Wednesday afternoon, it had generated 2,366 comments and the support of several other writers.

“DeRogatis, at that time the pop-music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, was anonymously delivered the first of two videos he would receive depicting the pop star engaging in sexual acts with underage girls. Now the host of the syndicated public radio show Sound Opinions and a professor at Columbia College, DeRogatis, along with his former Sun-Times colleague Abdon Pallasch, didn’t just break the story, they did the only significant reporting on the accusations against Kelly, interviewing hundreds of people over the years, including dozens of young women whose lives DeRogatis says were ruined by the singer.

“This past summer, leading up to Kelly’s headlining performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, DeRogatis posted a series of discussions about Kelly’s career, the charges made against him, and sexual assault. He published a live review of the singer’s festival set that was an indictment of Pitchfork and its audience for essentially endorsing a man he calls ‘a monster.’ In the two weeks since Kelly released his latest studio album, Black Panties, the conversation about him and why he has gotten a pass from music publications (not to mention feminist sites such as Jezebel) has been rekindled, in part because of the explicit nature of the album and also because of online arguments around the Pitchfork performance.

“I was one of those people who challenged DeRogatis and was even flip about his judgment — something I quickly came to regret. DeRogatis and I have tangled — even feuded on air — over the years; yet, amid the Twitter barbs, he approached me offline and told me about how one of Kelly’s victims called him in the middle of the night after his Pitchfork review came out, to thank him for caring when no one else did. He told me of mothers crying on his shoulder, seeing the scars of a suicide attempt on a girl’s wrists, the fear in their eyes. He detailed an aftermath that the public has never had to bear witness to.

“DeRogatis offered to give me access to every file and transcript he has collected in reporting this story — as he has to other reporters and journalists, none of whom has ever looked into the matter, thus relegating it to one man’s personal crusade.

“I thought that last fact merited a public conversation about why. In this interview (which has been condensed significantly), DeRogatis speaks frankly and explicitly about the many disturbing charges against Kelly and says, ultimately, ‘The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.’ . . .”

Kyle Harvey, the Grio: R.Kelly responds to Village Voice article exposing past sexual allegations