Last week R. Kelly was invited onstage to perform at the Soul Train Awards—an event that was as close to a Memorial Day BBQ at a black family’s house as you’ll ever see on live TV. The only thing missing was an uncle in tube socks and flip-flops burning his shins while deep-frying a turkey.
Naturally, the presence of the R-uh at this event became a point of contention for the following week, as people split into two camps: the “Yo, why do we keep praising, supporting and parading around this shameless and unrepentant serial pedophile?” camp and the “Man, forget about all that alleged sexual assault and exploitation of little black girls. ‘Feelin’ on Your Booty’ rocks, so I’m gonna keep rocking to it” camp.
Full disclosure: I belong to the former camp. So I’m not particularly objective here. I, too, am perplexed that many of the same people who have no problem seeing and recognizing and being outraged about racial injustice seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to the unapologetic sexual abuse of little black girls. I have also written and spoken about this dichotomy, attempting to use everything from scolding to satire to remind people that when R. Kelly is singing, “Marry the P—sy,” there’s a couple of decades’ worth of evidence that his muses are ninth-graders instead of 29-year-olds. But it hasn’t worked. If anything, hearing stuff like that seems to make his supporters circle the wagons and start citing Jesus or John Lennon or saying how “you can’t trust those fast-tailed 12-year-olds.”
So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to change my strategy. We’re definitely all aware that the alleged sexual abuse of little black girls isn’t enough for R. Kelly supporters and fans to reconsider their positions. At this point, in 2015, none of them can feign ignorance about this anymore. They’re aware of the evidence and allegations, but they’ve made a conscious decision to ignore them. Which is their prerogative.
But everyone has a breaking point. A price. Basically, while the alleged sexual abuse of little black girls obviously isn’t enough, what would be? Is there anything R. Kelly could do that would make these people think, “You know what? I just can’t support this dude anymore”?
1. Get caught sexually abusing a little black girl an R. Kelly fan personally knows. Like a niece or little cousin or something. Eh. You think this would be enough, but I doubt it. Because his music seems to be so important to some folks that they’d have no problem using the same rationales on their own family members. (“Little Tasha has always been fast. Even when she was 6, she was always hugging on people.”)
2. Get caught sexually abusing little black boys. Yeah, I think this would do it. The cognitive dissonance necessary to continue being an R. Kelly fan afterward would just be too difficult to manage. Which is unfortunate, because it suggests that people take the abuse of boys more seriously than the abuse of girls.
3. Get caught renouncing Christianity. Man, do you know how quickly folks would have jumped off the R-uh bandwagon if he had been seen on tape peeing on a Bible instead of, allegedly, on a black girl? And then started calling himself “the Anti-Christ” instead of “the Pied Piper”? Cats would have gone biblical on this dude, showing up at his house to stone him with copies of 12 Play.
4. Get caught sexually abusing little white girls. He probably wouldn’t have lost much support from his black fans. But that wouldn’t have mattered. Because if he’d done to white girls what he’s been accused of doing to black girls, R. Kelly fans would be spending their money today on “Free R. Kelly” or “RIP R. Kelly” shirts instead of R. Kelly concert tickets.
5. Be from Australia, adopt a terrible accent, attempt to rap like you’re from Atlanta, make s—tty music and be consistently racially tone-deaf. While all of these things are definitely annoying, they don’t seem to be nearly as bad as the alleged sexual abuse of multiple black teenagers. But one makes someone a punch line and a laughingstock at an awards show, while the other doesn’t stop someone from being invited onstage, so what do I know?
6. Literally murder an R. Kelly fan. I really want to believe that if an R. Kelly fan were to actually be murdered by R. Kelly, this would be enough to cause that fan to reconsider his or her fandom. But his music apparently means so much to these people that I can’t even see that happening. Like, “Yeah, I know he killed me. And that sucks. But R. Kelly is a musical genius!!! And I still need to hear ‘Ignition’ at my funeral after-party.”
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.