What separates R. Kelly—specifically, the support of him, the defense of him and the wagons circling around him—from most other notable moral quandaries is the lack of any sort of reasonable justification for any continued Kelly-centric advocacy or patronage. For instance, it’s no secret now that Chick-fil-A has donated considerable resources to fight against marriage equality. But when you actually walk past a Chick-fil-A in a mall food court, and you’re greeted by the preternaturally peppy and kind cashiers and managers (some of whom might be gay or trans themselves), perhaps you can talk yourself into a Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich. This doesn’t make that decision right. But a reasonable justification does exist.
There are no such excuses with R. Kelly—no opportunities to forget that he is exactly who he is. His alleged criminality and sexual deviance have been corroborated by numerous people—including men and women who’ve lived in Chicago and have either witnessed Kelly stalking and preying on high-school-age girls or have actually been one of the young girls who caught his eye. Jim DeRogatis has made it his personal mission to descend as far down the R. Kelly rabbit hole as he can go, unlocking new terrors with each stage:
Over the next seven months, Pace says she had sex with Kelly repeatedly, a claim she would later repeat during her settlement process. Without asking her permission, Kelly filmed most of the encounters on his iPhone or a video camera on a tripod, Pace says and a settlement draft reiterates. “I had to call him ‘daddy,’ and he would call me ‘baby.’ He wanted me to have two pigtails, and I had to go out and find little schoolgirl outfits.”
If Kelly was previously unaware of Pace’s age, she says she told him for certain that she was 16 on July 17, 2009, a claim she also made in the aforementioned documents. “I gave him my state ID,” she says. She recalls that Kelly told her things were fine, but that she should tell anyone who asked that she was 19, and act like she was 25.
Pace says that she started spending weekends with Kelly at his Olympia Fields home. While she was in the mansion, she says, she had to follow Kelly’s “rules,” which included dressing in baggy clothes, turning over her phone, and asking permission to shower, eat, go to the bathroom, and leave the property. If she broke the rules, she says, she was mentally and physically abused.
“At the time, I didn’t know what I liked, honestly,” Pace says, explaining why she complied. “I just knew that I liked his music, so I was pretty much accepting of anything that came with him at the time.”
Although the name “Jerhonda Pace” might be new, nothing she’s saying about R. Kelly is particularly novel. And I’m sure most of those who’ve defended him and defended their continued fandom before will continue to. Because “those girls were fast.” And also because of the distinction between R. Kelly the man and R. Kelly the artist.
Several people, including DeRogatis, have written and commented on the abject wrongness of believing those girls “knew what they were doing,” and what the continued cultural embrace and patronage of R. Kelly says about our feelings about black women and girls, and whether we collectively believe they deserve protection and care. (We don’t.)
But some of those who believe in the separation between the art and the man are still able to possess a convenient level of cognitive dissonance, allowing them to distill the musical parts of him away from his madness. But that doesn’t exist, either. The separation between the two is mythical: a fabrication invented by those who wish to pretend that R. Kelly’s musical catalog isn’t also filled with both reminders and taunts of his alleged sex crimes. The title of the hit he wrote for Aaliyah—his eventual teenage wife—was “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.” His studio is named the Chocolate Factory. He coined himself the Pied Piper of R&B.
With that knowledge, it’s impossible to listen to “It Seems Like You’re Ready” and not know exactly what he’s talking about. There’s no space to even begin to forget who is he because he doesn’t allow for any. He wants us to know. He’s a bank robber who takes selfies with the security cameras.
There really just isn’t much left to say to those who remain unswayed. He’s been this way for two decades now and seems to be getting better at it. I don’t know how to make someone know that they should care about what he’s allegedly done, and how their continued defense supports and encourages the reality that we don’t give a shit about black women and girls. What else is left?