Time’s Up for R. Kelly—Because It’s Long Past Time to Believe Black Survivors

Women of color within the Time’s Up campaign have joined forces with the activist-led #MuteRKelly protest co-founded by Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeyle, joining a community of black activists demanding accountability for the allegations of assault, exploitation and abuse against the entertainer spanning decades.

No gender justice without racial justice. From the 2017 March for Racial Justice. (Stephen Melkisethian / Creative Commons

Inspired by the recent guilty verdict of Bill Cosby, Time’s Up published an open letter calling on members to join the social media campaign. “As women of color within Time’s Up,” they wrote, “we recognize that we have a responsibility to help right this wrong. We intend to shine a bright light on our WOC sisters in need. It is our hope that we will never feel ignored or silenced ever again.”

R. Kelly is an influential R&B musician, producer and songwriter who, for over two decades, has also been a known sexual predator and assailant. In 1994, he secretly and unlawfully married musician Aaliyah when she was just 15 years old; just last year, reports broke that he was brainwashing, abusing and holding young women against their will. Despite consistent and persistent allegations of abuse, sexual misconduct with minors and even child pornography, Kelly has, for too long, evaded criminal charges, maintained a successful career and dismissed and silenced his accusers.

“Over the past 25 years, the man known publicly as R. Kelly has sold 60 million albums, toured the globe repeatedly and accumulated hundreds of millions of plays on radio and streaming services,” the Time’s Up letter reads. “During this time, he also married a girl under 18 years of age; was sued by at least four women for sexual misconduct, statutory rape, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint and furnishing illegal drugs to a minor; was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography; has faced allegations of sexual abuse and imprisonment of women under threats of violence and familial harm.”

At long last, however, R. Kelly’s time is up.

In an interview with Glamour, Odeleye placed the Time’s Up letter and the growing interest in her campaign in context—crediting the #MeToo movement for a long overdue call for accountability for Kelly and other men who have abused and exploited women, and particularly women of color, with impunity. “When #MeToo broke, I knew it was an important conversation,” she told the magazine. “It’s an important step that women in power decided to take. They spoke out about their real experiences, and it emboldens the rest of us—if those women could do it, I can speak up, too. But the fact that it lacked representation of women of color in the beginning frustrated me, because it’s often women of color who experience this kind of stuff and don’t feel like there is a place to come out and talk about what’s happening to them.”

Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, echoed those sentiments in an interview with NPR. “We have seen 24 years of allegations leveled against R. Kelly, and he has gone unscathed,” she told reporters. “So what the letter does is join the #MuteRKelly campaign, that was well on its way already, and joined the chorus of black women around the country who have been saying we want some accountability. Those things have to be interrogated. And I think at the very least we need to see corporations step away from them until we have satisfactory investigation into these allegations.”

As the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up campaign both continue to create new spaces and conversations around sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation and violence, it is critical that we continue, as well, to ensure that nobody gets left behind. This is only the beginning, and we must continue to listen to and believe black women—and finally mute R. Kelly.

Jordannah Elizabeth is an author, lecturer, music critic and feminist writer. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Bitch Media, LA Weekly and Village Voice and is bi-coastal by nature. She is the author of Don’t Lose Track Vol 1: 40 Articles, Essays and Q&As.

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