R. Kelly dilemma makes us think

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

To no one’s surprise, we find the legendary and famed singer and songwriter R. Kelly fighting allegations of sexual abuse being hurled upon him by a multitude of victims. Perhaps the saddest part of these allegations concerns those made by young women who claimed they were underage at the time of the sexual assaults. Even Kelly’s ardent and loyal fans who are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, must avow that Kelly has a tumultuous history of paying off victims and their families as well as literally getting a ‘get out of jail free card.’

Make no mistake, R. Kelly is a sick pedophile needing extensive counseling as well as jail time for his past and current alleged accounts of sexual abuse and assault that seem to have no end. But Kelly has been able to continue his sick assault on young underage girls and young women because of his fame as an extraordinary genius songwriter and singer. His talent is undeniable, but his personal sexual behavior toward young, underaged girls and women in general is considered dehumanizing, demoralizing, deplorable and unacceptable. His lewd sexual pursuits and practices are revealed or highlighted in many of his sexual songs, as if to brag of his sexual exploits and practices.

Many of Kelly’s fans (especially concert goers who have a propensity to relate to many of his classic songs with overtly sexual lyrics) are agonizing about whether to ostracize him and his songs totally. It can be noted that his loyal fan base seems impervious to quests to boycott his music and have him prosecuted for sexual assault.

It is understood that most people undoubtly support freedom of speech as protected under the Constitution, but aren’t there consequences and ramifications when an artist’s personal life is inundated with allegations of sexual assaults? One must also recognize that there are just as many people who are offended by sexually abusive behavior glamorized by artists and celebrities who sing lyrics demeaning and demoralizing women, especially African American women. These women are projected and objectified as credulous, sexual toys.

Belittling women is a practice that many rappers are guilty of promoting and cannot just be addressed toward R. Kelly. But the severity of Kelly’s personal life can no longer be ignored or trivialized simply because of his contributions to music. Kelly and other violators must be taught that such behaviors will no longer being accepted or tolerated. But surprisingly as it stands now, the notoriety involving Kelly’s allegations has increased sales of his songs by 60%.
Freedom of speech is paramount but there are consequences when the masses feel disrespected and offended. Many people are choosing to mute or ostracize R. Kelly and possibly other artists they feel guilty of manifesting flagrant sexual disrespect and abuse.Kelly can be considered a fly in a long list of artists blatantly disrespecting women in some of his music; however, ironically, it is basically his private life that is under fire. Choosing to mute him and his music completely is a way for some to send a message to other artists guilty of demeaning and demoralizing women.
The African American community has allowed this disrespect by some young rappers for too long. Young people have become desensitized or immune and are accepting these dehumanizing stereotypes promoting sexually exploitive songs belittling our women. All too often, we contribute to our own dehumanization.

The dilemma many of Kelly’s faithful fans are trying to resolve is this: do they denounce his music as well as him as an artist? One can surmise that by continuing to buy his songs and attending his concerts, they are supporting his behavior. Many people love his songs, such as ‘The Greatest’ and ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ These songs are legendary but also make the case for infamy. The question then is do I reject his songs (art) to show my disgust for his actions, regardless of the monumental influence and beauty his work may have had on humanity as a whole? One is then visited with the question: “Can you separate an artist from his art?”

Your choice on whether to continue to support R. Kelly’s music is a personal one, but we are finding more and more high profiled celebrities wading in the same waters. Deciding whether to separate the behaviors of individuals from their notable contributions is becoming commonplace.

I guess one can surmise in some cases that punishing the artist puts the public in a position to lose. When personally polling people on the subject, most claim they could separate the personal behavior of the artist from their art, especially if the art is humanitarian in nature.

To mute R. Kelly or continue to support his songs and concerts can say a lot about where we stand as individuals.