Commentary: It's Time To Ban R. Kelly

Jul 21, 2017

One Atlantan outraged by the debate R. Kelly’s name can spark is Oronike Odeleye, Executive Director of Creative Currents. That group is circulating a petition to ban his music from Atlanta radio and to cancel his upcoming show at the Wolf Creek Amphitheater. She brings us a commentary.

 "Hi. My name is Oronike Odeleye. I am a 37-year-old woman, and I, like a lot of people, am repeatedly outraged when I hear the allegations of child sexual abuse surface against R. Kelly, year after year since I was a child.

I don’t, however, want to talk about him today. Bringing up his alleged crimes often leads to emotional debates, especially in the African American community. The conversation gets bogged down in nostalgia and sentimentality.

Instead, I’m asking you to think for a moment – not about your mother, or sister or daughter - or any of the other mythical female archetypes that we often conjure up in order to make women’s humanity more relatable. No, I want you to imagine yourself. Whether you’re male or female or non-binary. Whatever your race. Think of yourself at 14. All of the petty dramas. The insecurities.  The secrets you kept from your parents.  All the things you thought you knew but realize now you were beyond clueless about. Think back to that child, just for a moment.

Now think of a 30-year-old person of whatever gender you desire.  They’re charismatic. Attractive.  And they shower you with attention.

Take a moment here to keep in mind that you are 14 again. I know we all like to believe that we’re savvy and always have been. But, coming through adolescence at all is only one part home training… and two parts luck. After all, we were just 14 and didn’t yet know the things that life had not shown us. How could we?

And so, this person has sex with your 14-year-old self. Maybe you think you’re in love. Maybe you feel guilty. Or it’s painful and you pretend to like it, in order to get through it. Or perhaps you’re giddy to feel like an adult, and can’t wait to tell your friends. It’s possible you feel all of these emotions.

I ask you to put yourself in this scenario, place your 14-year-old body in that bed, your own adolescent body, still mostly in a blank slate. And now, think: Which of the two of you knows the consequences of sex and desire, and which does not? Who in that bed is a person still becoming, still evolving, still putting self esteem into action, and who is already exactly the kind of person that they want to be in the world?  Which one of you in that bed is an adult and which one of you is still a child?

I believe that you, the 14-year-old child, and all of our children need to be protected. They do not yet have enough knowledge of the world to make grown-up decisions; and they do not deserve sexual abuse and humiliation.

Regardless of the legality of the latest allegations against R. Kelly, he is a known predator operating in our midst, and has been for over 20 years.  It’s time to demand that the radio stop playing his music. Do not download his songs; do not buy his concert tickets; do not continue to financially support his abuse of young women.

Delete his music from your laptop and phone; destroy his CDs. Leave the dance floor when he’s played in the club. It’s time to do something. We have all done nothing for far too long. Your 14-year-old self – all of our young people  need you to act on their behalf. Because they are children after all. We are the adults."