To the Sisters Who Survived R. Kelly
To the Sisters Who Survived R. Kelly,
To all those who have survived sexual exploitation at the hands of older men as well as other harm-doers; those who survived sex trafficking, rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault or any other form of violation along the continuum of categories of sexual violence reserved primarily for those identifying as women and girls, Black Women’s Blueprint writes you in solidarity. We write you in support and in sisterhood. Many of us are survivors ourselves and/or come from families of survivors all over the Black Diaspora. We represent multiple generations of women and girls, boys and men and all genders weaving the pieces of their lives back together, seeking justice for harm inflicted by others and damage we had no stake in creating. We are on constant journeys toward healing, toward rewriting our personal narratives and toward reclaiming our bodies and ourselves. We know all too well what you’re going through. For that reason, we write you this public letter.
This letter is to all the girls and women who received the bomb threat at the R. Kelly screening Tuesday, December 4 2018. It is not advocates who were most impacted by the terror inflicted that night, it is you the survivors and we will never forget that. It is not the voice of the most privileged who the deterrers sought to silence that night, it is the voices of those sister-survivors of sexual assault—including sisters left in back alleys, in heaps on their bedroom or living room floors, in the back of recording studios, the back seats of pricey cars, dance clubs and building basements. This letter is for the many of us who know what it means to be left in building hallways and staircases, backroom parties, basements and garages.
This letter is to our sisters who have survived the sexual emotional and psychological abuse of the R&B star R. Kelly.
Survivors Gather Ready to Act
Last year, we spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on our stories as well as your stories. We want you to know that every woman, every girl in the spaces where as survivors we gathered for decades, have been profoundly impacted and ready to act on your behalf. Today we think back to the time and space in our history where women banded together to fight sexual violence and deployed their collective voices, and with their pens and their letters, with testimony and sometimes through their marches, they denounced the violence against the women of their day and those who came before them. Rosa Parks although known for igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, her grassroots organizing work began with her investigating the rapes and torture of Black women in the South. Dear Survivor, she investigated and advocated to end the Jim Crow rapes—which were part of the systemic and wholesale attacks on African-American communities who wanted nothing but full recognition as citizens and as equal human beings. Just a few days ago, re commemorated the death of the most significant investigation on which Rosa Parks embarked: the rape and assault of Recy Taylor.
Dear Sister more than ninety percent of us are raped or sexually abused by those we know. It is those who look like us, those we protect those we love who harm us. We know all too well what it means to be under siege from within. Our fellow Black and Brown brothers have internalized oppression. Our brothers have picked up and refined the “master’s tools” and continue to abuse, to violate and divide. There is no betrayal more painful to bear than the assault inflicted by our own, our own brothers, our own communities. There is no pain as virulent as the one that is inflicted from our own.
For this, we stand with you.
Sisters You Are Not to Blame
Our meditation is that you know and understand you did nothing to cause this violence against you. Know that no matter what our age, our state - what we wear, what we drink, eat or say, you did nothing to cause sexual violence against you. Despite all the rhetoric, we remain clear that you, that none of us deserve to be raped, ever. And as women who were assaulted as minors, you had the right to a live in a society that protects your life, your sexual health and emotional growth from childhood to adulthood. You and all of us should have the right to do as we please: fall in love, admire, enjoy time, and even strip naked if we feel inclined and still be safe, still exist and still thrive in environments that considers yours and our inherent value and where those bent on inflicting harm are stopped in their tracks.
You, as the human being that you are, should always be honored. Your sexual agency is not license to exploited or disappeared. Your ability to consent should always be assessed and respected. You bear no responsibility for any sexual violence or coercion against you and therefore, no matter what the public says, the burden is not yours.
No matter what is said and done in any form to describe you as having given consent, know and understand that consent means mutual agreement, based on a shared desire for specific sexual activities between two adults. Consent is an ongoing verbal interaction, taken one step at a time, to an expressed and honest yes. Cooperation, compliance, incapability, lack of awareness or silence is never consent.
Please do not be convinced of or confused by the colorful and what will be rather persuasive arguments that will be heaped upon you. For this, we enclose you in a circle of Black feminist love.
Sisters you are not to blame. Sisters you are not alone. What you choose to do for yourself from this moment on should be the focus and priority. You will need to be prepared for the onslaught of victim blaming that may have already begun, and that is common in almost all rape cases. You are all too familiar with the ways victims have been portrayed in our hometowns, and we applaud your stance, your determination and the bravery in you inherited from generations of brave women ancestors.
Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around
Based on your experience at the film’s screening, the determination by those who will try to deter you will be fierce and unlike anything you may have ever experienced. Despite many of our denials, we all know we live in a deeply misogynistic world where the hate for women and girls, and especially Black women and girls even within our communities, pervades every aspect of our culture, every system and industry imaginable.
This misogyny is so pervasive that everyone including sister-friends may, at some point and time, say something accusatory, ignorant, and simply painful. Know that this is a manifestation of their internalized hatred of themselves which they have been taught to do, internalized sexism and racism. It is a reflection of their own self-denial.
You may experience distancing from some, as they will try to assert directly and indirectly they are not like you. Do not personalize this, as they are still operating under the repressive social and cultural ideology that says women are supposed to act in ways that make others feel comfortable. In other words, it is expected that we practice the politics of respectability even today, though it is not so relevant, nor has it ever been effective in preventing sexual violence, especially where Black women are concerned. Those expectations are not only unrealistic, they are repressive. Whoever says you should have, could have, would have - that’s their stuff; your healing takes precedence. Therefore, resist the downward pull this level of rejection will inevitably cause.
You will experience backlash and public scrutiny for airing the Black community’s dirty laundry. Unfortunately, our community continues to hold onto an ethic of silence and false loyalty to people who do harm inside our communities, but especially Black men, powerful Black men, influential Black men who dehumanize us, and themselves.
This Has Been a Community Problem Too
This phenomenon is especially true when celebrity men are the aggressors. No different than others, ours has also proven to be a community which refuses to admit that sexual assault is rampant that it happens to us, in our churches, in our homes and just outside our high-ranking public high schools. Collectively, we all strive to distance ourselves from images, rumors and stereotypes invented to construct our identities for us. Sexual assault reminds Black communities that some of our people are fallible, imperfect, and yes, violent. Sexual assault reminds Black communities there are those who will choose to rape us and that we all, at some point will run out of excuses for not acting, for not holding each other accountable. You will most likely be blamed for incriminating a successful Black man. Folks will even go as far as to say you’re aiding and abetting the systemic and intentional mass incarceration of all Black men. But through it all, be clear about this: you have a right to protect and defend your body, yourself and you have a right to speak against sexual violence.
Our work here at Black Women’s Blueprint has been to act and speak against the very sexual violence too many of us have endured within our own communities. We’re constantly writing, responding to fighting words on behalf of women and girls who are survivors of rape, defending our right to dignity, to safety and demanding harm-doers be held responsible, repositioning the blame on the rightful parties—actual harm-doers, ill-defined masculinity, power and privilege and rape culture. The work is ongoing and relentless. We’re committed to doing this for all of us. We’re committed to repeating the call for justice, to repeating the demand that each person act to end rape and rape culture beyond the twenty-one times scientists say it takes for a message to be internalized by a learner, by members of our communities, campuses, and by families where we should be safe.
Too Many of Our Black Brothers
It is unfortunate that we live in a society where too many Black men, including celebrities and those already filled with power, money, fame, education, and prestige rely on the conquest of Black women and girls to affirm and reaffirm their value, manhood, and existence. Within this context, rape is an abuse of power. It is disheartening and is indicative of a much more difficult and deeper issues to address: the internalized racial oppression our brothers have failed to uproot from themselves, the need to exploit and possess, the need to defend sexualized violence and sexual exploitation of Black women and girls, even as they benefit from patriarchy as Black men.
The true embarrassment is that too many of our brothers are not being taught that the possibility of their existence should not include within it, the domination of another, let alone the domination of their Black sisters, and yes, all other genders. However, that is the history of America. It is the template from which we all live and exist because many of us have not done our work. Clearly, the work has not been done. This recent incident is a constant reminder that no one will teach our brothers and sons about the rights of Black women and girls and no one will come to our defense but us.
For that, we offer you the armor of Black feminist sisterhood whether or not it has come from anywhere else.
Because of this, we will continue mobilizing for ourselves and on behalf of the millions at your side.
We Are With You
Sister, you may still be about to embark on one of the toughest battles of your life. You will need to summon the strength and spirits of your ancestors, and cloak yourself in the warrior ethics of our foremothers. There will be days when you don’t feel like fighting and that’s ok. You have a multitude of people worldwide behind you, at your left and at your right, in front of you and for sure under your feet as you stand on the shoulders of the fiercest warriors whom across centuries have fought to end sexual violence.
We FIGHT for you and for us, until there is peace.
With militant and abiding love,
Black Women’s Blueprint.