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RECAP: R. Kelly’s Childhood Doesn’t Excuse His Abuse of Black Women and Girls

Last night, the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly began with disturbing details of R. Kelly’s beginnings as a predator. The first two episodes confirmed and provided more insight into what we already knew about his predatory nature. In the early 90s, he used his newfound fame to prey on young girls at high schools and later groomed underage R&B singer Aaliyah — even raping the teenager and enlisting the help of those close to him to illegally marry her. He didn’t stop there. He physically abused the girls he preyed on and employed methods of control to exert power.

Before all this, though, R. Kelly was sexually abused himself as a kid and endured ridicule and bullying. The first episodes shed light on R. Kelly’s abuse. Past victimization does not and will never excuse the abuse of Black women and girls. With that said, humanizing R. Kelly in this docuseries has served as an important way to highlight a disheartening truth: People who harm and commit crimes against Black women and girls are usually our family members, our friends, and other people close to us.

Predators do not always come in the form of dark, creepy figures lurking in alleys, most of the time predators are people we have grown up with, people we have been taught to trust, admire, look up to and even love.

Along with providing survivors a platform to speak out about R. Kelly’s abuse, filmmakers included mental health professionals and therapists to specifically explain R. Kelly’s tactics of abuse, manipulation and control. This was a necessary addition to the docuseries, because we are better able to address predatory behavior when we have the language to name its processes.

And for all R. Kelly’s abuse, it is imperative to Black women and girls’ liberation that we acknowledge that the Black community failed them. The Black community failed every survivor speaking out in Surviving R. Kelly, and the thousands of Black women and girl survivors who carry the weight of their stories in silence each day.

We watched R. Kelly’s brother, Bruce, call his brother’s abuse, grooming and manipulation of underage Black girls a “preference.” We watched R. Kelly’s former tour manager and assistant, Demetrius Smith smirk as he reluctantly revealed that he forged the paperwork that allowed R. Kelly to marry Aaliyah.

It's time to talk about the Black community's complicity in the harm of Black women and girls. R. Kelly’s abuse of Black women and girls was only made worse by our collective silence.

Last night, we watched with open hearts as survivors told their stories. Tonight, we will do it again. Watch night two of Surviving R. Kelly with us at 9 p.m. (ET) on Lifetime and use the hashtag #BlackWomenSurvive to join the conversation.

For many survivors, Surviving R. Kelly will be hard to watch. If you are in need of support at this time, contact Black Women’s Blueprint at 347-533-9102/3 or 646-647-5414. Or by email at Our counselors are available around the clock to provide any help and care you may need.

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