By Keisa Reynolds
Singer R. Kelly in is the headlines once again, and it isn’t for his upcoming tour. Instead, activists are calling on people to #MuteRKelly after recent allegations were made against him for holding young Black women hostage in what some are labeling a cult.
The singer has a long history of sexually abusing underage girls, as first reported in 2000. A digital campaign recently escalated the call to hold Kelly accountable, advocating for a cancelation of his performances and removal of his discography from music streaming platforms. On April 30, another powerful force threw its weight behind the movement.
“As women of color within Time’s Up, we recognize that we have a responsibility to help right this wrong,” wrote Women of Color of Time’s Up in a statement of support. “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.”
The Time’s Up statement follows the cancellation of Kelly’s concert, in the singers’ hometown, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) – where I work as a special projects coordinator focused on feminist programming.
A petition, outlining the physical and sexual abuse allegations against Kelly circulated the campus after students, faculty and staff were made aware of the scheduled performance.
“In choosing to host the concert, this institution sends a powerful message that UIC is more interested in silencing and rendering violence against Black women invisible,” the petition’s authors wrote, “and that the harm done to the dozens of women and girls is inconsequential and has no bearing on those who work, study and live at UIC.”
The petition received over 1,200 signatures and led to the cancellation of his performance – effectively muting him, for at least one night, at UIC.
The #MuteRKelly campaign is led by Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, the pair started the hashtag in 2016 after connecting over their respective efforts to organize around Kelly’s predatory behavior.
NPR reported Kelly’s management called the Time’s Up statement an “attempted public lynching,” which is no surprise — defenders of abusers often resort to calling a demand for accountability a lynching.
But here is the significant difference: While it is true that black men were lynched for rape allegations, it wasn’t in defense of Black women for sexual assault. And, it is Black women leading the efforts to shut down R. Kelly now, not a mob of white people in the interest of other white people. Black women are speaking out to garner support for the countless black girls and women whose stories are rarely made public.
“Someone had to stand up for Black women, and if I wasn’t willing to do my part—no matter how small—then I couldn’t continue to complain,” Odeleye said in an interview with Grio this past January. “It’s time for us to end this man’s career. Enough is beyond enough,”
It took over a decade and half, but it is clear Kelly’s time is up. It was easy for many people to remain silent and claim ignorance over the years, but thanks to relentless advocates, fans had to pause and realize a hit song isn’t more important than a person’s safety and well-being.
Kelly’s career shouldn’t have lasted as long as it has since the allegations were made public almost 20 years ago. The girls and women he has harmed — and continues to harm — deserve our support. No more excuses should be made. His time is up.
This piece originally appeared on Richmond Pulse.