New York Law School

Recent Articles on R. Kelly Raise the Issue of Why Some Crimes Receive Less Publicity and Attention – Is it Because He is Famous, or Because his Alleged Victims are Young Girls from Poor Communities of Color?

We have all heard and may love the song, “Bump N Grind,” may have anticipated the release of R. Kelly’s most recent album, Black Panties, and may enjoy listening to his other albums, including Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. What we may not have heard are the reports and outcries from the numerous young women whose lives have been allegedly ruined by R. Kelly’s sexual predation. In a recent issue of the Village Voice, Jim DeRogatis, former music journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, offered his reason as to why no one has given attention to allegations around R. Kelly’s criminal behavior: “nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

It has been 15 years since DeRogatis first reported about R. Kelly’s alleged violent sexual acts upon teenaged girls of color in Chicago, including reports about the videotapes purportedly showing the rapper with one teenaged girl; yet, R. Kelly continues to avoid criminal sanctions while headlining major music festivals. In April 2014, over 200 school-aged girls were kidnapped in Africa and likely forced into slavery, yet received almost no media attention until activists demanded it. The violated girls in Chicago and the missing girls in Africa have two things in common: one, their dark skin; and two, no one seemed to care. Disappointingly, neither R. Kelly’s victims nor the missing African girls have become household names like those of JonBenet Ramsey and Elizabeth Smart. DeRogitis’ candid statement, “nobody matters less to our society than young black women,” seems to ring true not only as a distinctly American problem, but as a global one.

During his interview with the Village Voice, DeRogatis opened the door to discuss why black-on-black crimes go unreported and said many of R. Kelly’s victims personally thanked him for finally giving light to their stories. According to DeRogatis, R. Kelly’s method for selecting victims consisted of watching a school choir practice and making promises of future fame to poor, young girls of color in Chicago. The interview told the story of one victim who recanted her accusations and settled with the singer. Many charges against R. Kelly have been similarly dropped because the victims lack resources to seek justice, both in the media and in the courtroom, and therefore are left with no choice but to settle. Then, one month after the initial interview, DeRogatis released a follow-up article that inexplicably dropped the topic of race.

 

While there is no indication of why DeRogatis dropped the discussion of race, specifically his observation on how our society views young women of color, there is a possible explanation. As a former music journalist, DeRogatis’ follow-up article centers on the ignorance of music industry personnel and the music consumers themselves as the blame-worthy people in a world where a well-known sexual predator goes unpunished. DeRogatis chose to focus on music culture and the name of the predator rather than on society at large and the victims of color; and therefore, dropping the race issue may be a result of his training as a music journalist rather than as a social justice activist. However, it seems unlikely that discrepancies in training between careers will result in a blind eye to an important topic, especially by a reporter.

The message here is clear: if you are a young woman of color your story will not be told, even when victimized by an international entertainer. If R. Kelly’s alleged victims of sexual violence were young white girls from affluent families, their story would likely receive heavy publication. And, if the alleged predator had not been an international pop star, the stories of these young women of color would not even be hinted at. Yet, without more than a few blog posts in a city magazine for R. Kelly’s alleged victims, hope of justice in the media and in the courtroom for young, poor victims of color seems unattainable.

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