The event started out cool and casual, as most of these industry events do. Folks were mingling, sipping wine, and snapping photos. I was able to do a mini-press junket for Reclaiming Our Space which was a good thing--the more press the better. But my focus was to offer support for the survivors and spend time with my sistas. Jamilah Lemieux, Kierna Mayo, and Tarana Burke were all there and I consider these women my sistas in the struggle. It was good to see them and hug and catch up, for sure.
At first, I was going to sit inside of the screening room, but decided to join Jamilah and Kierna in the spillover lounge. It was more comfortable and I'm quite the claustrophobe, so being in such a contained space made me uncomfortable. I almost didn't attend the event. First, I've caught a cold and wasn't feeling the best. Then, it's been a slow process of recovery since I was assaulted on Halloween. I made the journey anyway because this was an important event.
The show began and already it was quite compelling. Not even 10 minutes in, I was like "Wow, this is going to be a gamechanger". They were doing a good job of contextualizing Kelly's life and upbringing and interviewing close family and friends, including a brother who was in jail. As we were settling in, Joshua Dubois, a friend of mine and PR/marketing guru, came and quietly told those of us in the lounge that we needed to exit the building. I didn't hear him at first, but I saw people making moves towards coat check, so I did too. Look, I'm Black--we move and ask questions later. Then he repeated himself, clarifying that there was a threat called in and we needed to evacuate. I quickly grabbed my belongings and made my way out with Jamilah, Kierna, and others.
Once I got outside, I saw a few police officers, but nothing major. Then, the people in the theatre began spilling out and the survivors were ushered into big black vans that were awaiting them. Tarana came out and we all began talking, trying to figure out what was going on. I began recording because... what the hell? Joshua then explained to everyone about the threat and people began to vent their frustrations but also express a renewed commitment to not only supporting the project, but to make sure that the #MuteRKelly movement doesn't lose its fire.
I went live on Instagram and then posted clips from the video on Twitter. During my commentary, in the heightened moments, and reeling with my own feelings of fear and confusion, I made a comment about wanting R Kelly dead. I don't wish death on anyone, not seriously, so I want to be clear that my statement in the moment was wrong and doesn't reflect my true feelings. Do I wish his career would die? Yes. Do I want him to disappear? Absolutely. But in all seriousness, I don't wish death on anyone.
With that said, several media outlets picked up the story (there were a few members of the press there as I said earlier) and several of them cited my tweets and used my clips. I don't know if they watched them because I was cussing up a storm, but whatever. The question I had, that was shared by others, was: Who was the target? A few of us posted that we were there and shared photos and the poster. It was a low-key event, private invitation-only type of thing. We're talking some of the most powerfully influential Black women in media and culture right now, especially when it comes to activism. We've all written about R Kelly and have been vocal in our condemnation of him, and many of you are quite familiar with the vitriol Jamilah and I have been subjected to whenever we speak out against people like Kelly or Bill Cosby. At the same time, there was a room filled with survivors and maybe it was an attempt to try to intimidate them. They're bravely coming forward with their stories against a man who has a cult-like following of people who do engage in online harassment. Maybe it was both.
Police said there were more than one call and that at least one originated in Chicago. Could Kelly be that far gone? I'm not sure I can say, for sure, that he didn't make the call himself because we do know his people issued a cease and desist letter to Lifetime to prevent them from airing the series. Was it his people? His fans? We don't know. It wasn't a credible threat because no one in the screening was any fan of R Kelly. but the fact that someone suggested that there would be gunfire if the show kept airing is a huge problem.
Sometimes, I wonder if people really understand what it means to be an advocate for women and girls, especially when you focus on Black women and girls. Choosing to take this path means choosing to defend a demographic that is regularly deemed worthless, unlovable, ugly, stupid, and ignorant while also being seem as hypersexual, too strong and independent, and less than human. It means sticking up for a demographic regularly dismissed as unimportant and afforded little empathy when harmed. If Kelly's victims were White girls and women, he'd be under a jail by now, but because we are not seen as worthy of protection and defense, he is free to roam around and continue to harm people.
I wrote this on Kelly for VOX:
When men are suspected of preying on women of color, the victims and their parents are often blamed first. In the past few days, I’ve witnessed a lot of this sentiment on Twitter and Facebook regarding R. Kelly’s victims. Some say that with all of the allegations against Kelly in the past, parents shouldn’t let their children go around him. I wish I could say I am surprised by this reaction, but I’m not.
People are far more willing to chastise others for not protecting themselves and their children from harmful people than they are willing to chastise the harmful person, especially if that person is a wealthy, successful black man like Bill Cosby. From the moment R. Kelly married Aaliyah, an R&B singer who was 15 at the time, he has managed to escape evisceration for his violations of young black women — perhaps in part because it happened in a time before social media scrutiny.
Last night, after spending the last month working through my own recent trauma of having been assaulted, I found myself spiraling a bit, imagining the possibilities. What if someone was in there with a gun? What if I'd been in the theatre when things got violent? Why do people hold such animosity for Black women who speak their truth?
I'm sitting at home, looking out of my window, hoping that I don't lose the progress I've made. While I experienced nothing like what the women involved with him did, I have had my own traumatic experiences with men and being in that space last night reminded me that so much more work needs to be done.
For all of us.
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