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The Problem with Complicity

After seeing Surviving R. Kelly, I’ve been trying to find the words to articulate the depth of my disgust for the evil acts of this man, and the remorse I feel for the young girls and women who crossed his path. As I sat there watching story after story, it was clear that this man has a problem. He is a pedophile. A manipulator who preyed on innocent girls who had dreams of grandeur that vanished in his house of horrors.

As I watched and listened to what was said, rather through words or body language, my heart cried out for these women. Women, who will forever be categorized as snitches, thots or fast tail girls who deserved “it.” Women, who will constantly have questions thrown at them such as: “Why didn’t they say something then?” “Why are they coming out now?” Women, who people assume knew what they were getting into, or assume that they knew what they were doing. From some of their own admission, at the age of 15 or 17, they knew something wasn’t right, but was afraid to say no. It was almost as if they didn’t know that saying “No” was an option.

For those who are asking these kinds of questions, I have some questions for you:

“Why is the blame and responsibility always placed back on the girl or the woman?”

“Why didn’t someone say something?”

“Why does R. Kelly and those like him keep getting a pass?”

“When will men take responsibility for what’s going on inside of them by getting help?”

I’m not talking about smoking a blunt, or getting high, or drinking, or having sex to release or ease the burdens of your mind. I’m talking about seeking counseling; sitting on someone’s couch and talking about it; going to a men’s group that discusses real issues and hold each other accountable; allowing the power of God to renew your mind. What is going on in the mind of men that makes them think it’s okay to fantasize about little girls? R. Kelly’s brother (3XL in jail), couldn’t understand what the big deal was. He minimized pedophilia to having a preference. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that what his brother was doing was wrong.

I'm tired of hearing about abuse of young girls and women at the hands of men. A few months ago I was a part of a retreat for women entitled, “Teach Me How to Love,” where women spent most of the day learning how to love themselves, and getting tools on how to grow closer to God and confronting dysfunction that they defined as love, only to come out of the retreat to hear about a man who waited for his ex-wife to come out of building and gun her down in front of their two daughters. This wasn't the first time she suffered at the hands of her abuser. Who did he talk to? Who’s holding him accountable? Who taught him how to love?

Now, here we are hearing about the abuse of women who are still alive (praise God), but have died on the inside to some degree; abused by a man who is unrepentant and refuses to take responsibility. A man who had plenty of people of around him, but no accountability. A different circumstance; same outcome.

I’m tired of the responsibility being placed on young girls and woman to change, grow, mature, to dress differently, to act differently, and boys and men get a pass.

I’m tired of it always be the women who are going to workshops, conferences, retreats, seminars, inner healing conferences to attempt to be healed, delivered and set free, only to go back into environments that seek to harm them and delay their progress.

The one thing that most young black girls don't have is the opportunity to be a child. Young black girls aren’t afford the opportunity to think like a child. For many, growing up happens much too quickly in our homes and neighborhoods. We have to learn early how to thwart off the advances of men as we walk down the street to the candy store; hurrying past whistles, "Hey baby's," and obscene gestures. We have to learn to think fast on our feet because somebody is preparing to chase us home from school. We have to learn to think two steps ahead of our brothers, uncles, grandfathers and male cousins because if we don’t, we may lose something we hold dear to us such as our virginity and dignity because they wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.

The docuseries Surviving R. Kelly showed the calculated behavior of a man who went to the neighborhood high school and befriend young girls to sell them pie in the sky rhetoric in order to lure them into his twisted world.

As I watched this docuseries the thing that was more glaring than the ordeal these women endured was the complicity of those around them. No one said anything. Yeah, they had suspicions. But for the most part, most and if not all knew that something was “off” when it came to this man and his interaction with young girls and remained silent.

As the women told their stories, I reckoned that there were many who were watching resonating with their stories because sadly what we were hearing is an everyday occurrences in many households in the black community. As much as I was sickened by the stories, I knew that telling their stories was liberating someone else. Their voice was a siren sounding off in homes and neighborhoods worldwide.

Much can be said about R. Kelly and his problems, but I want to touch on the problem with complicity.

One of the problems with complicity is that it makes you an expert at pretending and turning a blind eye. Complicity is defined as “the state of being involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing.” In addition to R. Kelly, each person who knew or suspected something was going on between R. Kelly and those young women, but didn’t say anything was complicit. Anyone who forged a document, went to the mall to scope out young girls for him, saw him having sex with young girls, suspected but didn’t question all played a part what happened to these young women. All are guilty of the transgression. What are you seeing around you that you suspect is off, but have remained silent?

I deplore the phrase, “What goes on in this house stays in this house,” that is such a part of the Black Community, in particular. Perversion is happening at the expense of privacy. It rocks me to know that many in the black community grew up knowing Uncle ___ or Cousin ___ or Grandpa ___, or Mama’s man had a problem keeping his hands to himself, but no one addressed it. If what’s happening in the house is hurting, abusing and robbing someone from their peace we have a responsibility to tell someone.

Remaining silent is sanctioning the harm or demise of someone else, when you have the power to do something about it.

Complicity enables the perpetrator. After the airing of the docuseries, I don’t know how many comments I saw on Facebook excusing his behavior because of his upbringing. Our pain doesn’t give us a pass! Our upbringing doesn’t give us an out. When we are complicit, abusers are enabled to continue abusing and inflict pain. They are permitted to use their disadvantages as crutches to limp on while we pity them and give excuses for them. In essence we are saying, “It’s okay. Because you were born in poverty and didn’t have a daddy and was raised by a single mother and had problems with low self-esteem, it’s okay to continue in this behavior.” It’s not okay.

Another problem with complicity is that it continues the cycle of abuse.

The reason why there are people in our households and neighborhoods who are known for certain behaviors, but are still residing there peacefully, is because no one speaks up. Our voices have power! But no speaks up. Yet, we adjust our behaviors around the person so we don’t feed his sickness. We know not to walk past that house because something is not right. We know to not sit on Uncle _’s lap, but no one explains why. And the cycle continues.

Complicity in the black community is breeding ground for indifference and hatred toward black women and girls. The reason black women can be considered a “preference” is because it easier to minimize her to a thing you have a taste for, than it is for men to see her humanity and bring their urges under control.

Healing can’t take place in the house because the perpetrator is still in the house. He still comes to dinner. He is still around during holidays. He is still in the vicinity.

Transparency can’t take place because it would mean addressing the elephant in the room, and no one really wants to do that. Everyone wants to dress the elephant up and put perfume on it and talk about the elephant in generalities, or talk about all the problems the elephant has to excuse the behavior. Not understanding that whenever the elephant in the room is addressed, it will be ugly. It will cause pain. Transformation doesn’t happen without a measure of ugliness and pain. You will hear things you didn’t want to hear, but how do we move forward if the elephant is never addressed?

If I could be transparent for a moment. I remember being 13 or 14 years old and living in an apartment with my mother, sisters and my mom’s boyfriend (at the time). It was something about this man that I felt wasn’t right. I hated when he came around because of the way he looked at me. I recall one day I was on my way to the bathroom, and had to walk down a corridor. He was standing in the corridor, so I had to walk past him to get to the bathroom. As I walked past this man, I felt his hand slightly rub against my behind. I was scared to death, but I was also afraid to say something. I asked myself, “Did he REALLY touch my behind?” “Is it just my imagination?” “If I say something, would my mother believe me?” I decided to not say anything, while quietly hoping and praying that it was all in my mind.

A few more incidents such as the one in the hallway happened. By now I know it’s not my imagination; it’s him. Yet I was still afraid to say something. As time went on I felt his advances beginning to escalate. We didn’t have much room in the apartment, so my sister and I slept in the same bed. One night I was sleep and kept feeling something on my backside. I thought it was my sister’s foot on me and when I woke up and turned my head, there he was sitting on the edge of my bed, rubbing my behind. I yelled, “Get off me!” He quietly slithered away like a snake and went back into the other room. At 13 or 14 years of age, I can’t convey to you how traumatized I was. Unaddressed actions led him to believe he could continue to cross boundaries. I couldn’t sleep for the remainder of the night. I was scared to get out of bed. I was scared to mention anything to my mother that night. But the next day I said something.

I told my mother what was happening to me. And I thank God she listened! I didn’t see him anymore after that. But I wondered, “Who else will encounter this man?” I fear for women who had children – young girls – who may cross his path. He didn’t look like an abuser. He was nice. Funny. A big help around the house. But he also was a pedophile. A predator. Looking for his opportune to inflict harm and pain.

As I type I fight back tears because this is my first time putting this story in the atmosphere in this fashion. Yes, I’m sure many are asking the same questions asked of the survivors of R. Kelly, “Why did you wait so long?” Probably for the same reasons these women waited. I had to build courage to tell my truth, and I didn’t want anyone to piss on my truth because of the length of time that has gone by. I didn’t want anyone trying to poke holes in or nullify my truth. I didn’t want anyone insinuating that perhaps I did something wrong because he acted out. I didn’t want the voice that was buried for so long and finally found its sound to be squelched once again with the possibility of hearing, “What were you doing when this happened? Did that really happen?” or “You’re lying.” I can’t control what people think; but I can control my narrative and by telling my story.

I understand that there could be a myriad of reasons of why young girls and women remain silent. And if you are reading this today I urge you to find your voice. And once you do, tell your story. I urge us all to show grace. The timetable of when someone decides to reveal their truth is none of our business; whether what happened in the house comes to light today or 20 years later. It's our business to help when the opportunity presents itself. Don’t silence a voice that has been waiting to be heard. You never know what’s happening to the young girl or woman in your circle of influence. Become a safe place for them, so that they trust you to help if needed. No more complicity.

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