This is a column about some black people.
Not all, thank goodness. Not even most.
But if you watched the stunning recent Lifetime documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” which detailed decades of sexual assault accusations against the singer, surely you wondered about some of the black people you saw continuing to profess undying love and support even as the charges against their idol grew steadily more sickening. Like the girl outside the courthouse in 2008 where he was on trial on child pornography charges, who declares with definitive defiance, “He’s not guilty at all. They just want to bring him down and kill his image.”
“They.” We’ll get back to that in a moment.
For now, let us just note that her sentiment was starkly at odds with the testimony of woman after traumatized woman, describing hells of mind control, physical violence, isolation and child molestation. One recounts being hit because she was not a Chicago Bulls fan, others explain how they had to ask permission to go to the bathroom or have a meal, yet others describe the notorious sex tape on which Kelly is seen — allegedly — urinating upon a 14-year-old girl.
Nor is all that love and support simply an artifact of the past. In the days since the documentary aired, some black people have been online busily trying to defend the indefensible.
“R. Kelly is a victim. Them hoes just wanted fame and money from him.”
And: “Everybody throwing stones, condemning this man as if they have no sin at all.”
And: “Y’all keep attacking our black men usher Bill Cosby Morgan freeman now R Kelly.”
At one level, this is little more than a reminder that the word “fan” likely originated from the word “fanatic” — and superfluous evidence of how we often refuse to know difficult things. At another level, though, there is something here unique to the African-American experience. Perhaps you heard it in the word “they.” Maybe you caught it at “y’all.”
If you are unclear on who “they” and “y’all” are, welcome to America. Hope you enjoy Disney World. Those of us who aren’t here on tourist visas, those of us who are people of color, know all too well what those words refer to. Namely, the great white world that so often conspires against us as we vote, seek work, demand justice or simply try to go about our day, unmolested.
When the larger world conspires against you so often and in so many different ways, it becomes easy — almost a reflex — to see conspiracy whenever accusations are leveled against people like you, especially famous ones. “They” want to get Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson. “Y’all” are trying to bring Mike Tyson down.
But as Public Enemy once said, “Some blacks act devil, too.” So some black people need to get past the idea that each of us is obligated to defend any one of us against any and all accusations regardless of evidence. That’s not racial solidarity. No, it’s an abdication of our right and responsibility to exercise judgment.
It is also a betrayal of every woman who came forward in that documentary. Most were just as much black as Kelly, so you’d think they’d have an equal claim on African-American compassion and regard. But for some of us, his celebrity trumps their humanity. Some of us still find it all too easy to doubt and denigrate women — especially women of color.
As one of the women, Jerhonda Pace, put it, “Nobody … cares about the black women that speak out. Especially the black community.” She has a point.
And for that, some black people should be ashamed.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.