(CLIP FROM “SURVIVING R KELLY”) Interviewer: What about the women that came out against him and said, "I was in an underage relationship with him". "He did this to me". "He did that"? Juror: “I just didn't believe them, the women. I know it sounds ridiculous the way they dress, the way they act. I didn't like them. I voted against, I disregarded all of what they had to say.”
Kimberlé Crenshaw: That was juror John Patrion, who in 2008 voted along with other jurors to acquit R. Kelly of all charges. These were the charges that pertain to pornographic abuse of a young girl. Last month, some 11 years after that, acquittal, R. Kelly was arrested once more. This time the charges are aggravated, criminal, sexual abuse. And now the Pied Piper is in the news yet again. This after a shocking and explosive rant during an interview with Gayle King, now Kelly has denied all charges and of course claims that he himself is a victim.
(CLIP FROM INTERVIEW) R. Kelly: I need somebody to help me not have a big heart. Because my heart is so big, people betray me and I keep forgiving them!
Kimberlé Crenshaw: Watching Kelly's indignant declaration that these are simply conspiracies to bring him down, I couldn't help but think about the gendered differences in the ways that men and women are allowed to speak about victimization. My thoughts trailed back to that juror. The idea that because Patrion didn't like the way black women dressed, didn't like the way they acted, didn't like who they were, the idea that he could vote in favor of acquitting R. Kelly was just infuriating to me, to hear it spoken so plainly without any apology, without a sense that it needs to be repackaged was just jaw-dropping for me. It was the very embodiment of the intersection of racism and sexism or what Moya Bailey calls misogynoir. I wish I could say that I was shocked by the revelation, but in fact I've encountered this sensibility many times. I think we all saw it during Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings when the Senate Judiciary Committee effectively disregarded everything in Anita Hill had to say. I also saw it when I was writing an article entitled, Mapping the Margins. When I learned that Black women are least likely to be believed when reporting sexual abuse, they're least likely to see their perpetrators arrested, least likely to see them charged, least likely to see them tried, and least likely to see them convicted. And then on the very rare occasion when their claims actually do catalyze convictions, Black women remain the least likely to see their perpetrators do significant time. I learned about jurors in open and shut cases in which perpetrators were acquitted. When jurors said things like "A Black girl from that neighborhood probably wasn't a virgin anyway." Because of who Black females are thought to b, essentially there was a rule of no harm, no foul. This in fact is a historical dimension of Black women's sexual abuse. In some states historically, rape claims were dismissed for failure to state that the victim was white. In other words, being a Black woman many times made a woman or a girl unrapeable. So when I heard this juror cavalierly dismiss the testimony of Black women over a hundred years after the end of slavery, over 50 years after the end of segregation, over 20 years after Anita Hill, when we heard a juror say that he just didn't like Black women, he just doesn't trust Black girls, it made me want to holler. I wanted to do something, demand something, break something. The good news is that I know my outrage is shared not only by Black women who have been rising up against this assault on our sexual autonomy, but now by millions who have been mobilized by activists to begin a long and necessary process of changing the narrative about Black women and sexual abuse. Now, at least in Chicago, there's a new Sheriff in town, State Attorney, Kim Fox, an African American woman and survivor. The privilege to abuse in plain sight may now, finally, because of Kim Fox and the work of so many others, carry some penalties, and this might be one of the reasons behind the meltdown that we all saw on television a few nights ago. Now, there are few people who have to be given a shout out for making this all possible, including of course the courageous women who have shared their stories. But also we have to give a shout out to Jim DeRogatis who has been lifting up their stories for years when virtually no one wanted to hear about them. Also, dream hampton who brought these stories to life and finally Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye co-founders of the MuteRKelly campaign. So I was on the road when the most recent chapter in the Kelly saga was unfolding and I sent out a Hail Mary to Kenyette Barnes when she replied and said she was available to talk to us. We quickly converted a cavernous room into a makeshift studio, and we were off and running. In our wide ranging conversation Kenyette explain that her very first act of protest against Kelly was all the way back in 2002. She was a student at Temple University and she said she saw a man selling bootleg copies of the tape, the same tape that Kelly would eventually be tried on in 2008. Kenyette Barnes: In 2002, I was a graduate student at Temple University and that's when the original tape came out. And I remember I was on the train. And there was a dude selling the bootleg copies of the VHS like right out under the train. And I had rode that train maybe three days and the third day I hopped off, I walked across the street, and I knocked the tapes all off his table. Got back up on the train, had to use another token. I had to use another token, I'll never forget that, but I was done. When I got on the train I was like, "Oh, my God. This man could have hit me. I could have been arrested. Anything could have happened". But it was the rage. It was that unmitigated rage.
(NEWS CLIP) R Kelly is batting to save his name. Police are investigating a video allegedly showing the R&B singer having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
Kenyette Barnes: They watched it because it was a girl. Because it was a girl. So, that, to me, lets me know, when I hear these guys that are now my contemporaries in their 40s and 50s that are like, "Well, let's not be so hasty". I'm like, "Brother, shut up. You were probably the one sitting up there watching that tape, so be quiet".
Kenyette Barnes: Unfortunately, the primary oppression to our girls is sexual. And sexual oppression is generally intraracial. And by discussing that, we are indeed turning the lens on our black men and we're going to have to unpack all that. We've got to unpack it. As simple as that.
Kim Crenshaw: I thought about you when I read that Kim Foxx had issued the arrest warrant for Robert Kelly and I just thought, "I need to get on the phone as soon as possible". So, where were you when you heard the news? Tell us a little bit about your reaction.
Kenyette Barnes: When I heard the news, I was actually traveling and my notifications just went haywire and I'm like, "What is going on?" They just started wilding out. I was like, "Okay, let me log on". And that's when I found out about the grand jury indictment.
Kim Crenshaw: And, just to put a spin on it, if I recall correctly, it took six years after-
Kenyette Barnes: Yes.
Kim Crenshaw: R. Kelly was initially indicted before he went to trial. I think, in this instance, it was, what? Six weeks after the airing of Surviving R. Kelly, to the indictment? So, six years, six weeks.
Kenyette Barnes: Right.
Kim Crenshaw: So, what made the difference, obviously, between those huge differences?
Kenyette Barnes: I think the difference is that, in 2002, when that tape came out, the first respond to the black community was to bootleg it and sell it and watch it. And although there were those of us who were on the ground, just outraged about it, we didn't have the ground swell of activism on a large scale, on a crossover scale, as we do now.
And I think what has happened with a combination of Tarana Burke's work and dream hampton's work with Surviving R. Kelly ... And I will also say, Mute R. Kelly, is that we've watched a seismic shift in how people began to talk about this. But even in that space, you still have detractors. And I guess, we coul