Last week, Leigh Davenport, the Editorial Director for Hello Beautiful, wrote an op-ed titled “No Shame: I’m Still An R.Kelly Fan And This Is Why…” detailing why she supported R. Kelly‘s music. But after reading the Village Voice piece that resurfaced the extensive reporting of former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis outlining the explosive child pornography allegations against the singer, Davenport is re-evaluating her stance.
I found her piece quite troubling when she asked me to share it with our audience at NewsOne last week, but published it anyway in the name of allowing her to share her voice like any other. To be clear, I have listened to some of R. Kelly’s music over the past few years and downloaded a few of his tracks, so I do not want to be hypocritical and suggest I was in the R.Kelly protest camp from the very jump–I certainly wasn’t. Like Davenport, I was very ignorant of the severity of his alleged acts against under-aged girls until recently, but have since erased all of his music from my iTunes accounts.
I engaged Davenport in a chat about how she now feels “shocked” and “horrified” after reading the Village Voice piece and we thought it would be helpful to publish what we discussed. What we hope the thread will reveal is that we all have the ability to grow and that no one is above being ignorant of the facts–no matter how obvious the truth is to those with whom we initially disagree. Moreover, if we are to help encourage R. Kelly fans reconsider their stance on the singer like Davenport and I have, we need to create a safe space where that can happen.
(A few editor’s notes: Barring a few changes for clarity and readability, we have preserved the exact wording of the chat to maintain the integrity of the conversation. If we added additional remarks, you will see them in parenthesis or brackets.)
TERRELL STARR: You wrote an op-ed piece, explaining why you support R.Kelly’s music (not necessarily him as a person) and you have been on the receiving end of much social media vitriol as a result. But since reading the the Village Voice piece I sent you outlining the alleged acts against the singer, I wonder if your position has changed since you wrote the article?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: It has definitely. First, let me say, the social media backlash was fine and expected. It was an unpopular opinion. However, as I stated in the article, I was, perhaps willingly, quite ignorant to the details of R. Kelly’s offenses. After reading the VV story, I was shocked and horrified. I had no idea to the extent of the accusations and documented crimes committed against young girls.
TERRELL STARR: What was most shocking about the piece that “horrified” you?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Much like DeRogatis mentioned, my knowledge of the acts was limited to the sex-tape and the Aaliyah marriage. I had no idea there were dozens of girls. I was horrified to hear about people being paid off. Shocked that he was paroling high school classes and that dozens of young girls lives had even reported crimes in the first place. Even though I’m from Chicago I was a teenager when this was going on. And I admit, that as an adult, I’ve never done any additional digging. Honestly because ignorance is bliss, and I enjoyed being a fan of R. Kelly’s music.
TERRELL STARR: First, you are not alone (including me), when you say you like his music. Many admire his genius. But, like me and others who know the full extent of his alleged crimes, “enjoyed,” as you typed, is where we are in regard to being fans. But you mentioned in your piece how you hosted a party for R.Kelly here in NYC and how you enjoyed the games and lead up to his arrive and performance. How do you reflect on that night now?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Honestly, I’m conflicted. It was a really fun night. And like I said, this was a room full of professional, educated women who are excited to enjoy music that has been definitive throughout their lives. [At the time] I didn’t see him as a “monster” as DeRogatis calls him and so it’s hard for me to be in that moment and feel differently after the fact.
TERRELL STARR: Fair enough. But, let me ask you this: Why do you think so many people still adore R.Kelly, even after the full extent of his alleged acts have been resurfaced? Do you wish some of those women you had such a great time with would read hat VV piece? Well let me say adore his music…
LEIGH DAVENPORT: I think a lot of people, like me, and this is to me bigger than R. Kelly, this applies to tons of other artists who have personal controversies, people have a really hard time negotiating separating the “art” from the “person”. R. Kelly’s music is good. People like it. And, if plausible deniability is the only way to stay a fan, I think people would rather take that option so that they can enjoy the music as opposed to have to carry the real and heavy burden of holding him accountable by not supporting his work. Beyond that, what he is accused of is SO horrific, that emotionally, it’s just a place people rather not go. It’s a lot easier to sing “Your Body’s Callin,” than [to] advocate on the behalf of sexually terrorized voiceless Black girls.
TERRELL STARR: Very true and to add to your point, many artists have been accused of terrible acts. Some of them have been convicted. Many bring up Michael Jackson, for example. But here is where I think he and R.Kelly are not in the same ballpark. Yes, MJ (allegedly) has a very sordid history of being suspiciously close with young boys. But, for one, many of the boys he had a relationship (with) were brought to his house after the child allegations were made. Also, MJ denied the charges, although he settled many of the cases. (Which many would consider an admission of guilt) He also went on TV and in interviews and explained himself. Whether you believed him is your choice. R.Kelly, however, does not even touch the subject. In fact, he responds with flippant arrogance. Or, in the case of his interview with Big Tigga, brushed off the question with a football analogy.
[In part, R. Kelly said: “Well I feel like I got the football, man, I’m running towards the touchdown and stopping and looking back, mess around, I’ll get tackled,” he said. “And I also want my fans and everybody out there to know that I really appreciate everybody’s support from the very beginning of my career. But as you know, when you get on top of anything, it’s very windy up there.”]
LEIGH DAVENPORT: I mean I’m not sure how to really parallel the two. I absolutely adore Michael Jackson’s music as well. He’s been accused of being a child molester and many people adamantly believe that. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I know “Off The Wall” is a damn good album. Yes, he apologized, but that doesn’t mean he is or isn’t guilty. R. Kelly is arrogant. His music is arrogant, it makes sense that he responds in line with that persona. Michael Jackson is a soft-spoken man who desperately wanted to be understood, and so his apology is in line with the man we came to understand him to be.
TERRELL STARR: Very true. And, by the way, I wasn’t absolving MJ from the possibility that he was molesting those kids. But when you distinguish the two men, which you did very accurately, I wonder if you omitted something. Like the fact that any man, regardless of who he is, has a moral obligation to defend himself against alleged acts against children. Who are virtually defenseless.
LEIGH DAVENPORT: If they’re guilty, does the attempt at defending it even matter?
TERRELL STARR: We are having a discussion about our moral duty in light of the allegations. That we are having this conversation and you have since had a change of heart about your piece proves that it matters…
LEIGH DAVENPORT: I’m not sure if R. Kelly denying his actions on a 20/20 special would make a difference to me.
TERRELL STARR: Yeah, me either, especially in light of the charges. And he doesn’t seem to have suffered the consequences of addressing these issues which leads me to another point the Sun-Times writer made [in the Village Voice piece]: “Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are “bitches, hos, and gold-diggers,” plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point : one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different.No, it was young black girls and all of them settled. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn’t have a chance.” When you see these words, what do you think and feel? Especially since so many black women support him?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: It’s painful because it’s true. And the reality is, if this writer wasn’t so haunted by this story, so many of us, including me, would never really know about these girls and what they’ve gone through. You can’t speak up for invisible people. And with out DeRogatis’ reporting, these girls would be invisible. That’s a really hard thing to digest. It makes me sad for our girls. We only know about their victimization in this case because [R. Kelly] is famous, but it happens on such a larger scale. I’m not sure if the White woman comparison holds up because of the racial implications of any Black man victimizing a White woman, but I do think it says a whole lot about the lack of regard for Black female bodies. That’s a scary and hard truth.
TERRELL STARR: Well, when I mentioned Black women, I meant to ask whether you think many of them may have the same lack of regard for “black bodies” given the VV piece?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: How so? Meaning they don’t care even with reading the piece?
TERRELL STARR: Without (reading the piece). It would not be fair to say with, as I have only spoken to you about it. I know it’s not necessarily a fair question but I am just putting it out there because of the personal nature of his acts and that you mentioned that the women with whom you partied are educated and professionals (being”educated” and “professional,” which I know are subjective words, assumes they should know better than to support someone so blindly)?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Oh I think that’s an unfair assertion.
TERRELL STARR: Please explain…
LEIGH DAVENPORT: There’s no way to presume that any of these women were well versed in the details that were spelled out in the VV article from a memory of 15 years ago. I am professional and educated, that doesn’t mean I’m an expert in the R. Kelly trial. I think the Sun-Times reporter very accurately diagnosed that so many people are just completely unaware of what he knows. A lot of us thought is was just this “one girl” and this “one tape” and he was acquitted so, leave well enough alone. And again, I think there is an active willingness on behalf of fans to not have to separate from their icons. But I don’t think that en mass, Black women disregard the value of Black female bodies.
[Terrell's note: After looking at the previous paragraphs, I have come to regret my focus on Black women without discussing how Black men are equally as guilty of supporting R. Kelly.We are just as responsible for valuing Black women and young girls and I should have acknowledged that in the chat]
TERRELL STARR: It’s good that you mentioned that. Wanted to get that out of the way. But you mentioned that you were ignorant to the full extend of his acts before writing the piece. In addition to this chat we will publish, do you feel moved to let your large audience at HB know that your position has changed? And if you do, what will you tell your readers?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Of course. I stated very openly that if I had to eat-internet-sh*t, I would. And so, I do. [This is the eat-sh*t round one]. I plan on publishing this on HB and adding a clear introduction to the conversation explaining my stance. Like I said it my first piece, I don’t believe that anyone has to be or think one way permanently. I was pretty sure at some point I would have to address this issue again. I just didn’t expect it to be a whopping three days later!
TERRELL STARR: That’s the power of knowledge and information!
LEIGH DAVENPORT: As I said, we don’t live in a Black & White world, and the gray area requires dialogue, conversation, learning and evolving. I’m fine with growing up in front of my audience. It’s my own personal truth. I predicated a lot of my first opinion on ignorance. I realized and tried to make it quite clear I knew I was living in a glass house.
TERRELL STARR: You (including me) are not alone in the growth process. So, what are you gonna do with all of that R.Kelly music you have downloaded?And photos of him from that party (if you have any)?
Oh and did you see this new R.Kelly petition going around? http://www.change.org/petitions/bk-nation-petition-do-not-support-r-kelly-and-sexual-violence-in-any-form. It was started by Kevin Powell
(Terrell’s Note: I’ve singed the petition and encourage others to do the same!)
LEIGH DAVENPORT: I didn’t see the petition yet. Those are decisions I still have to make. I just read the article a couple of hours ago!
TERRELL STARR: Fair enough. You are disgusted by the man but still attached to his music, I guess? I think that is a normal feeling.
LEIGH DAVENPORT: I think it is. And I think it would be dishonest to act like that isn’t a hard thing to reconcile. The internet would like me more if I said otherwise. But I try to stay honest.
TERRELL STARR: I still think of some of his music even now at the same time being disgusted by him. “I wish” and “I believe I can fly” are beautiful songs and I love them. I am in the same struggle as you.”Reality” is my all-time R.kelly song. But URG. I can’t listen to it again knowing what I know (about the extent of the child porn charges).
LEIGH DAVENPORT: If it was easy, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Especially being from Chicago and having so many memories connected to the music. But I realize obviously that I certainly cannot financially support or encourage someone who rapes and victimizes young Black girls. And like many people have pointed out listening to the sexual nature of his songs with the image or concept that he might be talking about a teenager is repulsive. So, there’s that additional layer.
TERRELL STARR: Yes, you are correct. I think when people see this chat, they will see how we are both conflicted about this man in regard to our emotional attachment to his music., yet knowing we have to distance ourselves from it emotionally. It’s getting late, so let’s wrap up with a few more questions, starting with what will be the title of your follow up piece? any idea? running titles or themes?
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Wow. I have decided yet, maybe “Well…this is embarrassing!” No. I don’t know. “Sort of Shamed…” I’ll come up with something good.
TERRELL STARR: I’m sure you will. Leigh, I have to tell you that we have worked together for more than two years now and I have always respected you as a woman who truly loves the community. You are like my partner in crime in that regard. I respect you even more now and I learned a lot from this convo too and much of my ignorance has since been buried as a result of this chat. Thank you!
LEIGH DAVENPORT: Thanks for having me! I appreciate you granting me the forum to explain more and share with the readers my truth. I’m not always right, by I try to be honest. I appreciate the conversation and your willingness to engage with me.
TERRELL STARR: No doubt.