OPINION: What ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Says About How We Value Black Girls

Monday, January 14, 2019 || By ShaRhonda Dawson || OPINION || @maywoodnews

Featured image: Protesters gather outside of R. Kelly’s Chicago studios on Jan. 12. | Alexa Rogals

As the black mother of two black girls, I am always acutely aware of how black girls are harmed in this society. However, there are some moments in America when it is amplified that me and my girls are truly at the bottom of the totem pole of those deemed in need of protecting.

This weekend, the Lifetime docu-series, Surviving R. Kelly dug deep into R. Kelly’s alleged predatory behavior and abuse of mostly black high school girls, some of whom he met inside Chicago’s Kenwood High School, where he attended.

I went to high school in Chicago in the 1990s — peak R. Kelly — and remember his predatory behavior being normalised. I have to believe that if so many students were aware of R. Kelly’s hitting on high school girls, surely at least some school adults would have been aware, as well. Yet, nothing was done to protect us.

Just to be clear, the abuse and neglect of black women and girls isn’t new, and it isn’t unique to schools. Since the founding of America, black women and girls have been taught that our bodies don’t belong to us — that we are not human. While enslaved, black women and girls were raped in massive, and uncounted, numbers by their slave owners and any white male who desired access.

The proof of this history can be found in the DNA of black people today. The New York Times reported on a recent study that showed the average black American’s ancestry is 82 percent African, 1 percent Native American and 17 percent European. Researchers estimate the European DNA was introduced in the decades before the Civil War, as a result of white male slave owners raping black women slaves.

There is a cultural component to the sexual abuse of black girls. Black girls aren’t considered children. They are made into little adults and hypersexualized. They are considered “fast,” assumed older than their real age and thought to be less-innocent than their white peers. They asked for it, by wearing the wrong clothes. But children are not adults. Children cannot consent to adult relationships. Black girls do not ask to be abused.

Sharita Galloway, of Oak Park, talks to the demonstrators about the importance of speaking out on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, during a Mute R. Kelly protest outside of his studio on Justine Street in Chicago. | Alexa Rogals

I can’t help but wonder, if a popular white artist was preying on high school girls at New Trier or Naperville, would he have been allowed to get away with it for so long? If R. Kelly had targeted middle-class white high school girls instead of mostly poor, black high school girls, would he have gotten away with it? As a member of that generation, I can say Chicago Public Schools failed us.

I wonder what is being done to protect the girls in our Proviso schools, because, there is no doubt in my mind there are still predators targeting black girls at Proviso East, Proviso West and PMSA, knowing that they are easy prey.

Yet, as a parent, I continue to hope that my black daughters will have a different experience. Here are a few things that we can do to protect black girls in our school and our community. 

Seeing black girls as children starts with the basics, like ending misogynist name-calling. North West, Blue Ivy, and Quvenzhané Wallis have been constantly attacked for what they look like. Even to the point of being called a “cunt.” They are children. They deserve to have their innocence protected.

Seeing black girls as children also relates to school discipline. Children are allowed to make mistakes. Children are allowed to have “attitudes” without extreme punishment. Unfortunately, for many black girls, they are not allowed to make mistakes.

Black women celebrate black girls with the hashtag, #BlackGirlMagic. The hashtag has become popular in our circles, but not in the mainstream. Why is it only black women who are celebrating black girls? Let’s highlight more black women in schools, in science, in literature and in life. Celebrate black hair. Celebrate black girl names. Celebrate black girls’ strength and resilience.

Black girls who survived R. Kelly’s victimization were failed by all adults, including the adults in their community. As a parent of black girls, I beg us all, especially adults in our community, to do better for black girls now and start protecting, valuing and loving them now. And after we protect black girls, we can celebrate #BlackGirlMagic. VFP

ShaRhonda Dawson is a resident of Broadview. She and her husband, Brian, have two school-aged children and their family enjoy spending time at local restaurants, libraries, and taking long walks in the forest preserve. ShaRhonda’s writings can be found on her blog, sharhondatribune.com.

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