I recall wearing my hair down to school, it was long and curled. At the front half I had a ponytail and the back half was loose. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t cute!
I walked into school and one of the teachers, a Black lady, in a Catholic school full of nuns, said to me, hands in her hip…”Your hair is so pretty, but you know you look fast like that.” I was all of ten, and I was certain I wasn’t “fast” and didn’t look a day over ten. So I kept walking to my locker. I have a history of ignoring tomfoolery.
… but it was something I heard more than once. At my friend’s sweet sixteen with my fitted above the knee dress. Once from a friend of my mother’s after her daughter did my hair in a style other than braided ponytails. And in reference to my Black girl friends throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Likewise we were all the subject of far to many grown men’s attention from as low as the age of eight until adulthood. I assure you, the lot of us were very innocent and neither sexually suggestive or sexually active.
Our mere presence is sexualized.
The number of times I heard remarks about how my and my peers looks, bodies, hair, or long legs (they certainly weren’t talking about me because I’m the Corgi of the group) were going to bring attention, boys, and trouble. And we all know trouble was code for anything from attention to pregnancy in Black culture.
Trust, at 10, I was still into Jem and the Holograms. Sex was the last thing I was interested in. But black girls are still fighting Jezebel stereotypes. So there’s that.
My senior year of high school Aaliyah, the singer, and R. Kelly were alleged to have gotten married. I knew she was just two years my junior, and I couldn’t imagine that could be true… until Vibe magazine published the marriage certificate. The next time I saw Aaliyah on tv, on the Soul Train Awards, the crowd boo’ed her, but older Black women yelled and screamed whenever R. Kelly took the stage.
Had she not wore her hair down, over her eye, and crop tops… he would have never bothered her, but she enticed him with her fast ways.
That seemed to be the consensus. This girl was being a teenager, and he was being an adult sexual abuser. Yet she was seen as the problem. So much so, when she was finally separated from him by her family, she suspended her music career for awhile and he kept gaining popularity. He was more popular… WITEF?!??? How does that happen?
Well… Malcolm was correct.
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” -Malcolm X
This sick and twisted bastard was able to continue, as a free man, doing this to countless Black teenage girls. Countless. These girls, some of whom were basically handed over to him in exchange for fame and others of whom snuck to him were victimized well into adulthood. He psychologically wooed them, made them feel special, then groomed them, isolated them, and abused them physically and sexually for years. Abuse is this very complicated mind fuck. It’s not always as easy as walking away…
But the blame rests in adults. Black men and women who helped this man mistreat and sexually abuse these children, their parents, and fans. You cannot separate the man from his artistry… as a creative, I can assure you that all of who I am is poured into my art. Michael wanted to Heal the World. James wanted to get on the scene like a sex machine. Actors talk of becoming the characters they play. Poets speak of being able to feel the words emanate from their fingers. Dancers bodies translate how the music makes them feel. Stop that bullshit excuse. The bottom line is that, Black adults were complicit in his abuse by watching a video of him having sex with a child then supporting him buying his music and concert tickets. Nope. Children are to love, not fuck. Ever! Anyone who does is a criminal and I don’t want shit they are selling.
“We all noticed but no one cared, because we were Black girls.”-Mikka Kendall
Here is the real. Sexual abuse is wrong and damages people for life. He was abused and as a result abused children and women for sport. See how that works. Black girls deserve to be protected. They deserve to maintain their innocence and share their bodies on their terms. They also deserve to be seen first and foremost as young girls, children, despite the way their bodies curve, their hair tumbles from their heads, or the length of their legs. They deserve to explore their existence and sexuality in ways that are healthy and promote their happiness. Most importantly, they deserve to grow into the women they were intended to be, not the one you label them as because they have hips or he robs the innocence from because he has a problem.
So, let’s vow as adults, parents, teachers, mentors to protect and speak life into Black girls, and not diminish them because of our own fears, insecurities, and judgements. Let’s assure her…
She doesn’t have to sit on Uncle Horace’s lap.
She isn’t fast because she’s growing up and exploring her beauty, body, and sexuality.
She should alert an adult immediately if she is touched anywhere that makes her feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
She is worthy of and will receive protection.
She does not ever deserve to be spoken to, touched, or treated in a sexualized manner.
We will crack anyone’s skull who attempts to violate her.
As for R. Kelly, I hope he rots in jail. And we owe Aaliyah , and every little Black girl we dismissed as asking for it or being complicit in their abuse, mistreatment, disrespect, or sexualization, an apology.