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Singer R. Kelly Reinforces Racial and Sexual Stereotypes

R. Kelly and other musicians who cultivate a thuggish persona perpetuate a sexually rapacious cardboard image of young blacks.
 
 
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Here's a bet. Accused child pornographer and sexual panderer, R. Kelly has three albums in the can ready for release. If Kelly is convicted of the multiple counts slapped against him in his trial, the albums will fly out the can fast and even faster off the store racks.

Kelly's well documented penchant for underage teens, and his boasts and taunts in his songs, topped by the very real possibility that he had sex on the homemade, smutty videotape with a very underage teen, mean little to his legions of devoted fans.

Kelly and a handful of other influential R&B singers and rappers who are rich and famous beyond their wildest fantasies and who brand themselves with a criminal, thuggish image are still very much in commercial vogue. They exult the bad actor life style, thumb their nose at the establishment, and reinforce the sexually rapacious cardboard image of young blacks.

Kelly, and the others, know that the record industry can and will deftly parlay their sexual outlandishness and defiance into millions in record sales. Kelly brashly seized on the commercially prurient relationship he has with the record companies in his last album, "The Champ," "Point fingers, throw stones, hate me I'm clever enough to know that the industry needs me."

It does. He owns a mansion and property in Chicago and Florida, was once spoken of in the same breath as Oprah and Michael Jordan among Chicago's wealthiest black elite.

But in the process, young black artists such as Kelly rekindle the vilest of racial and sexual stereotypes about young black males. Their artistic degradation has had especially dangerous consequences for black women. In Kelly's case the victims of his sexual vandalism, as witnessed by settlements of other lawsuits against him for having sex with underage teens, were black women. And his sexually odious singles, Feelin on Yo Booty, Bump and Grind, and Your Body's Callin' were virtual invitations to sexually trash black women.

Black women, especially young black women, have been the victims of that and much more. Homicide now ranks as one of the leading causes of deaths of young black females. A black woman is far more likely to be raped than a white woman, and slightly more likely to be the victim of domestic violence. Their assailants are not white racist cops or Klan nightriders but black males, and if they are a poor black woman, and their alleged assailant happens to be a fawned-over rap star, justice will be slow forthcoming, if at all.

The Kelly case is a glaring example of the oft times laxity in how authorities treat crimes against black women. The lewd alleged Kelly sex video was made years ago, yet it took police and prosecutors years to charge him, and six more years for him to get to trial. No charges have been filed against him in the other cases that he subsequently settled, even though sex with a minor is a felony.

Some blacks make things even worse by dredging up a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes, and abuse, to excuse the sexual abuse and the violence by top black male artists. These explanations for the misdeeds of rappers and singers are phony and self-serving. The ones who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional, poverty types.

P. Diddy, who predated Kelly as the poster boy for music malevolence, is college educated and hails from a middle-class home; he typifies the fraud that these artists are up-from-the-ghetto, self-made men.

When men such as Kelly commit, or are charged with sexual assaults, they leave a long trail of victims, cast shame and disgrace on themselves and, worst of all, reinforce the notion that young black males are indeed menaces to society.

Kelly seemed to grasp that disastrous fact. In a concert appearance with gospel singer Kirk Franklin he did a tear jerk, kind of sort of self-confessional and declared that he had given up his promiscuous, self-indulgent ways and had embraced Jesus. His Saul on the Road to Damascus epiphany was welcome, but unfortunately it was made a decade ago. And apparently from the sex tape, lawsuits, and the sex-laced braggadocio lyrics on some of his songs since then it was a very short lived epiphany.

Kelly has yet to be convicted of any crime. But his possible fall from grace almost certainly won't mean that his hitherto adoring fans that slavishly elevate him to a demigod perch and put king's ransom wealth in his bank account will desert him in droves. Informal polls show that many listeners will continue to buy his records, and some blacks have even trotted out the tired claim that he's another prominent black man victimized by whites. In fact, one fan was unceremoniously hauled out of the courthouse for haranguing the Kelly jurors. This is yet one more sign that Kelly's ill-gained notoriety is a sure fire guarantee to jingle cash registers no matter what happens in court, or maybe because of what happens in court.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

 
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