Who’s Betraying Who?
R. Kelly, Sexual Violence, and The Dismissal of Black Women and Girls
Jennifer M. Gómez, Ph.D.
31 January 2019
With the release of Surviving R. Kelly—a documentary that recounts allegations of predatory sexual abuse against the R&B superstar—we find ourselves in an all-too-familiar reckoning that has recurred for at least the past 25 years with this Black man. Independent but undeniably related to the sexual abuse allegations against R. Kelly, should, I sincerely hope, be two undeniable truths we can all agree upon. First, rape is not okay. Using your power to systematically prey on teen girls is not okay. Sexually abusing anyone is unacceptable.
The second truth is where it seems we consistently get into trouble: The rape of Black women and girls does matter. It matters that this sexual violence is happening. It matters that Black males are the majority of perpetrators. It matters that 40% of confirmed victims of sex trafficking are Black females.
Their pain matters. Our pain matters.
As a Black female clinical psychologist, I have coined the term cultural betrayal to describe instances where violence happens within the Black community. I propose that within-group violence is a cultural betrayal of the solidarity between Blacks, as a diverse, but collective, people.
Nevertheless, in these discussions of sexual violence, often what is termed “betrayal” is something quite different.
Women and girls who speak out against being raped are ostracized. They are told that they are the ones who are betraying Black people by betraying Black men through speaking the truth. It creates this norm where sexual violence is de facto accepted, whereas demanding not to be raped is cause for demonization.
We must ask ourselves why.
Why, when Tarana Burke received publicity for beginning the #MeToo movement, did she get death threats, not just from Whites, but from Black men as well?
Why, when held accountable for sexually abusive behavior, do some Black men bring up lynching comparing Black women and girls they have victimized with murderous White supremacists?
Why, when Black men exhibit this behavior, do we accept it?
And finally, why—when there is already this stack of oppression against us—do some Black males turn on us through sexism, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and rape?
There are no easy answers. But there are places to begin—from racialized rape myths to the unjust justice system to the history of false accusations on behalf of White women. Moreover, dealing with racism of the depths endemic in the U.S. societal and institutional structures engenders identity development that must reckon with such oppression. Research suggests that some Black males believe the hype, and they internalize society’s racist and sexist ideologies. Some resist, knowing such bigotry exists, but take large and small steps towards Black liberation. And still others, view themselves as exceptional—unlike those other “downtrodden Blacks”—worthy of praise, while additionally adopting White patriarchal norms of female inferiority.
So, what can we do?
If Black women and girls are indeed part of the Black community:
Then we, as a community, should care when they are being systematically harmed. Even when some of the perpetrators are also members of our community.
If Black women and girls are indeed human beings who deserve to live their lives without gendered violence simply being part and parcel to what it means to be female:
Then we, as humans, should take steps to stop the violence they are experiencing. And help them, and all of us, heal.
The past decades, the past few years, and again now, we are faced with a choice: engage in White patriarchal norms that further degrade Black women and girls while sustaining the sexist, unequal, and fracturing status quo within the Black community. Or recognize that the fight for civil rights can no longer be at the expense of Black females. We must instead decide to give the weight of sexual violence the attention, sensitivity, action, and solutions it deserves. In doing so, we can foster a unified Black community that is not divided across gender lines through violence.
With consequences for R. Kelly beginning to pile up, I can only hope that this time, we choose us.
Dr. Jennifer M. Gómez, Ford Fellow, earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2017 from University of Oregon. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Wayne State University Postdoctoral to Faculty Transition Fellowship Program, researching trauma in Black youth and young adults at Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. Additionally, she is a co-editor of the upcoming special issue of Journal of Trauma & Dissociation—Discrimination, Violence, & Healing in Marginalized Communities (2018-2021). In proposing cultural betrayal trauma theory, Dr. Gómez incorporates interpersonal trauma in conjunction with discrimination to examine mental health outcomes in Black and other minority populations.
Gómez, J. M. (2019, January 31). Who's betraying who? R. Kelly, sexual violence, and the dismissal of Black women and girls. Google Blogspot. Retrieved from https://culturalbetrayalrkellyblackfemales.blogspot.com