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Renée Graham

Black women are waiting for their #MeToo moment

R. Kelly.Photo illustration/ Globe Staff/Associated Press

Out of the dozens of women who have accused him of serial sexual misconduct, Harvey Weinstein has publicly challenged very few by name. He’s made an exception for actresses Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o, and Hayek believes she knows why.

“It’s a well-known fact that if you are a woman of color, people believe you less,” the Oscar-nominated actress said during a recent interview at the Cannes Film Festival. “If [Weinstein] could discredit us — [it] would be easier for the audience, the readers to not believe us — he could then maybe discredit the rest. So he went to the weakest links.”


Most of Weinstein’s accusers are white. Hayek is Mexican. Nyong’o is a Kenyan who was born in Mexico. “Women of color,” Hayek said, “are less listened to.”

Oh, we know, Salma. You know who else knows? All the black women accusing singer R. Kelly of sexual misconduct.

For more than two decades, the R&B performer has been dogged by lurid accusations ranging from his reported predilection for underage girls to running a sex cult where women are abused, manipulated, and held captive at his homes in Illinois and Georgia. (In the 1990s, Kelly was briefly married to singer Aaliyah. She was 15; he was 27. Her parents had the union annulled.)

Still, Kelly, who was acquitted in 2008 on multiple counts of child pornography, has been largely immune to the backlash that took down such men as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Kevin Spacey. Ever so slowly, momentum may be shifting. Buoyed by the #MuteRKelly and the Time’s Up movement, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music have removed Kelly’s music from its curated playlists. (His music is still available on these services, just not in its playlists.)


His recent concert in Greensboro, N.C., was greeted by protesters — but also devoted fans.

“Sometimes, some storms ain’t gonna stop,” Kelly said to his audience. “As long as my fans are calling for me, I’m gonna be on that stage, singing these songs.”

His fans don’t care about the allegations as much as they care about whether he performs “Step in the Name of Love” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” That cavalier attitude allows Kelly’s career to thrive despite allegations from numerous women. Unfortunately, they belong to a demographic on whom society has routinely turned its back — black girls and women.

Even within communities of color, women who speak against abusive men are considered traitors, as if defending themselves makes them pawns for racists. It happened to Anita Hill when she testified during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in 1991 and, more recently, to singer Kelis. When she talked about violence she allegedly suffered at the hands of her former husband, rapper Nas, some on social media were more upset about her speaking out — telling tales out of school — than what she says she endured.

That’s why Kelly’s claim that allegations against him amount to “lynching” is as malicious as it is provocative. He is indicting black women in a hate crime against a black man, making their justified reactions worse than his actions.

Chicago journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has been writing about Kelly’s alleged sexual misdeeds for nearly 20 years, has interviewed many of his alleged victims. He recently said, “I don’t think America knows or cares to know the black victims of Kelly, except for Aaliyah. Which should have been enough.”


It wasn’t, and still isn’t. Weinstein is a pariah because many of his accusers are famous white women. Kelly’s alleged victims are discredited by their blackness. In a nation primed to doubt women who accuse men of sexual misconduct, women of color aren’t even considered worthy of the time it takes to doubt them. Instead, they are ignored. For Kelly’s accusers, the so-called reckoning remains on hold as they continue to wait for their long-delayed #MeToo moment.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham