The erasure of Black women’s labor by white feminists must be challenged at all times and by any means necessary.  

-Josie Pickens

by Josie Pickens

This essay contains discussion of sexual abuse against Black girls and women.

To watch what has been a decades-long movement by Black women to boycott and end the career of singer, songwriter, and serial sexual predator R. Kelly finally gain national attention, significant momentum, and media coverage is surreal, to say the least.  

As someone who has written about and organized around the need to collectively boycott R. Kelly for years, I suppose I had stopped believing the day would come where he would actually be held accountable for the myriad of ways that he has used and abused Black girls and women.

RELATED: Woman breaks silence to accuse R. Kelly of underage sexual abuse

Women of color, who are part of the powerful #TimesUp Collective, are demanding that corporations who back R. Kelly as an artist—RCA Records, Ticketmaster, and Apple Music for starters—withdraw their support of the child predator and abuser.

Black women in Hollywood who are joining the #MuteRKelly movement include Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe, Ava DuVernay and Viola Davis. Oronike Odeleye, who co-founded #MuteRKelly in the summer of 2017, began this work to boycott the entertainer after reading claims that Kelly was running a “sex cult” in the Atlanta area where she lives.

Like the many organizers, activists and journalists before her—like Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement, activist Rosa Clemente,  and writer and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux, to name only a few—Odeyele knew she had to do something to protect Black girls and Black women against R. Kelly’s continued and unchecked abuse and exploitation.

I have long had knowledge about his marriage to Aaliyah when she was only fifteen years old, as well as him videotaping himself performing all kinds of dehumanizing sex acts on a fourteen-year-old girl.

However, I truly felt my call to investigate R. Kelly through the tweets of feminist writer Mikki Kendall several years ago. Kendall had grown up in Chicago and was able to recount first-hand what is was like living in a community that welcomed and supported R. Kelly’s hebephilia and ephebophilia.  

It was the investigative reporting of journalist Jim DeRogatis that stirred me even more. It is DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times who has been thoroughly documenting Kelly’s alleged sexual misconduct for nearly twenty years now. In a 2013 interview with Village Voice, he stated plainly, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women.”

I knew a personal boycott of R. Kelly would not be enough, I knew the safety of Black girls and women mattered more than we’ve been told, and I knew that mostly Black women seemed committed to actually stopping R. Kelly from continuing to harm Black girls and women. It became very clear that the work to stop R. Kelly would be the work of Black women, and Black women alone.  

In a 2015 interview with The Rumpus, I called out White feminists for their lack of inclusion regarding R. Kelly. They claimed to care about the rights and well-being of all women and girls, yet they refused to stand for the incalculable number of Black girls who he had purportedly been sexually (and otherwise) violent towards.

But white feminists ignoring Black feminists’ work to rid our community of R. Kelly is just par for the course. This ritual of ignoring feminist issues that affect Black girls and women is the reason logician and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” some thirty years ago, and why activist and writer Alice Walker created the term “womanism” even before that.  

It was not at all surprising to me when white feminist writer Nancy Goldstein, in response to R. Kelly recently being dropped by his attorney, assistant, and publicist, thanked a gang of white women for “laying the groundwork” for this moment of accountability.

Goldstein, in an attempt to clarify her first tweet congratulating white people who were not at all involved in boycotting R. Kelly, went on to say that Kelly would not be feeling the heat in the same way had it not been for highly visible actresses like Rose McGowan and Reese Witherspoon ensuring that we pay attention to all accounts of sexual abuse committed by men in the entertainment industry.  

Goldstein’s attempt to clarify her original tweet on R. Kelly came only after Black women called her out for it, making sure that she knew the women laying the groundwork for R. Kelly’s (hopefully final) fall from grace are Black women.

Although Goldstein’s faux pas could be seen as a moment of innocent ignorance, it is important to remember that the writer presents herself as a feminist journalist who is trained to dig beneath the surface of news stories. The issue is not in Goldstein’s ignorance, if we can even call it that; the issue is that white feminists refuse to study or acknowledge the work of Black feminists, often because they don’t deem Black feminist work as being of any value to them.

RELATED: Iconic Black men are falling from grace. Good.

The erasure of Black women’s labor by white feminists must be challenged at all times and by any means necessary.  

As we watch as R. Kelly is finally made to suffer the consequences for his decades-long abuse towards Black girls and women, let’s be damn clear on who has always done the work to seek justice for his victims.  

It is Black women. It has always been Black women. And white women like Nancy Goldstein better put some respect on our names.  

Josie Pickens is a professor, cultural critic, writer and griot.  Follow her on Twitter at @jonubian.