R. Kelly, roaches and flip-flops
My store is in the tiny cellar of a damp 18th-century house, which, for roaches and crickets, is the equivalent of a gorgeous ocean-view mansion. (Sidebar: crickets are just roaches that can do a round-off into your face so don’t be fooled by Disney’s version wearing the cute top hat and waistcoat. They are mean.) If my shop is closed for a few days, turning on the light sends dozens of critters scattering like a horror show.
It reminds me of when Robert Kelly’s name is mentioned in Bermuda.
Last summer, when local promoters decided that what our entertainment scene really needed was a performance by R(apist). Kelly, they were met with a resounding ‘F*** no’ from a large segment of the island’s population. I posted numerous protest messages on social media, including an old video of a slightly tipsy Kristin, angry that one of his songs was playing at a club.
After an interview with the television news and an extract from my Facebook post was quoted in the daily paper, I became one of the main voices of the anti-Kelly campaign and a target for local fans’ disappointment:
“Why do the easily offended feel like they have a right to dictate what the rest of us can or can’t do? Social justice warriors are real Debbie Downers.”
“Kristin White and Mikaela Ian Pearman are blasting him all over Facebook ... based on what exactly? We hear all sorts of things about people, does that make it true? How can we keep this man out of the country if he has no convictions? If we’re going to put people on the stop list just based on hearsay, then we would never have any visitors!”
“Gotta get her out ... she mess wit promoter investment & ppl money. Bare rassclatt bottle she tek.”
“I just wanna thank all the stupid R. Kelly haters out there for ruining it for me. I mean please just let me live ... for once a legendary R&B artist was finally coming to Bermuda and you all wanna go on & on about the allegations against him? Sigh ... Has he been charged???! I’ll wait???? No he hasn’t! You people make me sick.”
“Yo that’s bull**** because I’m sure she would still listen to ‘I Wish’ and ‘Step’ so if you going to make a stand cut him off all around ... this is what I don’t like about halfass protest ...”
“Y’all complain about Bermuda being so boring and then when an entrepreneur tries to bring something new all you do is still complain.”
“R. Kelly hasn’t been convicted of anything and even if he has since when does the Govt. or anyone else have the right to stop us as individuals choosing what we would like to do. I for one, sorry to upset anyone, would have definitely gone to see him in concert. He is a fantastic songwriter/musician/entertainer. Very disappointed.”
I get it.
You wanted to “step step, side to side” with nary a care about his decades of abusing young black women and girls. You decided to ignore that when he wrote Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, he was talking about teenaged Aaliyah. You laid down good money at horseshit.com to purchase top o’ the line blinders so you didn’t have to see that a good portion of his lyrics are about his unfettered desire to put his d*** in children.
So yeah, it’s real mug when an artist we love says or does something problematic.
But this blog post ain’t about whether to cancel Kelly or any of your other faves because the comments about “liking his music even though he’s a perv” were nowhere near as disturbing as the ones that shone a light on the island’s creepy truth. Preying on young girls is part of Bermuda’s culture.
“Hella young girls date old-ass men in Bermuda! It’s da Bermuda Way ... people be forgetting, I guess????”
“I know all the righteous grown women talking BS. They were all screwing older men [during] Clayhouse days. They got f***ed every weekend ... But I let them talk like I don’t know their whole history.” (I was pretty sure this was about me.)
“Look, just like how some guys like fat girls, or white girls or whatever type of girl, he like young girls and my daddy is 12 years older then my mom so what is he a predator too? And my mom had her first child for him at 18??”
“Remember he didn’t rape nobody ... every young girl he’s been with wanted it so stop painting him as some crazy rapist.”
“Have you ever seen a female dog on heat? She attracts male dogs from near and far ... some humans are like that, even young female humans. When she on heat, a beating or a cage cannot stop her.”
“I tell you what, young daughters today still climb out the window at night telling mom they are at So ‘N’ So’s house but all the while under age ... R Kelly is not the problem.”
“We have home-grown pedos and other inappropriate sketchy folk that we work with, socialise with every day ... somebody’s uncle probably harassing a young girl right now yet people still out drinking with him ...”
It was scary to see how many felt that, since the island is apparently littered with dudes who have a fondness for teenage girls, one more really didn’t matter. Especially if he sings our favourite line-dancing tunes.
This week Lifetime aired its docudrama Surviving R. Kelly, and, with the cellar light being switched on again, out came the cartwheeling creepy crawlies calling his victims “young h*s”, “fast lil’ girls” and lol-ing about how “girls wanna f*** old men and that’s all there is to it”.
The commentary has caused me a level of anxiety for every young girl I know, and a sense of sadness for the young girl that I was.
Bermuda, we need to examine the reality that this island has been long-stewing in a toxic soup of sexual predation. And we are shying away from exploring this because that path might lead us to uncomfortable truths about our own lives. That’s the only way to explain the sheer amount of Bermudians defending and cosigning R. Kelly on the grounds that they, too, sc***(ed) younger girls or older men.
The first time I had sex, I was 14 years old. The man was in his twenties.
Years ago, I submitted an essay about this sexual encounter to an online, creative nonfiction course. The feedback from the class was that they were uncomfortable with the flippant, dismissive tone of the piece. That, when reading about the “rape” from the “victim’s point of view”, the attempts at humour made them cringe. The use of the word “rape” shook me. I didn’t finish the course and, hell, let’s be honest ... I still have some confusing experiences to unpack. Lots of us do, but not everyone is inclined to do the messy, painful work.
Because, if we agree, that the marriage between 15-year-old Aaliyah and 27-year-old R. Kelly was predatory and more than a little icky, what does that say about our relationships? Or our parents’ and grandparents’ relationships?
Why learn about how young girls are vulnerable to sexual coercion, because then you might remember the amount of times you didn’t really want to, or didn’t know if you did, but he was older and had a car and knew just what to say?
And if you were the 26-year-old convincing the young teenage girl to give you a b*** j** in the back seat, why think about any of that, when there are “actual clear-cut cases of rape and paedophilia”?
Nope. Better to keep that door locked tight.
And, if once in a while light shines in, loudly scatter with clear attempts to deflect and escape detection. Convince everyone they maaswell put down their roach-smashing flip-flops. After all, it’s not like this sort of thing only happens here.
Plus, we can’t help that, in Bermuda, our cellars are always damp.
• Kristin White is a Bermudian writer, entrepreneur and influencer. This essay, originally titled Surviving Bermuda, has been reprinted with her permission from her blog, kristindotcom.com, which received a 2018 Best of Bermuda award