From the #MeToo movement to women coming forward to speak out against Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse to Bill Cosby’s trial for his several counts of sexual assault, people have not been shy about bringing the abuse that happens to women behind closed Hollywood doors to the light. In the past year, more women have spoken out and more celebrity men have been revealed as physical and sexual abusers. Although there is more discussion around abuse in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, something that hasn’t been prominent in the last several years, what remains constant is people’s unhinging support for abusive entertainers.
Recently, Spotify implemented a new anti-hate policy in which they claimed they would not allow music that promoted hateful content on their streaming site nor would they be promoting artists who demonstrated hateful conduct. As a result, they removed R. Kelly, a man who has been known for abusing young black women, and XXXtentacion’s, a rising rapper notorious for his domestic abuse, music from their playlists.
Spotify’s new policy soon became controversial. People felt that it was not their place to “censor” an artist’s music no matter what the artist had done. Kendrick Lamar and his Top Dawg Entertainment camp even threatened to have Lamar’s music removed from Spotify in defense of XXXtentacion’s music being removed off Spotify’s playlists. Following the backlash, Spotify backtracked and put the anti-hate policy to bed.
The controversy around Spotify’s anti-hate policy was not trivial by any means. It’s not something that we should let fall into the back of our minds unchecked. It signified how people are willing to compromise the safety of women and girls–Black women and girls in particular–all in the name of music and entertainment.
R. Kelly, despite his history of preying on young black girls and child pornography being public knowledge, has continued to sustain a relatively healthy career. He has been consistently booking and selling out shows and tours. Artists such as Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga, and many others have even collaborated with him in the past couple of years. When Spotify restricted promotional use of his music on their site, support for him doubled down. His music, despite being removed from Spotify’s promotional playlists, was streamed more than usual. His stream counts soared.
What is it about entertainment and music that seems to be more valuable than the lives and well-being of Black women and girls?
People rationalize their fandom of artists such as R. Kelly with the notion that they can “separate the artist from the art.” Question is, how can you separate an artist from their art when them and their art are inextricable? How can you separate an artist from their art when their art is largely about them as a person? R. Kelly makes light of his predatory nature towards young Black girls in his songs. He even calls himself the Pied Piper. He is well aware of his sick abusive nature yet we continue to let him thrive.
To what extent can you separate the artist from the art? At what point is enough, enough? You can try to remove an artist from the art to salvage your moral standings but to continue to engage their music is to support them. By supporting the artist’s art, you are contributing to their success and rising visibility.
Top Dawg Entertainment representatives claim that their only motive behind pulling Kendrick Lamar’s music from Spotify was to fight against “censorship.” Here’s the problem with that though: Spotify removing XXXtentacion’s music from their promotional playlists was not “censorship.” Spotify promoting an artist’s music is a privilege. It’s not a right that said artist is entitled to.
They did not remove XXX or R. Kelly’s music from Spotify altogether. They simply were not interested in using their music commercially. How is that censorship? It is also important to note that earlier this year, Kendrick Lamar publicly cosigned XXX and his recent album. Is it purely about fighting against censorship or is “censorship” simply a convenient guise being used to hide their support for XXXtentacion and his music? They haven’t spoken out about abuse towards women before but now they have so much to say when a company, within their means, is holding a domestic abuser accountable?
People are using a lot of excuses and words when they can really just say they prioritize entertainment and music over the lives of Black women and girls. In a world where it is normal for grown men to brag about “finally” seeing the humanity of women once they have a daughter, why would this be shocking?
In the last couple of years, it has become more accepting to profess one’s “love” for Black women. People are constantly hailing Black women for our supposed savior complex and strength but how true is that love when people keep prioritizing the image of straight Black men over the safety and well-being of Black women and girls?
The “love” that people claim they have for Black women is based on everything except our humanity. People base Black women’s value in our appearance–in how close we measure up to Eurocentric beauty standards. People place Black women’s value in our labor–in how much we bend ourselves so that others can stand. People base Black women’s value in everything except in who we are as people.
It takes decades to garner empathy for Black women and girls. R. Kelly has been publicly preying on young Black girls for over a decade. His victims along with people from Chicago, his hometown, have spoken out about R. Kelly’s predatory behavior toward local girls. The movement #MuteRKelly did not take off until this year and that majorly took off because male rapper Vince Staples relentlessly and publicly dug into R. Kelly for being abusive.
Black women and girls possess two identities that the world resents: we are Black and we are women. When one stands at the crossroad of two identities that are condemned and written off by the world, it is almost inevitable for people to have a lack of concern for their safety and well-being. The leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15-34 is interpersonal violence (source). Sixty percent of Black girls are sexually assaulted before the age of 18 (source).
A portion of this goes to the notion that Black women are “strong” and we are invulnerable to pain and hurt. We are typecast as these brick walls that can withstand anything. When we are actually hurt, people use the “strong Black woman” trope to delegitimize our pain. Because this trope is so deeply embedded, it is seemingly difficult for people to see Black women as victims.
Another portion of this goes to the sexualization of Black women and girls. For the longest time and even to this day, people excuse R. Kelly’s actions towards young Black girls because we demonize and guilt young Black girls for their developing bodies. We do not hold grown men, the adults seeking to take advantage of them, accountable. Oftentimes, Black girls who have been statutorily raped by older Black men are labeled as “grown,” “fast,” or “thots,”– denying them of their girlhood. This mentality is majorly why R. Kelly has been able to get away with his abusive actions for so long.
Each of these portions belong under the umbrella of objectification. Reimagining Black women as emotionless brick walls and reducing us to our bodies and sexuality is just that.
The root of misogyny is objectification. Generally people stem women’s value from shallow places such as our sexual purity, our bodies, our willingness to carry a nation on our backs, and our proximity to men. It is rarely ever about our character or personhood. It is even more severe for Black and Brown women.
Because people place our value in superficial places, their “love” for us in return is superficial. In other words: “Well, I base your value on how attractive you are so since I find you attractive I must value and love you.” When people think shallow things such as our bodies, our sexuality, and labor are the epitome of our value, they never see our value in our humanity.
When you take all of this consideration: people denying Black women and girls vulnerability, people denying Black girls their youth and Black women our womanhood, people placing our value in shallow things–it explains to a major extent as to why people choose to prioritize their entertainment over Black women and girls. Their “love and respect” for us was non-existent in the first place.
When you actually love and respect someone you do not stand to see them be disrespected and thrown to the wolves. When you actually love and respect someone, you see them as an individual with their own thoughts, feelings, and agency. When you actually love and respect someone, you will put aside music and entertainment to ensure their safety no matter how difficult it may be.
To first care about Black women and girls’ safety, you have to first truly see us as whole human beings. When you truly see someone’s humanity, you seek to make this world a better place for them. How can you do that when you are supporting people that harm them? How can you fix your mouth to say you love Black women while you let someone else rest their foot on our neck?
Music is powerful but the apathetic attitude towards Black women and girls is even stronger.