Tarana Burke had a strong message for music fans who think they can still “Step In the Name of Love” despite R. Kelly’s two-decade history of sexual misconduct allegations: you’re supporting the abuse of young Black women and girls.
“We’re talking about a man who systematically preys on Black and Brown girls and I have people on a regular basis tell me, ‘It’s just a song,’” Burke told the audience at this year’s “I’m Woke, Now What?” panel from the ESSENCE Festival empowerment stage.
For those who believe that listening to Kelly’s music is just fine, despite the troubling accusations leveled against him, Burke put things in stark perspective.
“Every dime you put in that motherf–ker’s pocket he is using it to brutalize Black and Brown children,” she said.
Burke has been an outspoken critic of Kelly for years, and when an online campaign to encourage concert venues and fans to divest from the singer picked up steam, she amplified the movement and asked others to #MuteRKelly as well.
Still, many fans have a difficult time turning off the singer’s music, and Tamika Mallory, one of the co-founders of the Women’s March, said the inability to boycott the entities that harm members of our community or show up for protests, is a serious problem.
“A lot of people will like something that I do [on social media], and then when have a rally–which is when we’re actually taking the force to the front of the problem–and not enough people show up. So the balance is off,” Mallory said.
“What happens is sometimes people sit back and say, ‘Ok, maybe on social media it’s important, but it’s not important in terms of our bottom dollar,” she continued. “So when a young woman by the name of Chikesia Clemons can be dragged up and down Waffle House all over the place…and we can still go to the Waffle House, even though we’re sharing the video on social media, that’s a problem.”
Mallory added, “I don’t need your likes, I need your movement.”
Political strategist and commentator Symone Sanders said one reason people continue to support Kelly and others who have a troubling track record is because they aren’t being called out.
“The problem is we have yet to hold one another accountable,” Sanders said. “Because you can’t be my homegirl and walk up in the Waffle House. You can’t be with me and let R. Kelly play because we’re not going to be good.”
Burke also had a word for those who wonder why activists have gone after R. Kelly instead of a slew of other problematic artists or entertainers: Pick your battles.
“This is the battle I’ve picked. There’s always going to be somebody else, forget about what other people are doing and forget about what white people are doing,” Burke said, explaining that she’s first and foremost concerned about “the little children who look like me and my child.”
Burke also reminded the audience that the Me Too movement is for Black women and girls.
“The Me Too movement is for you and we have to stop giving up our power,” she said. “When you say it’s not yours when I’m looking you in your face and telling you I started this for you and you let white people tell you it’s somebody else’s? This is yours.”
“It’s yours if you say it’s yours,” Burke added. “Reclaim your power and stop giving it up to other people.”