LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The hashtag #MuteRKelly started trending last week. The online campaign calls for companies to cut ties with R. Kelly, the singer-songwriter, because of allegations of decades of abuse of girls and young women. The campaign, which began last year, was recently backed by the anti-harassment coalition Time's Up and has been spearheaded by Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye. We spoke to Odeleye via Skype, and she told us they want a complete and total mute of R. Kelly.
ORONIKE ODELEYE: We don't want to hear him on the radio. We do not want him on streaming services. We do not want him booked at concerts. It's his money. It's his wealth. It's his notoriety. It's all the connections that he has in the entertainment industry that make it hard for victims to successfully prosecute him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: R. Kelly is no longer a big earner for these companies, though, in the same way that he might've been before. Do you think that that helps your case in a way because it's no longer about the money, and he has less power?
ODELEYE: Well, you know, it's always about the money. I mean, if they're earning $5 for a record company, they're going to, you know, keep them on the payroll. But he also has really deep connections that you don't necessarily see on the surface. He started a lot of people's careers. He's written songs for a lot of people. He's produced a lot of folks. You know, there are women who've been in relationships with him who have singing careers that don't want to now, you know, burn the bridge that got them to where they are. He still is very powerful within the industry. And we've been having the same block against the powers that be in terms of dropping him as we did, you know, years and years ago when people were calling for it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think black women's voices have been lost in this movement and the wider movement of #MeToo?
ODELEYE: Absolutely. I think that, you know, we are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to importance in this country. Women already have a very hard time proving these things. But black women have an even harder time because of so many stereotypes that have been going around since slavery about black women's promiscuity or our - you know, our trustworthiness or lack thereof. It's really hard when we come forward for people to just jump behind us and say, yes, I'm going to support you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Walk me through a little bit some of the responses in the African-American community. You know, I've heard some claim that R. Kelly is a successful black man that's done a lot for the black community through his music and that he is a victim of systemic racism in the way that, you know, other black people are. And so, therefore, somehow should not be held accountable.
ODELEYE: You know, I think that as a community, you know, we have some internal housecleaning to do in terms of who it is we support and who we do not support. R. Kelly is a talented musician, but he has not cured cancer. He has not built hospitals and schools in our community. What he has done is used his money and his fame to prey on young women. That's it. And so I think that that claim a lot of times can be our knee-jerk reaction because so many of our famous and successful people are targets unfairly so. But we have to be able to sift through and see who it is is - that's a valid claim against it and who it's not. And with R. Kelly, that's just not a valid claim.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say that in a statement to BuzzFeed News earlier this week, Kelly's representative said that the controversy is, quote - and I'm quoting here - "an attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture." Your reaction to that?
ODELEYE: I find that, you know, it makes me incensed that he would draw a comparison to our ancestors who were lynched. R. Kelly is being called to task for his actions. That's not a lynching. It's a reckoning, and there's a difference. And so to make that incendiary comparison is really trying to pull on the emotions of the African-American community. But it's not founded in any validity, in any logic whatsoever. He is a pariah to our community. And, honestly, if there was going to be a lynching, then we, as a community, should've done it with him a long time ago.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: National co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign Oronike Odeleye joins us via Skype. Thank you very much.
ODELEYE: Thank you.
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