Last weekend, I was a panelist on Congresswoman Juanita McDonald's (D-CA.) forum on differentiating between the presidential candidates. The event was part of the Congressional Black Caucus' (CBC) annual legislative conference. Later that day, in the lobby of the D.C. Grand Hyatt, attendees were curious about my being a black conservative.
For a moment, the question hung in the air winning over more than a few casual observers. One side began screaming about whether the Republican Party is sincere about reaching out to black voters. The other side started screaming about how the Democrats take blacks for granted and offer little in return for our loyalty. Both sides stalked off in opposite directions. That's the way street debates usually go.
Later, I attended Congressman Chaka Fattah's (D-PA.) forum on how the transactional tax would spur the economy. But the undisputed highlight was the following morning's prayer breakfast featuring pastor Thomas from Baltimore and gospel legend and 13-time Grammy winner, Shirley Caesar. Pastor Thomas's deep baritone washed over the audience as Caesar began to sing. In her voice, one hears faith. Members of the audience began to clap their hands and stomp their feet. Some shook, others cried. All 7,000 participants felt the word of God.
So far so good.
Then word began to spread about how the alleged child rapist had sung the night before. Tucked away on the third floor of the convention center, the CBC wives had gathered for a private show. The event had been billed as "an evening with the Whispers," a legendary R&B group. But when the lights dimmed, R. Kelly strutted on stage and began singing "Bump N Grind."
Some of the CBC wives howled and cheered. Others stomped off in protest the moment R Kelly took the stage.
In 2002, R Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography after a video that allegedly depicted him having sex with a 13-year-old girl made the rounds. Shortly thereafter, a Florida detective discovered a digital camera that authorities say showed Kelly engaging in sexual activity with a minor. The camera was wrapped in a towel and stuffed in a duffel bag in Kelly's residence. That was good for 12 more counts of child pornography, though Kelly's lawyers are trying to get the charges dismissed because the authorities were searching specifically for drugs, not child porn. Quite a defense, eh?
Apparently, R Kelly had called the CBC wives and begged them to help resuscitate his flagging career. They did him - and by the looks of it, themselves - a favor by throwing him a bone.
Of course, not everyone was so enthused about hiring an alleged child rapist to play at an event dedicated to celebrating positive strides in the black community. "The CBC wives don't need to lend their credibility to a pedophile," demanded one angry audience member.
Rightly so. The CBC weekend is supposed to be about highlighting progress in the black community. Does R Kelly really fit the bill? Has he presented a positive image of a person of color? Has his behavior shed a positive light on black American culture? Are these the qualities best embodied by our brothers and sisters? Of course not. And therein lies the real problem. By hiring R Kelly for the CBC weekend, the wives nourished one of the most damaging stereotypes about black leadership - that we're so busy moralizing about brotherhood, that we cannot find fault with our own - even the child rapists among us.
Thankfully, the leadership doesn't always speak for the people. Half the attendees at the CBC weekend concert walked out the moment R Kelly came on stage. That unfortunate silence you hear is no one talking about it.