Enough About R. Kelly: Signs of an Enabler

 
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I saw it. I have a feeling you did, too. I mean, really, we've all been talking about it. Can you believe it's 2019 and we're still The Surviving R. Kelly Documentary was disgusting and despicable. Though I knew how I felt about R. Kelly on a grand scale before watching, the disturbing details made it all the more definite that he's cancelled for me for good. Rumors of spikes in sales after the documentary aired have me anxious to approach things from another angle. I have no interest in giving him any more attention than he's already seen. Instead, I want to point out how easy it can be to become an enabler, not only cases as dire as this, but those in our everyday lives as well. 

To be definitive, an enabler is essentially someone who encourages or endorses hurtful or harmful behavior. While watching the doc, in addition to what could be interpreted as a history of behavior, I couldn't help but think about all the people that helped this man harbor these secrets, sometimes for decades. Again, since I already feel I've talked about him too much, I'm going to shift to everyday examples of enabling, ones that may seem small but can become extreme if we let them.

Avoiding Conversations

Insecure does such a great job of showcasing microaggressions in the workplace. I relate to Issa Dee every single day, but it especially felt as if my life mirrored one of her We Got Y’all staff meetings. I started a new job this summer. I briefly met the staff and got my keys, ready to jump in at my new gig. In my first meeting with the company, my boss called in via video chat. "I thought you were out this week," my boss said, calling me by the name of the only other black woman (black person period) on staff. Like me, she is kind, sometimes wears glasses to work, and has a beautiful head of natural hair. Unlike me, she is about two inches shorter and of a different complexion. But that day, she was me and I was her, in my boss' eyes. A coworker corrected her, thankfully, as I couldn't find the voice to tell her she'd called me the wrong black girl. "Oh, i'm sorry. Everyone's faces are so small! All I saw was the poofy hair."

CHILE. I felt my face get warm, my neck feel hot, and my head tilt to the side. Still, I’m ashamed to admit that I was so taken aback, I didn’t say one word. And it still bothers me that I didn’t. I had a responsibility to, and have met that responsibility both before and after this moment. I still don’t know why I didn’t here. The coworker I was mistaken for wasn’t in the meeting yet, and the coworker who corrected her the first time didn’t correct her a second. That moment was on me, and I dropped the ball. I never told my coworker what happened, that our professional presence was defined as “poofy hair.” That, when my boss returned to the office, her explanation - not apology - consisted of, “All I saw was the hair!,” rolling her work bag behind her to her office, and not being able to look me in the eye for a week. Don’t be like me. And don’t let people be like my boss. Instead of avoiding conversations, find ways to actively confrontpeople about things that don’t sit well with you. If we don't call people out on their ignorance, it may continue. When you can, bring it to their attention. 

Providing Resources

Has anyone seen the show My 600-Lb. Life? I’ve only seen a single episode. Actually, about fifteen minutes of one, to be honest. The episode I saw consisted mostly of a woman  completely confined to her bed, aside from help to exercise and weigh herself to check her progress. Her trainer and nurse were not her only visitors. This was about the point that I wanted to change the channel. Her life seemed so lonely, which just multiplied me wanting to watch something else. Finally, they showed a visit from her daughter, who unlocked the front door with bags of fast food in her hand. “Wait, she’s bringing her food?!,” I said. “That food?” “They all do,” said the friend that convinced me to give the show a try. And really, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Sometimes, enabling involves our love for someone leading us to do the wrong things. The daughter knew she shouldn’t have brought the food, and the mother knew she shouldn’t have eaten the food. 

Instead, they allowed each other to make not-so-great decisions, leaning on love as the reason why. I understand this. I do. I just can’t condone it. The next time you’re tempted to provide resources that help people hurt themselves, maybe provide some reasoning, to the other person or yourself.

Is this what I should be doing? Is there another way to approach this? What is best for this person in the long run? In the long run, what can I do that is best for me? According to Google, this show has seven seasons. I’m sure this example of enabling isn’t the only one. How might you be enabling people on a smaller scale? I’ve come across my next example more times than I can count. 

Making Excuses

At my last job - look, I know, I’m a “millennial” who “can’t work for anybody,” okay? Sunshine Anderson, heard it all before, I get it - I had a boss completely berate me over a minor misunderstanding. Within the first few months of working with him, I found out that this was his norm. I asked my coworkers who had been working him longer if this was their experience with him, too. I’m pretty sure he had worked there longer than I’d been alive. Turns out he did this often, with multiple people, and it was just accepted as his ‘style of leadership.’ “Don’t take it personally,” they said. “That’s just how he is.” See, enablers take the easy way out instead of hold people accountable. How long had he been getting away with this behavior? Why were people condoning it? And why was I expected to just accept it? Not encouraging people to better themselves because that’s “just how they are,” is an enabler’s excuse. Can people be "who they are" anytime they want, any day of the week? Absolutely? Do we have to accept degrading and disrespectful attitudes and actions at face value? Absolutely not. Instead of making excuses, try making some executive decisions. Time and energy are currenciesconnected to our well-being, currencies that we should be choosing how we spend. When you feel the need, switch some things around. Step up, fall back, figure some things out. And if someone questions you about it? "I decided to make a change. 'Cause that's just how I am."

I saw a lot of these habits in the people that spoke about R. Kelly last weekend. People not speaking up, people acting against better judgement, and people excusing dangerous behaviors. Though it’s not hard to fall into being an enabler, we can’t make excuses for ourselves when it happens. We have to hold people accountable, ourselves included. In the end, we have to live with ourselves. We know when we’ve done nothing, too much, or not enough. Let’s make an effort to keep our enabling to a minimum. Take hear

Alley Olivier