A screenshot from the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries on Lifetime

From the moment I started developing hips and busts around age 12, the onus was on me to protect my body from men. It’s something my mom and granny had been preparing me for since I was a young girl. All through grammar school, I couldn’t spend the night at the houses of friends with older brothers. And sometime around 4th grade, my granny sat me down and told me that I was getting too old to sit on the laps of my dad, uncles, and mom’s boyfriend.

I didn’t fully understand why society focused so much on Black girls protecting their own bodies. But after watching the premiere of Surviving R. Kelly on Lifetime last night, I now see the dangers in those one-sided teachings.

Surviving R. Kelly is a six-part docuseries chronicling the R&B singer’s nearly 30 years of abuse through the eyes of his survivors, ex-wife, employees, family members, childhood music teacher, psychologists, and more.

There were so many personal stories and analyses that stood out to me while watching Thursday night’s two-hour premiere. But the comment that haunted me the most came from R. Kelly’s older brother, Bruce Kelly.

“Robert likes younger women,” Bruce Kelly said in his interview from prison. “That’s just a preference. Everyone has preferences. So what is the big deal? What is the big issue with my brother?”

I felt ill watching him say this proudly, with ease, on national television. I thought back to my girlhood, and realized that his sick reasoning is why Black mothers are wary about their little girls spending the night at people’s houses. It’s this twisted thinking that sparked our grandmothers’ conversations about us sitting on men’s laps.

Teaching Black girls to protect our bodies from men like R. Kelly, and his entourage of enablers who see his affinity for Black girls as a preference instead of predatory behavior, is a survival skill; one passed down from mother to daughter since white men first fetishized and preyed on Black girls during slavery.

Somehow, though, the person to blame anytime a Black girl is swept up into the dark unyielding world of men like R. Kelly, and his circle of enablers, is the Black girl herself. She was fast, they say. She wore revealing clothing, they say. She didn’t have no business talking to no grown man, they say. She didn’t do a good job protecting her body, so she eventually got what she deserved. It’s this societal pressure on Black girls that made me ashamed of my own body once my breasts started forming at 12 years old. In hindsight, it’s unbelievable and completely irresponsible for our society to place the responsibility of checking predatory men on Black women and girls. Meanwhile, pop culture, and our own families, celebrate and praise men based on the number of girls and women they’re able to bag.

I didn’t grow up on the South Side of Chicago, but the whispers of R. Kelly pulling up to Kenwood High School to scoop up Black girls made it all the way Out West too. So when R. Kelly’s infamous sex tape hit the streets in 2002, I remember not being shocked to hear that he was having sex, and urinating on, a 14-year-old girl. [R. Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts of child pornography]. I was in 7th grade. I had friends who downloaded the tape through sites like Napster and Limewire. I had overhead adults, who purchased the tape from their neighborhood bootleg man, debating on whether that was even R. Kelly in the video. I also remember later watching The Boondocks episode from 2005 where Riley tapped into the same mindset of many Black people who followed the R. Kelly sex trial: “If I started peeing on you right now, would you a) smile and ask for more, or b) move the hell out the way?”

As a society, why do we blame Black girls and women for any sexual abuse or assault they’ve survived? How is it that we dismiss them as “fast girls” instead of pointing to men and their predatory behavior? Why is there so much focus on teaching Black girls how to protect themselves from men, but there isn’t any focus on teaching Black boys to be decent human beings? How is it that people now are seeing the depths of R. Kelly’s mental and physical abuse, and still can find reason to blame Black women and girls?

These questions came to mind during parts one and two of Surviving R. Kelly. I don’t have the answers. We may not get definitive answers by the end of the series, but at least the conversation on how to better treat our Black girls has begun.

Parts three and four air tonight on Lifetime at 9/8c.