2001 was one of the most shocking years in pop culture and history. Aaliyah was killed in a car crash twenty years ago, in August, a shy month before the tragedy of 9 11 happened. The rising star was only 22 and did not survive the injuries. Though younger at the time, in our pre-teen years, no one could forget the chilling details as both Aaliyah and thousand innocent Americans had died in tragedies involving planes, the same year. At the time, in the late 90s, early 00s, the media were still dominated by TV and the newspapers. The Internet was not as global as it was. The life of Aaliyah, had it had happened in our era, would have taken social media by storm. But not twenty years ago. The rumors involving R.Kelly and her marriage to him, though underrage, was a matter of laughter for us. It was exciting. No one realized how Aaliyah was a black victim of the industry, exploited by its horrible machine and failed from a young age.
Though always ahead of her time even sonically and visually, Aaliyah and her team were also trapped in the old codes of Hollywood and celebrity management. If the British Royal Family managed to hide so many secrets while escaping the Internet, though a wealthy, powerful, white colonial family, black artists faced a bigger pressure as they had, somehow, no other choice but to maintain a certain perfection. Back in 2002, the RNB legend Brandy Norwood was caught in the same web of lies as she faked a marriage to hide her pregnancy from an alleged married black man. If such issue would not even be perceived as a scandal right now, black celebrities were still obsessed with the image of perfection while the worst could often take place behind the scenes.
We saw Aaliyah being groomed before our eyes and we laughed about it. Her pain, hidden by her team, was our source of enjoyment through celebrity gossip.
Worst. We enabled her family, including her mother, to further secrecy behind her death. Though she was made to, as a mother, to protect her daughter from the danger of the industry, Diana Haughton did the contrary and rather sold her daughter out from a young age, as a way to live through her and give life back to her own failed singing career. She crafted Aaliyah from the beginning, even from the womb. As soon as she knew she was expecting a baby girl, she went on to look for a specific name as she manifested a destiny for her Aaliyah. Then, that same mother had no issue claiming her daughter was “sexual” and had “sex appeal” when she was only ten. The R. Kelly episode was no accident at all. A well-known predator who had also been sexually abused by his own sister when he was eight, Robert was problematic from the start and yet no one did nothing to protect that child she was.
R.Kelly became an abuser it is true. And though everyone is throwing stones at him, his sister is still walking by freely and will escape judgment, even if she is the main responsible monster for him turning into a monster. Aaliyah was a child through whom her desperate mother attempted to live to enjoy fame. She was not protected neither and was crafted within the same machine of black hypocrisy many others followed to dissimulate all “shameful” issues or taboos such as homosexuality, substance abuse, depression, affairs or even, in this case, sexual abuse.
Today, twenty years after her death, Aaliyah is still being betrayed by her own family through the omertà, and dictatorship of secrecy. They do not remain silent out of desire to protect their privacy but they do so, so as to protect their own family secrets and cover their actions and failures. The hypocritical black machine has yet claimed another victim.
Aaliyah can not be given justice since no one really knows her. This would also explain why the audience and the younger generations never really clicked with her at all for she never let anything transpire and was also focused on dissimulating what really bothered her. The estate wants Aaliyah to be portrayed as being a perfect angel and being, when she was not as she was rather attracted to darkness and edgy things. She was not a shining child, but a broken pop star who was drawn to darkness after years of abuse from the industry. One can not dissociate Aaliyah from the struggle of her past. Abuse can happen, it is true, but the silence of her family reveals, once again, like in many Black American and African families, how many of us would have no issue exploiting silence to cover their backs.
We will never really know who was Aaliyah.
May she rest in peace
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