reflection: Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
TW: sexual assault, drug addiction
"The man publicly known as Korey Fields sold twenty million albums, toured around the world, and accumulated hundreds of millions of plays on radio and streaming services. During his rise to superstardom, he was also sued by at least four women for sexual misconduct, statutory rape, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, and providing illegal drugs to minors in at least three different states. We call on corporations with ties to Korey Fields's estate to insist on protecting and believing black women by proceeding with the investigation into his illegal actions. Together, let's end the devaluing of black girls and women."
In the first chapter of Tiffany Jackson’s Grown, eighteen-year-old Enchanted Jones finds herself in twenty-eight-year-old R&B superstar Korey Fields’ cream color-coordinated penthouse stained with puddles of blood. Korey is slumped on the bed, dead, and the police are knocking persistently on the door. Enchanted can’t remember who killed Korey.
What follows is a flashback to seventeen-year-old Enchanted Jones before Korey Fields. Before Korey, Enchanted is a Black girl with a shaved head and “one of ten black students” attending a predominantly white high school. A Black girl in love with swimming, mainly in the ocean with her family, but also on her high school’s swim team. A Black girl who watches over her younger siblings so that her parents can work hours to afford their children’s school tuition. She is a Black girl who loves Disney movies.
And she is a Black girl talented at singing with dreams of making it big.
When Enchanted’s closest – and really, only – friend, Gab, tells her about a singing audition, Enchanted tricks her mom into driving her. Korey Fields, world-famous R&B singer, is at the audition, sitting behind the judges, watching as the girls, including Enchanted, perform their songs.
Backstage, Korey makes conversation with Enchanted, inviting her to one of his shows. Before Enchanted leaves, he asks her one pointed question: “How old are you?” Enchanted is honest: “Seventeen.”
Like all abusers, Korey doesn’t start out bad. Their relationship begins arguably innocently. In fact, Korey tells Enchanted to bring her parents to his show. Korey is just inviting a fan to his show, right? No big deal? But at the show, Korey secretly gives Enchanted his number: “Just...don’t tell anyone, aight? It’ll be our thing, Bright Eyes.” And like all abusers, Korey is charming and surprisingly kind. When Enchanted is sexually harassed by a boy her age at a dance event, Korey comforts her: “It’s aight. You’re safe now.”
As seventeen-year-olds often do when shown attention by a celebrity, Enchanted soon becomes enamored with Korey. They exchange song recommendations all day and soon Enchanted convinces her parents to let Korey mentor her musically so she can start her singing career.
That Enchanted has a crush on Korey doesn't justify any of these interactions, and I hope people get that. It's always on the adult not to indulge minors.
On tour with Korey, Enchanted begins to see Korey as the abuser he truly is – a man that oscillates between the most caring man in the world and the most abusive person. everything truly falls apart. What was first an opportunity to get her singing career off the ground becomes a prison when Korey forces her to stay in her room, makes her wear a baggy uniform, forces her to be in a bucket as punishment, takes away her phone, and introduces her to “lean,” to which Enchanted quickly becomes addicted.
This turn of events would be impossible to imagine – except that it’s happened time and time again before to Black girls in real life.
In a conversation published on Shondaland.com, Arriel Vinson asked Tiffany D. Jackson whether her book Grown was inspired by R. Kelly's abuse of younger and underage Black girls. Jackson responded: "Most of my books are loosely inspired by real cases. When I set out to do this particular case — knowing that I was going to put a lot of myself in this — I wanted to drill down to the point that even though this is loosely inspired by the situation with R. Kelly, there are so many girls who go through something similar. Many victims can see themselves in this story, regardless of who the perpetrator was."
It’s hard not to think about R. Kelly – and as a reader, I totally did- but this isn’t totally about him and for good reason. Hyper-focusing on R. Kelly as an individual keeps us from seeing how systematic and normalized the predation of Black girls is.
And I appreciate that Jackson made Korey young (he’s twenty-eight) and Enchanted close to the age of consent. It adds necessary ambiguity to the story. It’s relatively easy for us to see a creepy old man as an abuser. But what about the dashing man in his twenties preying on barely legal girls? What about Tyga and seventeen-year-old Kylie? What about Jerry Seinfeld and seventeen-year-old Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss? And these aren’t even Black girls.
This book also really illustrated to me that abusers don’t stand alone. Behind every abuser is a group of people who stand quietly. You would think Korey has to hide Enchanted from his staff but he doesn’t. They all know and the bodyguards actually help him keep the girls in line. What drives someone to keep such a morally bankrupt job, I don't know.
But it’s not even just paid staff who enable. when the news hit the airwaves, fans make all sorts of excuses and deflections for Korey: “Well, you know he had a rough childhood,” “I met my husband at 16 and he was 20. I don’t see the problem with dating an older man,” “So why are we not just as angry at the parents who gave permission” “You know how these groupies do.” And my favorite, fake pro-Black deflection: “Where was all this outrage when the priest story came out? Or Weinstein?”
People want to blame the parents, the child, racism - but never their cherished celebrity who committed the wrong.
I won’t even exempt myself from this, and I don’t think you should either. Each and every one of us can point to a song or TV show by an abuser we like, even if we do withdraw support. Each and every one of us has made excuses. I could name musicians that have positive legacies despite allegations of abuse. But I’m not trying to call out any one particular person. I’m only trying to reflect on how we as a society can keep this from happening.
We all fail to protect Black girls, including Black women who have been Black girls before. There’s more I want to say about this book but I’ll address it in my IGTV Final Thoughts video.
Lastly, the fact that this is a young adult book disappoints me because it proves how young Black girls have to reckon with this possibility of not being believed after abuse. These are mature subjects, but it would be unwise to pretend that young Black readers don’t need to be on alert.