I have to be honest: When the news went viral that Chris Brown had beaten up his then-girlfriend Rihanna, I had no idea who either of them was. Not being a fan of their genre of music, I actually had to look up their discography. Over the coming months and years, as Brown went to trial and then completed his probation, I learned a lot more about him and the acceptance of gender-based violence in our society.
It all began when in various comment sections throughout the blogosphere, Brown’s violence was defended repeatedly because Rihanna had the audacity to look through his cell phone calls. Rihanna was beaten, bitten, and blooded by this man. The photos which were leaked to the public are absolutely horrific. According to The Huffington Post, at the time Brown stated, “I’m going to beat the shit out of you when we get home” and “I’m really going to kill you.” To be clear, this is a crime Brown admitted committing and because of which, he is now a convicted felon.
Brown has publicly apologized for his violent crime; however, his actions don’t read like he is sorry for anything. He continues to be violent, as his rampage at the “Good Morning America” studios (after being asked about his crime) and his recent public brawl with Drake at a nightclub proves. There is also the little matter of the tweet after winning a Grammy: “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I Got A Grammy Now! That’s the ultimate F@ck Off!
These are not the actions, nor the language, of a man attempting to take responsibility for his behavior and make amends. These are the actions of a man who has been rewarded for his gender-based violence through awards, continued positive media attention, and, of course, record sales. Every single song or album purchased emboldens the idea that what he did is not a big deal. Is there anything a black man can do to black woman that we cannot find it in our hearts to forgive?
It does not help that celebrities are continually suggesting that Brown needs forgiveness. Queen Latifah stated the following in support of Brown, following the 10th Annual BET Awards:
“He is young guy, he made a big mistake, and he needs to bounce back from that. And he needs an opportunity for a second chance,” she says. “We can’t condemn that kid. He’s a kid and he needs to correct the mistake for the future, not live in the past.”
“He needs to be forgiven. Enough already. We can’t keep beating him up. She [Rihanna] is going to grow, he’s going to grow, and we have to allow them both to do that.”
Last month, Brandy became yet another person to join the Brown forgiveness celebrity train when she stated:
“I just feel like everybody goes through things in their life, and it’s not my place or anybody’s place to judge. I just know that Chris is a fantastic artist and he’s always been supportive of me as an artist, and I just wanted to work with him because he’s great at what he does.”
Brown isn’t going through the ordinary trials and tribulations of being a human on our little blue planet, and perhaps Brandy would be more likely to admit this had she not collaborated with him on her single “Put it Down.” This endorsement sounds like someone who is trying to revive a flagging career no matter the cost.
Brandy and Queen Latifah certainly aren’t the only celebrities who have through their comments attempted to reinvent Brown into a troubled youth we should not judge and even forgive, but what makes their comments harmful is the fact that they are both black female celebrities. Time and time again we have seen intra-racial violence minimized or ignored, and this has everything to do with the fact that black women have historically been devalued.
Sexism is like any other ism; it depends upon the collusion of the oppressed for its continued power. When the few black women who are in a position of power feel it is in their best interests to ignore, or in this case, outright minimize acts of violence against women, it not only emboldens those who seek to keep us in a secondary status, but it also suggests that such ill treatment is either justified or normal.
There is a long history of ignoring or erasing intra-racial violence in the black community. In former Black Panther Party member Elaine Brown’s book, A Taste of Power, she writes about being expected to ignore the misogyny and violence engaged in by the male members of the movement, because fighting racism was deemed the primary concern, proving that defending those who harm black women has always been historically and socially acceptable.
It was black women who led the crusade to defend R. Kelly when he was charged with child pornography, just as it is black women now speaking out in defense of an admittedly violent man today. Standing by black men when they are attacked due to racism is one thing, but doing so when their actions have caused harm to black women and girls is another. The concerns of black women and black men absolutely diverge when it comes to tackling sexism and gender-based violence, because when it comes to gender, black men are in a position of power. As bell hooks theorized, a black man may face racism in the public sphere, but he can always go home and beat his black wife, and this is a fact that we should not for a moment forget.
I would love to never have to write a single sentence about Chris Brown again, but I will continue to do so as long as there are pleas to move on and to forgive and forget. Our treatment of this highly publicized incident is teaching young girls that this is what they can expect in a relationship as women. It is teaching them to accept that it is natural for their bodies to be devalued and abused. Don’t we as women owe our daughters more than this? Should a smile and a few dimples so cheaply buy our solidarity, when what is at stake is our very humanity and right to life without violence? Bandy got a duo and made some money, but how many of us sell out for even less? It’s time to be Team Black Woman instead of Team Breezy.