Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, Race and Domestic Violence

By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem, originally posted at Bitch Magazine
chris-brown

Which celebrity has earned more bad press for reported acts of domestic violence—Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen?

When gossip Web site TMZ.com criticized Brown Jan. 21 for appearing with designer Jean Paul Gaultier, in makeup that made him look bruised and bloodied for a “warrior-themed runway show,” visitors to the site accused TMZ of vilifying Brown while giving Sheen a pass for allegedly battering his wife on Christmas.

Take a commenter who wrote: “Charlie Sheen beat his wife’s ass and tried to kill her only one month ago!! The only thing you guys seem to want to cover is him visiting the wife he beat in the hospital, but Chris Brown one year later is still being criticized. That is simply racism to the fullest extent. …So my question is, where is all the bad press for Charlie Sheen…?”

Another wrote: “TMZ STOP IT!! Love Gaultier and love Chris Brown!! Leave this kid alone. You sure did a nice write up on Charlie Sheen earlier. You people love to rip black people apart, while you allow white people to redeem themselves. It’s sad…”

And still another remarked: “Give it a rest people…Funny how you constantly slam Chris Brown, but praise Charlie Sheen and attempt to garner sympathy for him. So biased it is ridiculous.”

If you’re wondering why I’m highlighting comments left on a gossip Web site, it’s because TMZ.com played a significant role in influencing public opinion about Chris Brown’s battery of Rihanna. TMZ was the first media outlet to release the photo that the Los Angeles Police Department took of Rihanna following Brown’s beating of her. Moreover, by breaking big news stories (however unscrupulously) such as Michael Jackson’s death or the medications found in Brittany Murphy’s home after her demise—TMZ has come to be seen as a reliable source of information on celebrity news. That said, I think it’s fitting to weigh in on the site’s coverage of Brown and Sheen.

So, is TMZ vilifying Brown in ways that it has failed to vilify Sheen? I’m inclined to agree with commenters who said that TMZ not only hasn’t vilified Sheen but has also tried to garner sympathy for him. After reporting that Sheen’s wife, Brooke Mueller, had accused Sheen of domestic violence on Christmas Day, the Web site first moved to discredit Mueller, reporting that she was legally intoxicated when police showed up to intervene. And the commenters above are correct when they say that there’s been underlying sympathy throughout reports about Sheen needing permission to visit Mueller in the hospital when she developed a high fever related to oral surgery.

But is race to blame for TMZ’s difference in reporting about two entertainers accused of domestic violence? We could argue that Brown has been more vilified by TMZ, or even in the comment threads of feminist Web sites like Jezebel.com (or this web site), because he lacks the star power that Sheen has. The latter has been a household name for decades, with a famous father and brother, to boot. Plus, while Brown’s victim is famous, Sheen’s wife is not. Perhaps there’s been more vitriol for Brown because the public knows who Rihanna is but remains largely unfamiliar with Mueller. Also, the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words may certainly be true in this case. When TMZ published the picture of Rihanna’s battered face, the pubic was able to see firsthand the horrific violence that Brown inflicted on her. In contrast, no pictures surfaced of the alleged finger marks that Sheen left on Mueller’s neck after reportedly threatening to kill her. Lastly, maybe Brown worsened matters by repeatedly discussing his battery of Rihanna in the media. After each apology, some viewers questioned Brown’s sincerity and were disgusted that he seemed to be trying to garner sympathy for himself in the midst of these apologies. Sheen, however, hasn’t granted interviews about his alleged attack on Mueller.

All things considered, the idea that race factors into how differently Brown and Sheen are being portrayed tugs at me. I can’t help but to agree with the commenter who pointed out that whites are allowed to redeem themselves while blacks are not. White ex-cons, for example, are much likelier to be able to land work than black ex-cons are. That’s because employers are more likely to be forgiving of white felons, to believe that they can be rehabilitated, and give them a second chance. Meanwhile, a black man doesn’t even have to be guilty of a crime to be perceived as guilty. Racial profiling, police brutality and wrongful convictions for blacks all indicate this problem.

Clearly, Chris Brown is guilty—and of a despicable crime, no less. But because he’s African American, will it be harder for him to redeem himself in the public eye than a white celebrity guilty of a similar crime? If he genuinely changes, that is.

Your thoughts?