Chris Brown, Male Violence, And Racist Rants

by Guest Contributor Costa Avgoustinos (Pop Culture and the Third World)

There are two interesting links floating around in regard to Chris Brown’s Grammy win and return to the spotlight/ people’s hearts. One is a great article by Sasha Pesulka entitled I’m Not OK With Chris Brown Performing At The Grammys And I Don’t Know Why You Are Either. The other is 25 Extremely Upsetting Reactions To Chris Brown At The Grammys, a series of screenshots of tweets from women professing  that because Chris Brown is attractive, they would be happy for him to beat them.

It’s interesting to compare society’s reaction to celebrity attacks on women to celebrity attacks on racial minorities. As Pesulka maps out in her article above, when Chris Brown assaulted girlfriend Rihanna society’s reaction was mixed–a lot of people came to Brown’s defence, a lot of people demonised Rihanna, a lot of people thought it was a private matter so blame shouldn’t be placed publicly and, after all that, a lot of people welcomed Brown’s return to the spotlight. In contrast, when Michael Richards went on a racist rant using the N-word, or Mel Gibson went on a racist rant (or, I guess, several rants) against Jews, society’s reaction was a lot more uniform: ‘You’re a jerk, we’re putting your career in the toilet, and that’s where it will stay forever.’  Why is Chris Brown allowed a come back, but Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are not?

I don’t make the comparison to try and rank racism against sexism or to argue gender-based violence is in some way more or less acceptable that race-based violence. That would be useless and stupid. Nor do I think the issue is one of ‘Sticks and Stones’ versus ‘Names That Hurt Me’–that is, that Richards and Gibson deserve less grief simply because, unlike Brown, they themselves didn’t cause physical harm. Again, stupid. But I think something can be learned from comparing our reactions.

Several commentators have pointed out a divide between how White mainstream media and Black media have approached the Chris Brown incident. White, mainstream media, from Jezebel to Good Morning America, has been pretty much anti-Brown since all of this happened. Black media, from NewsOne to Bossip, has been more reserved and seems more willing to forgive and move on. I would wager that this is in part due to Black media being uncomfortable participating in the perpetuation of the ‘violent Black man’ cliché, and the witchhunt that often ensues by the mainstream media with a bit too much eagerness. Or perhaps, as Dr Oliver Williams, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, has stated, perhaps it is because ‘communities find it easier to focus on oppression that comes from outside than on what (they) do to (them)selves.’

This reminds me of bell hooks’ take on the OJ Simpson trial. During the trial, the (White) mainstream media were eager to make the story about race. Was it a Black versus White crime? Are Blacks more violent than Whites? Further, people were more inclined to take sides in the OJ Simpson case based on their race rather than their sex (this video shows Black women in a women’s shelter, themselves victims of domestic violence, cheering OJ’s not guilty verdict as they watch the live coverage on TV). bell hooks makes the point that whether OJ’s race has anything to do with the crime is dubious at best. What was known for sure, however, was that it was a case of male violence against women, something that happens systemically and routinely in society. Why wasn’t the focus on this? Why does discussion of race overshadow discussion of gender? Are we more comfortable to talk about Black v White crime than Man v Woman crime?

While there are a lot of factors as to why we seem to prefer to talk about race over gender (and connected to this, why Chris Brown has been able to return to the spotlight somewhat more easily than Richards or Gibson eg. a culture of acceptance of domestic violence in the hip-hop industry; the backing of Black media outlets; the fact that Chris Brown, unlike Richards and Gibson, is young and in his marketable prime), I think one factor that does not get enough attention is the public/private divide. That is, I think that often race-based violence is seen as a public sphere issue, while domestic violence is perceived as a private sphere issue.

We think that if violence is occurring between a man and a woman in a relationship, the appropriate thing to do is to let them deal with it themselves (check out the quotes collected by Pesulka article, such as Lindsay Lohan stating after the incident: “I have no comment on that. That’s not my relationship. I think they’re both great people.”) When race-based violence surfaces, however, that’s usually a crime between strangers, so society has more of a right to get involved and allocate blame.

The problem with this, however, is that male violence against women is not a private affair. It’s systemic. It doesn’t just grow out of the specific dynamics between two lovers. It grows in the society that schooled these lovers on what’s appropriate and acceptable before they even met.

How you fight the embedded gender inequality and awful gender preconceptions in our society that leads to the male violence that occurs behind closed doors is tricky. A good start, however, is that when it bubbles up into the public sphere, like in a celebrity scandal such as what happened between Rihanna and Chris Brown, it’s important we send the right message in a clear unified way to every abused wife and girlfriend watching the scandal, that mirrors their own life, unfold: that it’s wrong, that you deserve none of the blame, and that as a society we’ve got your back.

For this message to be sent clearly, we need to ensure the conversation does not get knotted up into racial politics if it can be avoided. Because the result of this is too often that Black women are put in the awkward position of having to choose between their race and sex; Black male aggressors are given the leeway to portray themselves as victims of oppression to garner sympathy and avoid honest self-reflection; and non-Black people are left scratching their head on whether they can call out Black male violence when they see it or suspect it without fear of being labeled racist.

After all this, the message is as good as lost.

(Image Credit: The Superficial)

  • joy

    Sorry I’m really late in this but thought I would share.

    FYI, I’m one of those Chris Brown apologists.  I’ll take whatever verbal lashing you want to throw my way, as I’m working through I feel about it anyway.

    I kind of compare it to a situation with an uncle of mine.  He is crazy.  I definitely saw him hit his ex and know that he was abusive in his relationships.  My mom always said he was like the song “don’t push me because I’m close to the edge”.  That is just how I knew him to be.  I grew up thinking I would never want to date a nice quiet guy like my uncle, because they are crazy.  You do something wrong and they may snap in a bad way.  All that said, I always loved my Uncle and still do.  He made some HORRIBLE moves in the past, but I don’t think he doesn’t deserve to eat, work spend time with his family.  He is a musician as well.  I would hate to think that someone would boycott one of his shows, for something he did to my aunt 20 years ago.  He knows he was wrong then.  All of that is between him, his ex and God.  It is not for me to judge anymore.

    So, anyway, that is how I feel about the Chris Brown situation.  I like his music.  I really do.  I saw all the pictures of Rihanna, and my first thought was that he was trying to kill her.  He is certifiably crazy. But, what goes on with those two is none of my business here on out. 

    I also feel the same way about R. Kelly.  I love his music, but think he is crazy too.  I don’t know.  Maybe its like we see them as members of our family.  I wouldn’t never want anyone I know to be in relationships with an abuser, but I can’t just toss them to the side either.

  • http://voyeurismsucks.tumblr.com/ Voyeurism Sucks

    Chris Brown needs to receive/seek professional help; he’s
    obviously got some serious internal issues he needs to deal with. He has a
    history with domestic violence in his family, and it is proven that males who
    witness abuse are likely to become abusers. 
    I want the best for him the same way I want the best for Rihanna. I’m
    not excusing what he’s done but this is something that needs to be acknowledged
    in his particular situation. It’s not enough to try to make an example out of
    Chris Brown, because it’s not going to suddenly alter the “culture we have of
    accepting this kind of behavior”, which is related to particular environments.

    Domestic violence is not exclusive to black communities, and
    it will take more than boycotting products produced by Chris Brown to solve the
    epidemic. When regarding such serious issues to celebrities things tend to
    become outrageously aloof to the real problems, with people endorsing the
    individuals involved based on fandom. In some people’s eyes celebrities can do
    no wrong. You cited several examples as to how the media does distort these
    topics and the wild responses the public gives. “Beat me Chris, your hot,” and
    famous. This is common, and tends to be the result of any serious social issue
    gaining media attention. It’s great that there has been resurgence in dialogue about
    the issue but we are in fact demeaning the topic by turning it into media hype
    which is only beneficial to network ratings and not the thousands of women who
    are being abused as you read. Chris Brown hit Rihanna in the face in 2009;
    women are being hit in the face at this very moment by their spouses, who are
    doing it regardless of Chris Brown seeking help or being made an example of. As
    I said, and is already well known, “we have a culture of accepting this kind of
    behavior”, especially in regards to celebrities and I’m not sure Hollywood is
    the appropriate landscape to discuss this topic.

    I’d like to see people advocating for more support groups
    for victims and counseling for perpetrators in communities where there is a
    high rate of domestic abuse, because that is what is really going to solve the
    problem.    

  • Keisha

    Sorry, a little late to the conversation.  I think the main gripe NOW is not so much that he assaulted Rihanna (and after reading the report, I would go on and say attempted murder), but, as other commentators said, he’s kind of unapologetic about it.  Yes, he said “I’m sorry”.  But the reality is, actions speak louder than words.  From someone who has endured verbal abuse in a relationship, the 10 million “I’m Sorrys” after each verbal attack starts to feel obsolete.  In regards, to Chris Brown, he stated “I’m Sorry”, did some community service and then made a song called “Deuces” and right after that the song “Look at Me Now”.  If I’m not mistaken, “Look at Me Now” sounds like not being remorseful at all.  ”I don’t understand how you can hate from outside the club/ you can’t even get in. Hahaha”.  And of course the chorus: “Look at me now/ I’m getting paper”.  In what reference to time period are we supposed to look at him ‘now’, immediate post-assault of Rihanna when all of his “haters” were hating on him?

    But alas, my major complaint is not with his songs but with his acceptance speech.   I thought he performed well and I was ready to forgive but not forget when he said in his acceptance speech something to the effect of: “This is for Team Breezy”.  Who is Team Breezy?  And not to say that he shouldn’t have fans and followers but didn’t this whole ‘Team Breezy’ nonsense come about after the assault.  So is Team Breezy supposed to be against Team Rihrih.  Is there even a Team Rihrih?  In any case, with that acceptance speech, Busta Rhymes giving him a standing ovation, and his tweets afterwards, it warrants that, indeed, regardless of whether he really is remorseful or not, it seems that his actions show that he is not really sorry or at the  very least does not really care.  He received consequences by being chastised but he also garnered a lot of success after the assault.  His career never tanked because of this and I think that is where the conversation is.  Not so much that it might be a race issue but that his success as an artist and a sex symbol only grew after the assault.

  • Anonymous

     There is a little more context where the Grammy’s are involved. Grammy’s officials actually said that the domestic abuse incident made them the victims. As in the Grammy’s were the victims in the situation b/c it forced the organization to withhold Chris Brown’s membership/attendance for like two years. *world’s smallest violin* Rihanna wasn’t a victim according to them, they were the victim. That tells you a little bit about how they regard her in the whole situation.

    Before Chris there was Ike Turner, Mike Tyson, James Brown, Bobbie Brown, etc. etc. Celebrity men, even those of color, have an easy way out when it comes to domestic abuse. Even regular men have an easy way out not necessarily b/c of faulty justice system but b/c of how victims must interact with their environment and own psychology after the fact.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MQEC5FUPX6GT5FFCFG3RK3LUOI Rebecca

    I prefer Rap and Hip hop over RmB. Lil Wayne is one of my favorite artist and I can’t excuse the language that he has used and popularized in his music career but I do respect him when he isn’t talking like a misogynistic jerk. A Many of his lesser known work isn’t as bad as the main stream trash.  With his daughter, Lil Wayne had commented in August saying that the Carter 4 might be his last album so he can spend more time with his family. We can also give credit to Lil Wayne for creating this generation’s biggest black role model Nicki Manji, Even though she is a debatable role model at that she does serve a positive goal for young black girls looking to make it in an all male work empire. If not Lil Wayne, how about Lupe Fiasco? 

    No about his new pick up line….Chris Brown needs to be put in jail! That is horrible! How dare he say something like that? I think Chris Brown would be a perfect  anagonist in a Tyler Perry movie. A rich, self centered ass how believes in making light of domestic abuse….Why are people protecting him?

  • Guest

    A mistake? Bashing someone’s face in and other sorts of violence is a mistake? A mistake is picking up the wrong brand at the supermarket or taking a wrong exit. You’re trivializing a serious offense and, of course, Chris Brown has been shown to be NOT remorseful and learning from his “mistake.”

  • Scarlett

    What is it about this arrogant man-child that have people so ready to accept him back with open arms?? BEFORE he laid a hand on Rihanna, I always thought he was overrated–he can’t sing, he’s a mediocre dancer at best, and he isn’t even attractive, so what gives? After he beat the fuck out of Rihanna, it’s like he went into douche mode overdrive, and really didn’t give a fuck about some of the horrible things he said and did anymore. He was never repentant, only pissed offed that his career may be affected by his piss poor decisions. My thing is this: there are so many other talented, humble singers out there who deserve some acknowledgement who aren’t raging assholes; so why support someone like Chris Brown?? I sure as hell don’t, am just shocked so many people still want to…

    Also, we all know how it would’ve gone down if Rihanna was white (game over for Brown) but what if they were both white? What if this were Justin and Britney in their dating prime? I see the same thing happening, tbh…people victim blaming Spears while excusing and forgiving Justin. Fucking patriarchy.

    • http://voyeurismsucks.tumblr.com/ Voyeurism Sucks

      This is a prime example of how the real issue is being overlooked. We need to be talking about victims not how talented a celebrity is, and the issue is not black and white.  It’s well known that we exist in a chauvinistic and misogynistic society, and there is no changing that so long as we objectify women to sell products which is something all celebrities do on a day to day I might at. 

  • Tiny

     I suppose the difference between Chris Brown and some other celebrity abusers is the photographic evidence of his abuse. We know Brown beat up
    Rihanna and we can all see the pictures of her bloodied face on the
    internet. It’s clear that people are more than willing to rationalize and excuse his violence, but it’s nearly impossible to pretend it didn’t happen.  Having said that, it really bothers me that people
    like Chris Brown, Glenn Campbell, and Sean Penn haven’t be made
    accountable for their misdeeds. Since this incident, Chris Brown has had
    a number 1 album, made numerous mainstream media appearances, performed
    and won at the Grammys, and generally been allowed to continue on as if
    nothing really happened. He’s never given impression that he’s sorry for what he did, he’s only sorry that he’s faced some criticism for it.  He threw a chair through a window because someone on a morning show had the nerve to ask him a question about this, and people excused him by blaming the reporter for asking the question. Brown is never going to have to come to terms with his violent behavior because there will always be someone there to tell him it’s someone else’s fault.

  • Rosasparks

    We do not know if he’s only beaten 1 woman or 15 women. We do know he is supremely unapologetic about the woman he DID beat and his behavior following the incident has been abhorrent. It is not as simple as ** Trigger Warning ** ‘Whoops! I bit Rihanna, bashed in her face and twisted and punched her arms and body. I promise not to do it again!’
    Since the abuse, he has routinely whined, mocked others, shouted and angrily destroyed property. That is not the behavior of a contrite individual. Nor is it the display of anyone who shows any redeemable qualities, in general. He is an embarrassment and his continued Twitter meltdowns prove he has no reflective skills, nor is there anyone is around him willing to challenge his actions. It’s disgusting, no matter how you look at it. 

  • Rosasparks

    Hi there, this is my first time commenting, but I have been so disturbed and confused by the entire Chris Brown and Grammy’s performance mess. I don’t believe that Chris Brown deserves an award; he’s a middling, not entirely talented singer and has produced barely good songs; but the Grammy’s don’t really award amazing people, they award popular people, who SOMETIMES, are good at music making. 

    What continues to baffle me about the uber-shouting about his appearance is while he is a completely awful human being, there were others who have committed abuse towards their partners, namely Mr. Rhinestone Cowboy, who were lauded AND lionized. We can debate the issues of celebrating abusers, but Chris Brown is not any better or worse than Glenn Campbell and yet Glenn got a lifetime achievement with standing ovation.

    Furthermore, Chris Brown’s appearance at the Grammys doesn’t legitimize him – it simply points out that no matter what, men who beat women can still manage to garner support, in their industry of work and in the public. 

    It bothers me that race continues to follow this debaucle because the reality is, SUCCESSFUL men who beat women cam be absolved of their behavior. That being successful and making a lot of money is antithetical to abusive behavior. But, being held accountable for your actions seems to be a gender-based issue, rather than a race-based issue. Chris Brown, being a black man who beat his girlfriend, has quietly infused the outrage and that is far more problematic, to me. 

  • Rosasparks

    Hi there, this is my first time commenting, but I have been so disturbed and confused by the entire Chris Brown and Grammy’s performance mess. I don’t believe that Chris Brown deserves an award; he’s a middling, not entirely talented singer and has produced barely good songs; but the Grammy’s don’t really award amazing people, they award popular people, who SOMETIMES, are good at music making. 

    What continues to baffle me about the uber-shouting about his appearance is while he is a completely awful human being, there were others who have committed abuse towards their partners, namely Mr. Rhinestone Cowboy, who were lauded AND lionized. We can debate the issues of celebrating abusers, but Chris Brown is not any better or worse than Glenn Campbell and yet Glenn got a lifetime achievement with standing ovation.

    Furthermore, Chris Brown’s appearance at the Grammys doesn’t legitimize him – it simply points out that no matter what, men who beat women can still manage to garner support, in their industry of work and in the public. 

    It bothers me that race continues to follow this debaucle because the reality is, SUCCESSFUL men who beat women cam be absolved of their behavior. That being successful and making a lot of money is antithetical to abusive behavior. But, being held accountable for your actions seems to be a gender-based issue, rather than a race-based issue. Chris Brown, being a black man who beat his girlfriend, has quietly infused the outrage and that is far more problematic, to me. 

  • Rochelle

    Can you give an example of the “racially charged language and stereotypes” to which condemnations over Chris Brown devolve? I’m not doubting you, I’m just wondering if there’s anyway to denounce what Chris Brown did (which I do) without avoiding the charge of racial bias. Because honestly I question my privilege a lot, and I’ve questioned in this case a lot, but I just cannot accept the accusation that expecting his career to take a hit after bashing Rihanna’s face in over a text message constitutes any racism on my part.

    We can’t pinpoint exactly where moral outcry ends and racism begins in this case because we can’t magically turn CB and Rihanna into white folk and replay the events. But let’s say the situations were reversed, and all the white actors (Sean Penn, etc) were condemned for life but CB got a pass. We could easily conceive of how such a result would have been racially suspicious as well, because then it’s like saying what beating a white woman is unforgivable but beating a black woman isn’t that bad.

    I’m not making the (really stupid) point that “hey – anything could be perceived of as racist so let’s throw up our hands and give up!” What I’m saying is that I refuse to apologize for CB or “let him off the hook” in any way simply because some people choose to use this unfortunate series of events to justify or bolster their racism. To do so is simply to infantalize Black America by denying their moral capabilities and agency while pretending that there aren’t some effed up Black men just like there are in all gendered/racialized strata. 

    I’m treating CB the same way I do Mel Gibson – the burden is on them to regain my trust and admiration. So yeah let’s forgive – and lets forgive Tracy Jordan and Michael Richards too – IF they take the appropriate actions to make up for their wrongdoings. 

    Oh and I still believe that the way folks reacted to this situation was extremely conditioned by the fact that there were images (and Mel Gibson too – the taped phone calls were really the nail in that coffin). If anything ruined CB career, it was those images going viral. 

  • Allie24

    Chris Brown made a horrible mistake for which he has apologized. Must he pay for the rest of his life? Whatever happened to forgiveness and redemption and 2nd chance. It is possible to send the right msg to victims of domestic violence and still forgive Chris Brown. Both are not mutually exclusive. Chris Brown is way too young to be denied a second chance. 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5YW7F65MA5WAVBWEPVR4SVSH7Q Daniel

      Except he has continued behaving in away that shows no acknowledgement or remorse for his actions.  Throwing a chair at a television studio window and going on a rampage throughout a TV studio because someone(A woman!!!!!!!!) dared to question him about his actions is not the indication of someone atoning for or reforming their problems with anger(towards women) and violence….

  • Kat

    Thank you Costa! Bravo. Will gos hare now.

  • http://exm.nr/zIfnUN RCHOUDH

    The Chris Brown situation has now been complicated with reports coming out that he and Rihanna have gotten in touch with each other again (at least in order to collaborate on each other’s music). Some members of society like to downplay gender-based violence based on that also, by claiming that the abuse couldn’t possibly have been “that bad” if the victim is willing to interact with the abuser again.

    • Anonymous

       Which is a serious problem, because domestic violence is cyclical. If abusers were always beating their romantic partners, there would be no relationship.

  • http://twitter.com/QueerKnowledge Jamie QueerKnowledge

    I find the Chris Brown case so interesting. There has been a fire storm around him performing at the Grammys and I can’t help but think this is a racialized response. This is not to say Brown is undeserving of scorn, but where was the outrage over white celebrities who beat their partners? No one said a word about Sean Penn—a white man who plead guilty to a domestic violence charge for assaulting his wife Madonna—when he was selected to play Harvey Milk in the activist’s bio pic. And the LGBT community rejoiced when he won an Oscar for it. GLAAD even gave him an award. And Penn isn’t the only example.

    I wrote more on this here: http://stuffqueerpeopleneedtoknow.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/chris-brown-gay-sex-race-and-outrage-over-domestic-violence/

    • Anonymous

      Apples and oranges, really. Most people didn’t know what happened between Sean Penn and Madonna; I’ve only seen it on the comments at websites trying to argue that we totally need to let Chris Brown off the hook because we’re racist for not wanting to endorse such a violent man … and he *is* violent, if you watch any interview ever where someone brings up his attack on Rihanna. We’ve seen the damage that his brutal attack did to her. I read the extended report of what he did to her, and I would call it attempted murder.

      You’re glossing over what the article addresses specifically when the author points out that Michael Richards and Mel Gibson lost their careers over racial slurs, without actually physically attacking anyone.

    • http://diamondpconnect.blogspot.com/ diamondpconnect

       Society also glorified Charlie Sheen too and that was just a year ago when he beat his wife.

  • Anonymous

    I have to say, though, that something made me very uncomfortable about all this, and that is Miranda Lambert’s reaction. She has been outspoken in her criticism of the Grammys for allowing Chris Brown to perform. However, her husband appeared in a tribute for Glenn Campbell, who (allegedly) kicked in the teeth of his girlfriend Tanya Tucker.The only defense I’ve heard that makes sense is that this happened 30 years ago and Lambert might not have known *at the time of the Grammys,* but she has continued to speak out against Brown without even acknowledging Campbell.