Another day, another Chris Brown drama. Yesterday, Jenny Johnson, a comedian I’d not heard of, got into an online spat with Chris Brown. They were both immature, and yes, she was taunting him so he taunted back. Stick your hand in a lion’s cage and you’re gonna get bit. Brown was particularly puerile and some of his comments involved sharting on a retina, completely nonsensical stuff. He ended up quitting Twitter which felt like an early Christmas present. The less of a platform he has to spew his nonsense, the better.
But now, as is the case anytime Chris Brown is in the news, people are asking why Chris Brown continues to be vilified when so many famous abusers seem to get away with it. They say racism is involved as if accusations of racism would somehow negate all the wrong Chris Brown has done.
This country is racist. People are racist. As I drove to work today, I got to enjoy a bumper sticker on the truck in front of me that said One Big Ass Mistake, America. Get it? Most of us are well aware racism exists. Some of us are never allowed to forget and Chris Brown is one of those people. It’s the black man’s burden and it’s a heavy one.
Yes, some of the backlash against Chris Brown is motivated by racism. Demonize the “angry” black man. Crucify him! Never let him forget his trespasses! Attacks against Brown grounded in racism are wrong but Chris Brown is still an unrepentant, abusive asshole. In fact, he revels in his assholery. He celebrates it.
You can’t keep trotting out Sean Penn, Roman Polanski, et al because our cultural memory is short. If social networking were around when Sean Penn abused Madonna in 1987 or when Polanski raped a minor in 1977, the backlash would have been similar. Those examples will not work unless we’re discussing Chris Brown with the same fervor in 2042. Also, we’re still conjuring their names. Polanski still can’t return to the United States and he’s still a rapist pig. Sean Penn has always been an asshole who puts his hands on women. Charlie Sheen is irredeemable. I hold these men and all their cronies in the exact same regard as Chris Brown. We haven’t forgotten these misdeeds as much as people assume.
With Chris Brown, people are focusing on what’s right in front of them, all the damn time.
Chris Brown continues to face backlash because he continues to remind us that he is an asshole. He continues to get in trouble. He continues to display violent behavior. All that is his right but he doesn’t get to do it with impunity. He also has a cultural currency Polanski, Penn and their ilk don’t for the generation most likely to be influenced by his bullshit. Teenage girls aren’t sitting around pining for Roman Polanski. False equivalences do nothing for the discourse.
I do have empathy for Brown. He is clearly behaving in ways that were modeled for him by his family. He is enabled constantly by his mother, his women, his fans, his handlers, the music industry, and on and on. Chris Brown stays stuck on terrible because he is allowed to stay stuck on terrible and because no one gives enough of a damn about him to get him the help he needs. This is all magnified by the fact that he lives live under intense scrutiny, and has to deal with the pressures of fame at a very young age. So yes, we can look at Chris Brown and say, damn, “This young brother needs some help. This young brother deserves our compassion.”
He deserves our compassion but he also deserves our criticism.
Here’s the thing about Chris Brown. Millions of young people look up to him and his temper tantrums and his swagger and they either want to be him or be beaten by him or be fucked by him. I once wrote an open letter to young women who were publicly declaring that they would take a punch from Brown just to get with him. That still keeps me up, regardless of whether those girls were kidding or serious. It’s still a goddamned mess.
His followers, “Team Breezy,” are rabid. You speak against Brown, they let you know how they feel in no uncertain terms. I wrote about Brown ten months ago and still get crazy emails from his fans. I randomly mention him on Twitter, I get angry @replies. Jenny Johnson has been getting death threats. Their response is always disproportionate and misplaced. Chris Brown? He’s laughing all the way to the bank. He encourages this behavior both implicitly and explicitly. That’s the kind of magnetism he has. That is the kind of influence he has. So yes, the backlash is going to continue and should continue against Chris Brown and every other man or woman who thinks acts of nonconsensual violence are acceptable.
And then there is Rihanna who clearly loves this man’s dirty drawers. They have it bad for each other. You look at them together and it is plain to see they share some serious love. They have chemistry. And together, they are willfully destructive, toxic. Maybe they will find their happily ever after. Or they won’t. Maybe he’s going to beat her again. This rarely happens just once. Or he’s a changed man and he won’t. Rihanna’s an adult. She’ll either stay or she won’t and that’s her choice but Brown gleefully brings attention to Rihanna at his side, even now, as if to say, “Look what I can get away with.”
There are young women who look at that relationship and think they want that for themselves. They think it’s true love when a man gets so angry he beats your face in or belittles you or cheats and tries to make it up with a “you know you’re my boo” and why shouldn’t they? This is the message we consistently send in music, movies, in the way “role models” behave. It’s our own damn fault.
And you know what? I’m old. When Sean Penn beat Madonna, I was 13. Girls my age, some of us, who were barely figuring ourselves out and wanting to be loved with that kind of desperate passion, some of us thought it was romantic, a man who loved that hard. This is not new. There’s a Chris Brown for every generation.
My issues with Chris Brown have nothing to do with race and everything to do with his behavior that has not changed one iota over the years. And he doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t owe any of us anything. He’s free to behave as he pleases but we’re just as free to call him on it.
To sum up:
1. Take a hard look at yourself and your vilification of Chris Brown. Is racism involved? If yes, fix that.
2. Chris Brown deserves our compassion and our criticism.
3. I still remember the pictures of Rihanna’s face and until that memory goes away, I will not be shutting up on this matter.