Three years after beating Rihanna, Chris Brown has a new album and a starring film role. Two columnists debate whether he deserves a second chance
Remember when Chris Brown ugly-cried in front of America? It was two years ago, during the BET Awards tribute to Michael Jackson. I was sitting on the couch with my mother, watching what many would later call his comeback.
Brown emerged from backstage to sing “Man in the Mirror,” but the words weren’t coming out right. I thought maybe he was trying to catch his breath after some step-perfect renditions of Jackson’s signature dance moves, but I soon realized he was very visibly crying.
“Come on, Chris, you can do it,” I shouted senselessly at the television, as if he could hear me. In that moment, Brown seemed so small and helpless. I remember asking myself if it would ever be possible to consider him redeemed after his brutal assault on Rihanna a year earlier.
When Brown returned to the stage later that evening, he made the world a promise. “I let y’all down before,” he said, “but I won’t do it again.” Unfortunately, this was a promise he would fail to keep.
Some dismiss him as a thug, but Brown is more complicated. There’s a larger
issue here that has gone mostly unacknowledged: He pictures himself
as a victim, too.
Unfortunately, he sees himself as a victim in all the wrong ways.
In my experience, it’s a symptom of an ongoing challenge to get men of color to openly and honestly express their emotions and take ownership of their mistakes.
As Bell Hooks writes in “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity,” “Black males often exist in a prison of the mind unable to find their way out.” Brown is stifled by an emotional constipation that makes him his own worst enemy. Like many black men, he sees himself as an outsider in a world where he’ll never fit in.
In his recent Web video, “How I Feel,” Brown takes a shot at corporate America as he raps: “Fame ain’t freedom and this diamond chain only means they hold you hostage.” He sees himself as the puppet of large corporations, the one who’s being played.
I only wish he expressed the same insight when talking about the night of the beating and the history of violence in his own family. Before the assault, he told Tyra Banks that his ex-stepfather used to beat his mother. His childhood trauma repeated the night he hit Rihanna.
There are those who complain that Brown shouldn’t be given a forum like the Grammy Awards to showcase his music, but they’re missing something fundamental: It’s unconscionable to deny another human any possibility of redemption.
People who sing along to a Chris Brown song or buy a Chris Brown album are not signaling their approval of abuse. Most fans enjoy him as an artist despite being deeply troubled by what he did. None of them has forgotten or diminished the ferocious beating, the picture viewed ’round the world or the haunting police report. We remember that he put Rihanna in a situation so grave she could have died.
After Brown’s appearance at the Grammy Awards in February, young women used social media to defend Brown in a manner that made us queasy. They wrote that they wouldn’t mind being beaten by him. “I’d let Chris Brown punch me in the face,” one tweet read. Some say this is evidence that our star-struck culture has tilted too far in condoning bad behavior. But I found them useful, because these comments sparked hundreds of debates about codependency and violence on the Web, in traditional media and among friends.
These are legitimate things to talk about and have been popular among my fellow feminists, but they only speak to one aspect of this discussion.
I will never know if Brown is truly sorry. I don’t know what’s in his heart.
But our outrage needs to be directed at a society that upholds impossible standards of masculinity and allows men to engage in these unthinkable acts of violence so uncharacteristic of who they are. I think this is where my anger is best targeted, not at Chris Brown.
Eva McKend is a multimedia journalist studying in a graduate program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Her Twitter handle is @evamckend.
New York Post