When my daughter and I removed the Chris Brown posters from her bedroom wall, it had the feel of a ritual. We moved in silence and with a sense of mourning, carefully folding the posters like the flag for a fallen soldier—before placing them in the trash.
It was a week after the allegations surfaced. And then there was the photo showing a bruised, battered and bloody Rihanna. My teenage daughter was a devoted fan of Brown, and I’d been drawn in, too. The guy has talent coming out of his ears. He seemed charming. And surprisingly normal. After the news of his violent attack on Rihanna surfaced, my daughter was confused and angry and finally wept in frustration.
“Now I’m really gonna kill you!” These are the words Brown threatened Rihanna with. The use of his fists shattered the façade he had so carefully crafted of the sweet Boy Next Door. It’s an image too many young girls still cling to, even as Brown has revealed himself to be a dangerously troubled young man. He was seen this summer, for example, wearing a $300K chain that spelled out “Ooops!”
“What did she say to make him hit her?”
“Well, I heard she hit him first.”
These were the words of young black girls on the radio and in newspaper interviews. They defended Brown and blamed Rihanna.
And so it is too often with domestic violence. Women blame the woman. Men blame the woman. Maybe the woman even blames herself. Others like P. Diddy, who famously got called out by talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres for offering his Florida home as a post-assault rendezvous for the Brown and Rihanna, use the old dodge, “nobody really knows what happened.” Yes, we do. We know that a 6’1” man beat, choked, bit, punched and threatened a woman. That he’d done it before. That he left her bloody on the side of the road. And we know that it’s wrong. There is nothing that she could have said that would justify what Brown did to her.
But what if she hit him? Jimi Izrael, one of The Root’s bloggers asked, “when is Rihanna gonna be prosecuted for hitting Brown?” Even if she slapped him first, Brown’s conduct was disproportionate and brutal. Trying to find a sense of gender symmetry to domestic violence is the equivalent of white people pointing out incidents of black bigotry to refute the reality of systematic and institutional white supremacy. Of course, a woman should never hit a man. And of course, there are women who commit domestic violence against men. They should be prosecuted and receive counseling, just as male batterers should. But the vast and overwhelming instances of domestic violence are still just what we imagine: Men and boys physically abusing their girlfriends and wives. (Here in Baltimore, where I live, we’re starting to hear about a disturbing new trend: Sons beating their mothers.) Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims nationwide are women. The fact that women can be perpetrators and men their victims doesn’t change this reality.