When I heard that Chris Brown hit his ex-girlfriend Rihanna, I was concerned and surprised. I also found myself irritated by the fact that many women, along with my teenage daughters, were quick to forgive Chris for his actions, primarily because they think he has a great voice and a cute face. I had little sympathy for Chris Brown, and doing something like that to one of my girls would’ve had him singing a cappella for the rest of his life.
But that’s where I have to get off the Chris Brown bashing bus. In spite of my frustration with Chris’ behavior, I cannot endorse the media’s decision to turn his relationship with Rihanna into a one-sided slugfest, committed by yet another violent black man whose rage consistently overrides his intellect. I also cannot endorse Rihanna’s decision to bring ABC News into her relationship, portraying herself as the completely innocent victim who was terrorized by the big, scary black man. Yes, she is the victim, but we all know that love is not that simple.
Let’s be clear: No man should ever put his hands on a woman in a violent way. We all agree on that. Not only is it morally wrong, but it’s an easy way for a man to find himself in jail (especially if he’s black). We should also agree that no woman should put her hands on any man. The second point might be subject to disagreement, but the truth is that you shouldn’t hit someone if you don’t expect to get hit back. While that person might end up being punished by the police, you might end up in the morgue. We can also agree that the disproportionate amount of force that a man is capable of inflicting is a legitimate reason that the man is more to blame than the woman, even if both parties are involved in a physical altercation.
But the problem with Rihanna’s appearance on ABC News is that there is no productive reason for any of us to hear the details of a relationship between two 19-year olds. I’m sorry, but most relationships at that age are fundamentally stupid, and hearing one side of the situation is almost always going to guarantee that you’re not going to get the whole truth. If only I was allowed to go onto national TV at the age of 19 to tell the world about my terrible college girlfriend who slapped me repeatedly just to get my attention. Yes, I thought she was a horrible person, but the truth is that we were both pretty ridiculous in our behavior. Of course, Rihanna’s situation is different, since she was the victim of serious physical abuse, but the truth is that she can focus on fighting against domestic violence without using ABC News as a platform to get everyone to hate Chris Brown as much as she does. Yeah, there was the whole “I still love him and wish him well” speech, but we all know that you can massage someone with your right hand and stab them with your left.
Secondly, given that there was no logical reason for Rihanna to turn ABC News into an episode of “Everybody Hates Chris,” one can only conclude that her interview was a publicity stunt. I think that Rihanna’s message could be just as effective if she were to say, “I have been physically abused by a man. I believe that any woman involved in domestic violence should leave the relationship.” That would be enough. We don’t need the he-say, she-say, with all the juicy details in-between. The alleged goal of the conversation is to teach young women like my daughters to stay away from violent men and to teach couples to love each other more effectively. The objective was not to make this into a national soap opera.
Finally, let’s not forget this important point: Chris Brown was 19-years old when the incident took place. Chris is not R. Kelly, a man who is probably too old to be redeemed or even trusted. Chris likely learned some valuable lessons from this experience, as young love teaches lessons to us all. The idea that Oprah Winfrey and others would abandon and condemn Chris rather than counsel and scold him implies that their hostility toward Brown was likely a projection of their own painful experiences with men. Let’s be clear: Chris deserves to have his butt kicked over this one. But he is too young to be condemned as some kind of irreversible monster. Love between teenagers can be both passionate and explosive; damn near anything can happen. Don’t pretend like you don’t know this yourself.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, “Black American Money.” For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.