The first time I met Chris Brown he was 16 years old. I was working at BET at the time and was supposed to interview him while he was waiting backstage to appear on 106th & Park. I was an early Breezy fan, taking a strong liking to his first single “Run It” and absolutely adoring his second single “Yo (Excuse Me Miss).” Despite my young cougar status at the time, I was excited to meet the cutie whom I told my mother was the “the next Michael Jackson.” Sadly nothing exciting happened in that first meeting. My interview was cancelled and I had to settle for a greeting in the hallway. What stands out in my mind was arriving to find Chris doing handstands in the hallway and playing on a skateboard. It was at that moment that I realized just how young he was. He was 16 going on 14, younger than my baby brother and far too young to be my crush. From then on whenever someone would engage me in Breezy conversations I would always say, “he’s a little kid.”
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That is until February 2009 when he brutally attacked Rihanna, leaving her bruised and battered for the world to see courtesy of the kind-hearted “journalists” at TMZ. Now, let me be clear, I was horrified at what I saw. Domestic violence is reprehensible, disgusting and devastating. No man or woman should hit each other in the name of love. Yes, due to my proximity to celebrity life at the time, I suspected a number of factors to be involved, (i.e. drugs and alcohol), but nothing excuses domestic violence. My heart went out to Rihanna, but my heart also went out to Chris. Here, we were watching two young beautiful talented kids live out the most humiliating moment of their lives for the world to see with no shortage of judgment being passed down on either. But as the endless babble of the media cycle began to compound my heart ached a little heavier for Chris.
Rihanna was the victim. She had a strong support network and it was clear she would be able to survive the moment and rise like a phoenix, which she has (check her album sales). But Chris, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be able to recover so easily. Not only had he committed a horrific act, it was apparent that no one had a problem deeming this young black man a deviant who deserved no chance at redemption. As I watched him struggle to apologize on Larry King and express his frustrations on Twitter, I was sad for Chris, because it was so apparent he didn’t have people looking out for his best interests, and that he was hurting and lost. I couldn’t stop thinking about that little boy doing handstands in the hallway and I couldn’t stop thinking about my little brother.
I thought Chris Brown was over. After spending over a year relatively shut out of the industry, a failed album (Graffiti) and a string of questionable behavior, it seemed like he reached a point of no return. So at the end of last year when he released the chart-topping single “Deuces” I was happy for him. It seemed like people were finally ready to forgive him and he might actually have a chance at a redemption song. But Monday’s Good Morning America debacle quickly reminded me that this was not so.
Many have argued that Chris should know how to handle himself in an interview setting and that he should be mature enough to answer questions and take ownership for his actions. I am in no way excusing his conduct, but I can’t help but wonder how many times does one apologize before they’re allowed to move on? Why it is that over two years later, Robin Roberts, (the same Robin Roberts who hosted Fantasia a week after her suicide attempt and said nothing), felt that she needed to re-humiliate a 21-year-old kid who was finally starting to find his footing?
And here’s where, in my opinion, race comes in. Remember the Matt Lauer/Kanye West interview on the Today Show, where he showed him pictures of George Bush and asked him to say sorry? How about the endless apology tour of Michael Vick? Or even the never-ending ramifications of Janet Jackson’s nipplegate? How many apologies are enough? Miley Cirus, Mel Gibson, Lindsey Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Kid Rock and abundance of white celebrities have made countless public and private mistakes. I find it hard to believe that any of them would be asked to comment on their two year old faux pas when appearing on a morning show to promote a new album, film, book, etc. I find it hard to believe because it’s just not so.
White celebrities move in a space of white privilege that allows for both forgiveness and forgetfulness on behalf of the ever-present mainstream media machine. This is a space that Black artists are shut out of. As racial identity continues to be negotiated through images and representations, Black celebrities continue to be subjected to the deeply embedded archetypes and stereotypes of Blacks in this country. Read: Chris Brown as the “angry black juvenile delinquent” and Janet Jackson as the “hyper-sexualized, overly promiscuous black female.”
We live in a time where celebrities have no right to privacy and the glorification of their lives makes them subject to ongoing scrutiny and public discourse. The media environment we live in today destroys lives. It exploits their weaknesses and takes joy in building ratings by exposing their darkest moments. But as the young Detroit rapper Big Sean said to MTV.com about Chris Brown, “He’s a real person and, at that, he’s a young dude too, man, and he made a mistake.”
Chris Brown is 21 years old. When he was 19 he did something horrible. He has apologized extensively. He has pled guilty in a court of law. He has been dropped from all endorsements. He has been shunned, shut out and ridiculed for two years, all before reaching drinking age. Are those fair repercussions for his actions? Probably. But how long should he pay?
I will never make excuses for what he did. But I also won’t condone allowing his life and talent to be forever defined by his mistakes. I truly hope Chris finds the help, love and support he needs to move forward with his life in the most positive way. It is as if we are witnessing him struggle to stay above water and his internal demons are a sinking ship. Won’t someone throw him a life vest?
I know it’s hard to remember this, but celebrities are just people. They are little boys that play on skateboards and do handstands in the hallway. They are young men with mountains of potential and many lessons to learn, just like my little brother.
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