Ayesha Siddiqi on You, Me, & Chris Brown

April 25th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

America’s concern over sending a message of tacit approval or even forgiveness of domestic violence motivates a level of vitriol directed toward Brown that provides a case study on the way we shame now. In London stickers warning “Do not buy this album! This man beats women” labeled Brown’s 2012 album Fortune (RCA). The same album received this six-word review from Chad Taylor of Iowa’s independent weeklyCityView: “Chris Brown hits women. Enough said.” On any slow day, comedians on Twitter can rely on a lazy dig at Brown to earn them a satisfactory number of favorites and retweets. Twitter comedian Jenny Johnson displayed a particular penchant for antagonizing Brown, manually retweeting him with references to the assault. He tweeted, “Can I wow you?” She retweeted with, “You misspelled “beat the shit out of you.” Brown tweeted “#DontGiveUpBecause you are special!,” Johnson added “ #GoToPrisonBecause you are a woman beater! This went on for years until last November when, to Chris Brown’s tweet of, “I look old as fuck! I’m only 23…,” Johnson added “I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person. This resulted in Brown replying for the first time, telling her to perform a number of sexually explicit acts and eventually deleting his twitter account. To Glamour magazine, which congratulated Johnson last month for “speaking her mind,” Johnson said, “Any type of abuse should never be tolerated.”

–Ayesha Siddiqi, You, Me, and Chris Brown | NOISEY, 2013

This piece by Ayesha Siddiqi is a conversation I’ve been trying to have for ages. It never goes well. I either screw it up because my mouth is stupid or I feel so strongly about it that I can’t quite get my thoughts to crystallize. Or I’m talking to someone who has no intention of actually having any conversation where Brown isn’t the worst person since Hitler. That one always frustrates me.

Anyway, this is a good read and a very important discussion to have. America is terrible at forgiveness. Prominent politicians suggest that people should be tortured and deprived of their rights because they’re criminals, getting raped in prison is seen as both a punchline (!) and justice (!!), and “live by the sword, die by the sword” is seen as some sort of axiom instead of a tragedy. “He got what he deserved,” we say, when we’re mad enough to care.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts on this that I’m still trying to work out, and Siddiqi’s essay is going to be a big help as far as that goes. The thought I’m trying to figure out how to express is that we need to start pushing for rehabilitation, help, and forgiveness, instead of just stopping at eternal punishment. I don’t think that believing that the guilty should be punished is in no way incompatible with that position.

Siddiqi’s killer on Twitter, too. Follow her.

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8 comments to “Ayesha Siddiqi on You, Me, & Chris Brown”

  1. Of course, before rehabilitation & forgiveness should come an admission of guilt & wrongdoing–I think the former pretty much requires the latter–and that’s been lacking (as far as I know) from CB.

    (Why focus on his violence and not Sean Connery’s or Joe DiMaggio’s or Edward Furlong’s or John Heard’s or Charlton Heston’s or Tommy Lee’s or Dudley Moore’s or Jim Morrison’s or etc etc etc? Racism, of course).

  2. Oh the claws always comes out when it’s a black person. Especially a famous one. Tiger Woods isn’t the first person to cheat on his wife, but oh did the media have a field day with him because they love to see us fall. America as a whole loves crucifying people in general but when it’s a person of color, it’s even worse and they rarely forget.

  3. I think you’re absolutely right, that punishment shouldn’t be the way to go, that we should try to help people become better. I like to think about what we could do if we thought more like well written Superman t b h.

    On the other hand, Brown doesn’t seem penitent at all. Can’t really rehabilitate someone who’s unwilling to change. It doesn’t seem like Chris is Jean Valjean and the media is Javert.

  4. What would Brown have to do in order to appear penitent? I’ve seen that sentiment before, but I don’t get why people say he hasn’t admitted guilt or isn’t sorry for what he did, because he’s been handed down a punishment from the courts, gone on a couple different apology/responsibility interview tours, and never denied that what he did was particularly messed up.

    That’s sort of my problem with the this aspect of the situation — he has been punished and he has apologized. But because he’s a dick he’s not sorry enough? Do we get to decide that or do the courts?

  5. Not that race doesn’t play a factor, but I think a big reason why the Chris Brown scorn meme has taken off was that picture of Rihanna’s battered face. You take that image, and the fact that it happened to a woman who is a star in her own right, and it’s pretty easy to see how this snowballed.

    Though it would be interesting to peak in on a parallel earth, and see how different the coverage would be if you swapped out Brown and Rihanna for Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.

  6. Thank you for starting a conversation about this Mr. Brothers, and that Siddiqi article is very well done. I’ve always been amazed at the amount of hate that Brown still gets over the whole thing. There’s no excusing it, what he did was terrible, but it’s nothing other celebrities haven’t done before. I honestly feel that a huge amount of it has to do with the crazy amount of racial bias still present in America today. We look at any white star and we know that four years on all would have been forgiven. Yet for Chris Brown people still have it out for him. I’ve even had situations where I’ve asked people why they hold out the hate for Brown and so many can only tell me they have no idea. But you’re right in that this idea leads into the even bigger one of America’s love of punishment. In America we have very little focus on reformation. There’s no desire to try to improve the people we see as criminals, all we want is for them to pay whether they deserve it or not. I’m worried I’m not really breaking any ground here. I do think though that a big reason people have a mad on for Chris Brown the way they do is that it allows them a focal point for the “women beaters deserve to pay” argument without the risk of having to make people care about the person you’re arguing about. Everyone already hates Chris Brown and by having him there as a scapegoat whether he deserves it or not makes validating your point that much easier.

  7. I think there’s some major racial issues involved, yes, but as pointed out, there’s also that the target of his violence is a person as or even more famous than he is (given my media habits, I have to seek out Chris Brown’s music while Rihanna’s comes to me). There’s the very public nature of their fame and their relationship.

    2 things I think I want to say, and I’m not sure I’ll say them well:

    1) As useful as it is and should be to compare how white and black performers who abuse their partners is, I think there’s also a historical context. What if we compared Chris Brown to James Brown? How do we compare Chris to Ike Turner? How should we?

    2) I paid little attention to Chris Brown before the assault and I try to pay as little attention to him as I can while still being a pop-culture fiend afterwards. But from what little I have observed:

    * I think people who are incensed at his continued visibility are not just incensed at his behavior — they are incensed at all the fans who not only refused to reject him but publicly defended him and/or blamed Rihanna. When you see someone defending something you find abhorrent, it can really get under your skin. I think there’s some of that going on.

    * In regards to both Brown and Sheen – used to be, when people in Hollywood got into big trouble, their publicists would ‘send them out of town’ – whether they were really in rehab or the hospital or whatever, they would lay low, stay out of the gossip columns and let the public forget. Not so with these two. They are loud and proud and public the whole time, regardless of whether they apologize or make amends. Contrition and remorse have an element of reflection – going quiet and thinking about what you’ve done and its consequences. Neither Brown nor Sheen have been quiet long enough for most people who find what they did wrong to be convinced that they’ve taken real thought as to why it was wrong and how they shouldn’t do it again. That’s part (not all) of the use of shunning in communities – it’s a time-out for contrition and finding the error of your ways, as well as punishment. But shunning doesn’t work so well in the Internet age.

    FYI, YMMV, my $0.02 …

  8. I can’t add much to the larger questions being asked here about Chris Brown and society. I just don’t have a broad enough perspective. However, I would still like to share my experience with the issue as I don’t see it represented here or in the original article. As an anecdote, it should be treated with the limitations of such, rather than as an example of how everyone in the society at large should think about the matter.
    I am an abuse survivor.

    My introduction to Chris Brown was as the abuser of Rihanna, who I did know as an entertainer. As such, he had no good will built up as someone I had enjoyed in the past or as someone I had interacted with personally. It should not be surprising that makes one hell of a hole for him to try and dig himself out of to get back in my good graces.

    He has apologized. That means nothing. Abusers will often apologize to their victims. This is usually to help keep control of the victim, so they will not go to the police or another authority figure. Many abusers are simply lying when they apologize. Some are sincere, but truly lack the impulse control to stop it from happening again. They may have a huge gap in their emotional growth that fails to give them the tools to divert themselves before they literally lash out at someone they are supposed to love. They may have a substance abuse problem that creates a similar impulse problem. In both of these later cases there are problems that are solvable but have a notable failure rate while they are being worked on.

    Because of that failure rate, the simplest and most reliable advice that is given to victims is to cut the abuser out of their life. Life is rarely that simple. For example, Rihanna got back with Chris Brown after he put her in the hospital. Life is rarely perfect outside of a bad relationship, either. For someone outside the abusive relation, being supportive of a victim so the victim knows they will have support when they finally leave is a tough tightrope to walk across. The intense criticism Rihanna received when she went back to Chris was a mistake. It will make it harder for her to leave him if things go wrong again, because having been criticized so sharply, she won’t be as willing to believe she was wrong. She’s only human. Unfortunately, so were the critics. It’s hard to remain calm when you can see someone doing something that puts them in danger.

    And my assessment is that she is probably still in danger. They were young when it happened, but not so young that Chris had been completely unexposed to the cultural norm that you do not hit people you love. While I have not made any special effort to keep up with Rihanna and Chris Brown, too many times I’ve seen him pop up in the gossip section after he reacts in public with anger or frustration. Humans have a wide range of emotions they can feel when they run into something they don’t like. If they cannot face it with equanimity, they can react with sorrow or with regret or by pulling away. They are not stuck with anger as their only choice. That he still feels comfortable reacting with anger in public when the entire public knows what he did makes me worried about how he reacts in private.

    The intensity of all of this may have faded over time, but Chris has decided to pursue a career of trying to get the public at large to give him money as an entertainer. How do you think people of the public at large who share my viewpoint are going to react to this? My assessment is not very well. Consider how worked up people get about politicians who try to pass laws the people don’t like. Now imagine how those same people are going to react to someone who put their friend in the hospital.

    What can Chris Brown do to make me change my mind? Since I’ve concluded he apparently can’t control himself, probably not much. I wish Rihanna safety, and I wish him peace. That’s the best I can do.