If singer Chris Brown had beat up Black Entertainment Television (BET) president Debra Lee’s daughter, would she let him on her awards show?
That was just one of the questions readers posed on a ColorLines story published earlier this week. In “Chris Brown’s Fake Tears? He Had No Business on BET Either Way”, I asked readers if Chris Brown had done enough in publicly confronting his woman-batterer past to merit a spotlight on BET’s primetime awards show—the number one rated awards show among Black viewers in the U.S.
A lively conversation erupted on both ColorLines and the ColorLines Facebook page. A number of commenters felt Brown has been unfairly singled out, saying things like: “Please! give the guy a break…it’s obvious he’s hurting.” Others asked their own questions: “I have a question to pose to everyone who felt Chris Brown should not have been able to perform and doesn’t deserve forgiveness, what do you suggest as an alternate?”
First, here’s the back story: After declining Brown’s request to perform last year, BET invited Brown to perform a medley of songs as a tribute to his idol Michael Jackson. He began his six minute performance moving his body in ways that only someone who’s obsessively rehearsed Michael Jackson’s choreography could. Brown mastered and performed each routine meticulously. But by the end of his performance, when “Man in the Mirror” began to play, Brown became emotional and ended up on his knees, crying.
Here’s how, one reader reacted:
Crying to Man in the Mirror isn’t a sign of meaningfully making up for his heinous act of violence… Numerous survivors out there relive their experiences when these men are given platforms to imply that their pain is greater than the brutality they inflict on the bodies of women they claim to love. The bottom line is, we need to make a decision about what kind of world we want to live in: one where violent crimes against women are treated seriously or simply given a year grace period.
Earlier this year, six months after he was sentenced to “labor-oriented community service” for assaulting his girlfriend, Rihanna, Brown received a glowing probation report. At the time, he had completed 17 out of 52 court-mandated domestic violence counseling groups sessions, paid his fines and was performing community service. He’s also apologized to his fans. So is it time to forgive him?
That’s actually the wrong question. The question is not how BET (or the rest of us) should or shouldn’t engage Brown in his personal drama. Rather, the question is, What responsibility does BET have to the Black community and Black women?
More than one commenter pointed out a range of troubling ways in which other artists demean Black women on BET every day and to the many other public figures who have histories of abusing women. All of this is what makes Brown’s appearance so troubling. Against that backdrop, and the backdrop of remarkably high rates of domestic violence among Black women, BET made a particularly loud statement by aiding Brown’s image makeover.
Brown isn’t just any pop star. He was a role model for young boys and a heartthrob to young girls learning about love and relationships through billboard topping songs like “Kiss Kiss” and television appearances on the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” “Kids look up to him. He could of gone out to speak to the youth. Gone in to schools and Boys and Girls clubs and bared his heart out,” says Tanya McLeod, a domestic violence survivor and organizer at the Voices of Women Organizing Project.
That sort of act could go a long way. According to the Women Of Color’s Network, Black women are less likely to report abusers or seek help because of discrimination and Black men’s vulnerability to police brutality and negative stereotyping. As a public figure, Brown had a unique opportunity to put a face to treatment, recovery and what it means to heal from domestic violence. Instead, we’ve now moved on to his personal story of forgiveness—and makeover. “People aren’t talking about his actions, but his performance—and it waters down his actions,” said McLeod.
Who knows where Brown truly is in his personal journey. But it’s clear Black and Latino communities as a whole have a long way to go. BET isn’t helping. Visit Voices of Women Organizing Project - Surviviors of Domestic Violence Organizing For Change to learn how you can.
(Photo by Jason Kempin/ Getty Images)