Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence
This story was first published in June 2021
Because I have roughly 72 podcasts lined up on my phone – and I genuinely like listening to Mai FM – I still haven’t gotten around to getting a bandwidth expander for my little Japanese import, five years after getting it.
But this week, while my phone battery started dying, I also found myself having to turn off the radio and make my commute in silence.
See, I normally do love you Mai, but on this occasion the two hosts were getting excited about a track that had been teased last week. Finally – the moment we’d all apparently been hanging out for had arrived. It was time to hear the full track, Angles, by Wale and…. Chris Brown.
That’s a non-negotiable hard no for me, thanks.
Now, I’m no fan of the frenzied public pile-ons that we’ve apparently decided to call cancel culture, but it infuriates and puzzles me to no end that Chris Brown continues to be given a platform. He still gets oodles of radio air-time, his music is celebrated – and he continues to make a mint out of his celebrity status.
Why is it that some folks need only make an off-colour tweet and are then harangued and called to be removed from public discourse, while others can, say, have a long, documented history of violent attacks against women, without there being any consequences to their actions? Or is it only really women who we rush to “cancel”?
It was only a couple of days earlier that police were called to Chris Brown’s LA home and are now investigating an alleged assault. A young woman claims – according to TMZ – that she was struck across the head by Chris Brown so hard her weave came out.
And, as we all know, it’s far from being the only blemish on the Grammy winner’s record. His history of violent assaults stretch back over 12 years.
Just a quick recap of a few of the more major ones – in 2019 he was released after being detained in Paris on aggravated rape and drug offenses. A year earlier, in 2018, he was accused of presiding over a drug-fueled orgy at his Los Angeles mansion where a woman was sexually assaulted by two of his associates. And the year before that his ex-girlfriend, model and actress Karrueche Tran, was granted a five-year restraining order against him. In 2016 he was accused of pulling a gun on a female in his LA home, which allegedly ended in a long stand-off with the LAPD as he refused to give himself up.
Of course, this all came after the assault the entire world is familiar with – the beating of his then girlfriend, Grammy award-winning mega star Rihanna in 2009 which saw him plead guilty to felony assault, for which he completed probation in 2015.
I remember the day after the assault well – I was working as the editor of teen mag Creme and began hearing whisperings about it as celebs took to the red carpet for the Grammy awards and the young ‘it couple’ were nowhere to be seen. Hours later that horrific photo of Rihanna’s swollen, beaten and bloody face were everywhere and the details of what her boyfriend had done to her were made public.
I remember the massive responsibility I felt at the time to show the young teen readers of Creme that this wasn’t what love should look like – that violence and verbal abuse are not, and should never be, part of a normal relationship. But I also didn’t want to completely condemn Chris Brown – what he did was an act of pure evil, but, now was his time to change course, be accountable, reflect, seek help and end that cycle of abuse. I believed we should have all been outraged by his actions, but he should be given the opportunity to change and conquer his demons and do some good in this world.
Unfortunately as time has gone on, Chris Brown has shown no signs that he is committed to any kind of rehabilitation.
My blood boiled when he was the subject of a documentary in 2017 – Chris Brown: Welcome To My Life – where he finally addressed that infamous night in 2009, something he refers to simply as the “incident”.
Essentially, Chris Brown was just given a platform to share his disingenuous apologies and regret. I say disingenuous, because his storytelling all centred on what he thought Rihanna had done to make him fly of the handle in a violent rage that night.
Here’s what he said:
“She starts going off, she throws the phone, ‘I hate you!’, whatever, whatever, she starts hitting me, we’re in a little Lamborghini, you know she’s fighting me. I remember she tried to kick me, just like her beating shit, but then I really hit her. With a closed fist, like I punched her, and it busted her lip, and when I saw it I was in shock. I was like, ‘Fuck, why did I hit her like that?’ So, from there she’s spitting blood in my face, it raised me even more. It’s a real fight in the car, and we driving in the street.”
I need to take a deep breath.
In the eight years that had passed since the attack, he still had not learned that whatever Rihanna did or said in that car that night justifies – or makes any rational sense – for what he did next. It’s classic victim blaming: “I only did it because she said something mean that made me feel less manly”.
“I only punched her in the face with a closed fist because she spat blood in my face.” Oi vey.
Chris Brown has repeatedly down-played the vicious attack, which seriously injured Rihanna and only ended when she was able to get the window down of the car and yell to someone on the street, “Help! He’s trying to kill me.”
It was also far from being the first time there was violence in their young relationship.
A couple of years later he even debuted a new tattoo on his neck – and I can’t believe I’m writing these words – which he claimed was of a skull. Now, I’ve never seen a skull that looked like that before – and neither did the rest of the world, who were outraged that the image seemed to look uncannily like an abused woman, specifically that infamous shot of Rihanna.
But in the years since, little has changed for Chris Brown. He’s headlined seven major tours, his albums have debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, he’s won gongs at the Grammys, American Music Awards, BETs, Billboard Awards, iHeartRadio Music Awards, MTV Awards and more. He’s collaborated with a bevy of stars, and continues to enjoy extensive radio air time.
Am I the only one to whom this makes zero sense?
Our acceptance – and celebration – of Chris Brown is only doing further damage to entrench the normalcy of domestic violence and family harm.
How often have you heard someone share that such-and-such has been/is in an abusive relationship, only for the first question to be asked next be, “Why didn’t she leave?” It’s often the case, thanks to social conditioning, that we question the victim instead of asking the more important question of, what the heck is wrong with the abuser? They’re so often left out of the narrative.
Even the wording and terms around domestic violence are warped. Take ‘violence against women’ for example, which removes men from the narrative entirely, as though it’s some sort of mystery as to how women end up abused.
Some things have to change – and deciding to quit supporting Chris Brown and giving him air time would be a fantastic place to start.