Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
A little while back, I wrote a post about Chris Brown, domestic violence, and the reason I believe he’s become the Partner Violence Poster Boy: race. I received interesting feedback on Facebook, Twitter, and in person; the most common response I got was that race wasn’t the reason Brown has gotten so much attention, it’s either A) The level of both his and Rihanna’s celebrity, or B) that he refuses to apologize about it (I also got a lot of really misogynist responses about Rihanna and victims of partner abuse in general, but we’ll not get into that right now). To them I say, A) Both Sean Penn and Madonna are pretty huge celebrities in their own right, and Sean Penn hasn’t received the media gutting Brown has, and B) the same goes for almost every other celebrity I listed in my previous post.
One more constructive piece of criticism came from one of my professors, Morgane Richardson, and Twitter user Michael T. Ford III (@MTFIII); both encouraged me to investigate the reasons I believed race was a factor of Brown’s infamy. And here’s what I’ve come up with.
Chris Brown as The Big Bad Domestic Abuser* helps mainstream (white) America maintain and solidify a lot of existing stereotypes of Black men (the same thing had been done thirty years earlier to Ike Turner). Visual media, such as newspaper photographs or television news, has long portrayed Black men as criminals. From the centuries-old brutish “ignoble savage” stereotype, to the political exploitation of Willie Horton, to the national media flurry over OJ, Black masculinity has long been equated to violence in the United States. Painting Brown as just another Black man who violently abuses his partner reenforces this harmful stereotype, and perpetuates the oppression of Black men. (I mean, even Fox News contributor Andy Levy passionately and articulately joined in the condemnation of Brown – and Fox isn’t exactly known for jumping to the defense of Black people or women.)
Chris Brown’s prominence as a Black perpetrator of violence also contributes to the Othering of nonwhite ethnic and racial groups as domestic abusers. In May, the “Sex” issue of Foreign Policy magazine was dedicated to sexual and gender disparity in the Middle East, the Mona Eltahawy-penned cover story titled “Why Do They Hate Us?” The subtitle reads, “The real war on women is in the Middle East.” This was released amidst the media uproar about Sandra Fluke, Planned Parenthood, and the general growing public and political importance and awareness of women’s health on a national scale. Eltahawy, in referring to the Middle East as having the “real” war on women, does two very harmful things: 1) Trivializes and dismisses the struggles of women in the United States, and 2) Portrays Middle Eastern men as the exclusive abusers of women. Articles like that, and other ones that focus solely on violence against women outside of the US, contribute to the idea that domestic violence happens elsewhere, not anywhere in (white) America. Domestic violence is something that Othered people do – Othered people like Chris Brown.
I’d be interested to hear more thoughts and opinions about Chris Brown’s media treatment – what do you think?
*I in no way mean to trivialize what Chris Brown did to Rihanna. What he did was absolutely terrible, but I just want to point out that he is not the only celebrity man to do it – yet he is treated that way.