Chris Brown, Rihanna and Reality

New America Media, Commentary, Elizabeth Méndez Berry Posted: Mar 01, 2009

What happened between Chris Brown and Rihanna on February 7 is still unclear, and we will probably never know. What is clear is that relationship violence persists, largely ignored except when photogenic stars are involved.

For black women ages 15 to 29 —Rihanna’s demographic— homicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A woman’s most likely murderer is her current or former romantic partner.

The problem is widespread: the U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that in 2007 intimate partner assaults on women were up 42 percent. Sadly, the response to Brown and Rihanna reveals why this goes unchecked: more time is spent attacking the individuals than tackling the problem.

On the one hand, some in the media convicted Brown instantly. Presumed guilty in the court of public opinion, he lost lucrative endorsements and radio play. After the story broke on Feb. 9, there was a dominant point of view on two gossip sites with a mainly white female readership. Commentators on TMZ called Brown “a piece of garbage,” “a thug,” and “a vampire.” At PerezHilton: “You cannot take the hood outta these rats. Enough said.”

Other fans launched a ruthless defense of the impeccably packaged good guy via a smear campaign against the self-professed bad girl. On Bossip and Necole Bitchie, two sites popular with African-American women, many argued that a racist media had railroaded Brown. Instead, they tried and convicted Rihanna. Sample comments: “Caribbean women are crazy, she probably cut him." “This is a classic case of B.B.W syndrome BITTER BLACK WOMAN!!! She is straight trying to ruin him."

Even outside the celebrity gossip cauldron, the alleged victim was allegedly guilty. A friend called me, exasperated that everyone she talked to about the case (four educated African Americans) responded the same way: "She must have hit him first," said one. "I wonder what she did. She always rubbed me the wrong way,” said another.

Some softened their stance towards Rihanna when a photo, apparently of her bruised face after the attack, was leaked. Others did not. Posted on Bossip, Feb. 20: “Her face doesn’t look much different than normal. Those contusions [are] probably the result of an air bag hitting her.”

I’ve witnessed this reaction before. In 2005, I wrote an investigative article about relationship violence in the hip hop industry for Vibe magazine, and the women who spoke to me, wives and girlfriends of well-known rappers, faced rumors that nearly drowned out their allegations. The article sparked many constructive conversations, but other readers asked (loudly) why I aired the dirty laundry of beloved stars like Notorious B.I.G. and Big Pun.

Ten days ago, the video blogger Jay Smooth interviewed me about Brown and Rihanna for his site illdoctrine.com. After the video’s Valentine’s Day debut, it was widely circulated, and I got many positive e-mails (it has been viewed 30,000 times on YouTube). Still, some strenuously defended a man’s right to strike a woman back (in other words: a woman can’t claim abuse if she lands the occasional left hook).

My opinion, for the record: male or female, you don’t have to be innocent to be a victim of violence. Other than self-defense, I’m against responding to a smack with another one. There’s legitimate frustration among both sexes that women’s violence goes ignored. There’s also legitimate frustration that men’s violence against women— much more devastating in terms of hospital trips and homicides—gets minimized. These concerns are often expressed at high volumes (or in block caps). Instead, we need frank conversations about conflict resolution because this isn’t a men’s or women’s issue, it is a community issue. The adversarial “Team Rihanna” versus “Team Breezy” cacophony implies that somebody wins at the end. Everyone loses.

Chris Brown is 19. Rihanna is 21. The tragedy is that Brown, who witnessed his stepfather abuse his mother, allegedly resorted to beating his girlfriend. The bigger tragedy is that if that’s the case, he’s not alone. According to the CDC,
teen relationship violence, including beatings perpetrated by females, is at an all-time high (though attacks by males are much more severe).

One of the few benefits of the nonstop coverage of this case is that we are forced to confront an issue that too often stays behind closed doors, without the paparazzi waiting outside to check for bruises. Famous or not, young people need guidance on how to navigate romantic relationships. Unfortunately, whether a case involves celebrities or civilians, too many demonize one person instead of humanizing both. With all the bickering, there’s little attention paid to preventing destructive behavior in the future. Is it any wonder that a growing number of young people can’t figure out how to have healthy relationships?

Elizabeth Méndez Berry is a journalist based in New York.

Related Articles:

I'm Over Chris Brown

Chris Brown and Rihanna: If You Gotta Beat Her, Leave Her

Chris Brown's Dad: My Son is Sorry

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User Comments


lady "G" on Mar 14, 2009 at 09:27:38 said:

Why you people keep saying that Rihanna is suppose to be a role model, she is just a young woman her self, iam so tired of people saying that, your role models should be your parent or parents not Rihanna, and as far as I\'m concern Rihanna is not any of you guys parent after all she did not ask to be a role model she\'s human just like the rest of us.


lady" G" on Mar 14, 2009 at 08:58:07 said:

Ms moutain girl, Chris is not a thug he's a young man who apparently allowed his rage to get the best of him, how ever, I bet that does not keep you WBs from wanting a thug who's black!! You people need to stop with your judgmental remarks towards this young man who you know nothing about besides his music.


gaby on Mar 04, 2009 at 15:48:40 said:

iam soooo mad at chris you sould never hit a girl
he is a ugly person and a dirty one because only ulgy people would do some thing like this they sould not be together its just going to happen agian and this time you well proble end up deid i hope chris brown and rhianna both read this!!!


Monica Arteaga on Mar 04, 2009 at 12:34:36 said:

Well What i think is that Rihanna and Chris brown Made a G r e a t Couple ! & That's all i gotta Say . (X


hafizuddin on Mar 03, 2009 at 23:19:46 said:

rihanna n chris both of u is my favourite artis....i hope both of will be the most romantic and never be seperated....gud luck my idollll


superstar32 on Mar 03, 2009 at 14:54:38 said:

rihanna do not be crazy and did u really go back with chris


superstar65 on Mar 03, 2009 at 14:52:13 said:

i know u and chris were together but do not go back with him cause i bet u this was not the first beating. u are my first favorite role model and u can do better than that.


nile ferguson on Mar 02, 2009 at 16:26:15 said:

This was a very biased article. How did the writer know that the writers against Chris brown was not black? I have so much to say about this but it is not worth it.


Chocolate Chiq on Mar 02, 2009 at 11:11:10 said:

One of the main problems is alot of "false equivalency" thinking. While in an incident where a female punches a guy and he slaps her and they both get arrested is one thing. IT IS NOT THE SAME AS a female slapping a male and he responds by punching, slapping, biting, and choking her.

While it is not politically correct to say, during a fight if a male decides to "go all in" and uses his full strength, women are sh*t out of luck. It's over, which is why you see the huge percentage of women who end up in the hospital or dead after very violent confrontations.

If you pay attention to domestic violence, you know that the Chris Brown/Rihanna story is very typical. Add the leaked picture to the mix and you have have the reason why so many people came down on Chris Brown. Kinda like when you hear about police shooting an unarmed black man. You don't know ALL the details, but it follows some very familiar past scenarios....and I usually don't hear many black people saying "Wait for all the details!" or "Maybe the police had a good reason!"


KLS on Mar 02, 2009 at 08:20:34 said:

Blah, blah, blah...say what you want but this is accurate.

I'm a Black woman, and BW that have this twisted mentality will never see it for what it is, and are beyond reasoning. If someone doesn't understand why he's wrong for "allegedly" abusing her the way he did regardless of anything she might have done, they never will.

BW justify anything a BM does if they think he loves them. Face it, Black women have no idea what love really is.


Elizabeth Mendez Berry on Mar 02, 2009 at 08:19:44 said:

Thanks for all the great comments, particularly to Drew Crecente. So sorry to hear about your daughter. A few thoughts:

1. Dating violence affects all communities, and the blame game (blaming either the alleged victim or the alleged abuser) does too. So why am I even talking about race?

2. Because I'm interested in the response to this specific case. If I were writing about a Jonas brother allegedly attacking his girlfriend, I would talk about the response in his community and outside it, and I would bring up relevant statistics (like I did here about black women Rihanna's age, as well as teens overall). And maybe the public response would be exactly the same.

3. To me, what's important about the Rihanna and Chris Brown case is that it gives us a window into something that we seldom discuss, that's on the rise. I was offended that Brown was immediately judged guilty. But I was also concerned about how people seemed to want to believe that Rihanna had done something to provoke him (where did that Herpes nonsense came from?). The point of this article is to argue that we need to stop seeing it as a \"team x\" vs. \"team y\" issue and deal with conflict more constructively. Did you know that only two states, Rhode Island and Texas, mandate education about teen dating abuse?

4. @Dani C And yes, people on Bossip and NB were on \"Team Rihanna\" too, but if you compare those two sites with Perez Hilton and TMZ, there was definitely more \"Team Breezy\" and less \"Team Rihanna,\" don\'t you think? My point with those quotes from all the sites was that as long as we keep demonizing one or the other and avoiding the real issue-- that young people need help to have health relationships-- we\'re not getting anywhere. And I do agree that many bloggers of all backgrounds are slamming Rihanna for getting back together with Brown.

5. I\'m not arguing that it\'s specifically one community that blames the victim. I wrote about this because the response reminded me of what I heard when I reported about Big Pun\'s widow for Vibe (he\'d abused her horrifically). Outsiders had a tendency to trash Pun, and ignored the violence he himself had been through at the hands of his stepfather. But his widow faced the harshest criticism from her own Puerto Rican community-- including women, who considered her husband a hero.

6. Latinos officially have relatively low reported rates of domestic violence, but according to several Latino counselors I\'ve interviewed, it happens much more frequently. A guy told me I was stereotyping our community because I mentioned that. The same day I heard about a Latino cop (cops are a group with very high levels of domestic violence) who\'d just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing his girlfriend. I believe that staying silent about this issue is what hurts us— not talking honestly about it. Similarly, it\'s important to be aware that certain groups do suffer from higher levels of domestic violence, including women ages 20-24 (again Rihanna\'s age) per the Department of Justice, and Native American (who face by far the highest rates of domestic violence) and African American women (the intimate homicide rate was higher for black girlfriends than any other group in 2005, although it has declined 66% since 1976 , again Department of Justice.

Hope this helps, and thanks for reading. I'm very hopeful that instead of beating up on these two, we'll start taking a look at ourselves.

Elizabeth


MONIQUE COLLINS on Mar 02, 2009 at 07:46:35 said:

people need to understand that rihanna is a grown women that is doing whateva she wants to i dont understand why people have their opinions on this situation if this was a couple down the street getting in this situation nobody would care and yall know thats the truth chris and rihanna need to get help and get past this situation people need to mind thier own business and let them handle their problems and the public trying to handle their problems i dont understand why people let these celebrities be a role model to these children i just dont get that at all i dont let any celebrities influence my life at all i know that they are gonna make mistakes because they are human and on a side note about this domestic violence issue say for instance their was a couple of the same sex and they get into a fight would it be a big deal because its common to see women fighting each other and men fighting each other please no one shouldnt put their hands on no one because it doesnt matter what type of relationship people are in


Dani C. on Mar 02, 2009 at 07:21:22 said:

I post on Necole Bitchie from time to time and everyone had very mixed opinions on this. I feel as though this article tried to make it seem like the black blogs and the black people who commented are ok with domestic violence. How about instead of reading one or two comments, read ALL of them before coming up with your conclusions? And go to Perez Hilton and TMZ now that people think they are back together. People are saying that they hope next time she gets it worse and she deserves what she gets. I'm not sure, but i don't think anything like that was said on NB.


MONIQUE COLLINS on Mar 02, 2009 at 07:16:42 said:

people need to understand that rihanna is a grown women that is doing whateva she wants to i dont understand why people have their opinions on this situation if this was a couple down the street getting in this situation nobody would care and yall know thats the truth chris and rihanna need to get help and get past this situation people need to mind thier own business and let them handle their problems and the public trying to handle their problems i dont understand why people let these celebrities be a role model to these children i just dont get that at all i dont let any celebrities influence my life at all i know that they are gonna make mistakes because they are human and on a side note about this domestic violence issue say for instance their was a couple of the same sex and they get into a fight would it be a big deal because its common to see women fighting each other and men fighting each other please no one shouldnt put their hands on no one because it doesnt matter what type of relationship people are in


ANON on Mar 02, 2009 at 06:50:59 said:

IM SO TIRED OF THIS STORY. BLOG ABOUT SOME REAL ISSUES, LIKE ALL THIS MONEY GETTING HANDED TO THESE BANKS, WHO DON'T NEED IT AND WHY THE HECK AIG NEEDS A 3RD BAILOUT OF 30MILLION, AND WHAT THE RISING UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, PEOPLE ARE LOSING THEIR JOBS AND DON'T HAVE MONEY TO FEED THEIR FAMILIES...ITS SICK THAT THIS MUCH IS PUT INTO THESE CELEBS. IF MEDIA NEEDS TO DO MORE TRUTHFUL UNBIASED REPORTING ON REAL ISSUES.. NOT THESE "CELEBS". INTERVIEW THESE BIG SHOTS "CELEBS" THAT MAKE 80 MILLION OFF OF THE CONSUMERS BACK, AND ASK THEM WHAT ARE DOING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE ECONOMY, WILL THEY SPONSOR/HELP A FAMILY IN NEED WHO IS LOSING THEIR HOME, BECAUSE THEY GOT LAID OFF A JOB THEY HAD FOR 20 YEARS. ASK THEM WILL THEY PAY IT FORWARD.


E. Woods on Mar 02, 2009 at 05:21:11 said:

Male or female if your partner raises one hand to hit you, walk away. Don't look back, don't collect $100, just get away. Rihanna and Chris need to do the same.


Nichelle Walker on Mar 02, 2009 at 05:16:06 said:

Did you guys see this girl get beat? We still don't know what happen.. I heard it was a girl at the scene who ri-ri fought so we don't know what happened. Stop making this a race thing.. What if I said all white men kill there wife for the insurance money or for there new girlfriend.. They kill there wife’s burry them and start over again with the money...is that racist because if you watch TRU TV that's all you see is white men killing there wife’s because he doesn't want to be with her anymore..


TEAMBREEZY on Mar 02, 2009 at 04:36:52 said:

Let's face it. This blogging, etc. brings $$$ to the game. These were two young boyfriend and girlfriend who had a fight. They are not domestic partners. They don't live together. They had a fight. They made up and for now they want to be together. Why is that such a problem. This time debating whether or not something has already happened is useless. Do you have an answer for the economic crises facing the nation today? This is not a race issue. These are two young people who are entitled to live their own lives the way they see fit, not to please those who look to them as role models. Everyone is responsible for their own a z z e s. Adults don't take advice anyway. Otherwise, there'd be no increase in AIDS, the prison population, etc. I think this internet has everybody thinking that they have more power over others than they do. All you have is more information, and half of that is bad. LEAVE THESE TWO PEOPLE ALONE. THEY ARE ADULTS AND ARE ENTITLED TO LIVE THEIR LIVES AS THEY SEE FIT. NOT TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT. SAVE YOUR OWN DAUGHTER, YOUR OWN SON AND LEAVE CHRIS AND RIHANNA'S FAMILIES TO TAKE CARE OF THEM. THEY ARE ONLY ENTERTAINERS AND IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT THAT THEY ARE IDOLIZED. HOW YOU REACT AND RESPOND TO OTHERS IS UP TO YOU. PERSONAL RESP0NSIBILITY.

AS JAY Z SAID: WHAT YOU EAT DON'T MAKE ME SH** so don't put your STUFF ON THESE TWO YOUNG PEOPLE WHO HAVE THEIR ENTIRE LIVES IN FRONT OF THEM.

HOW MANY OF US WOULD WANT TO BE DEFINED BY THE ONE THING WE GOT WRONG IN LIFE AT 19?

LEAVE THESE TWO PEOPLE ALONE. MIND YOUR BUSINESS AND GET A LIFE. CHRIS AND RIHANNA HAVE THEIRS.

THEY BOTH MADE MISTAKES I THIS SITUATION AND I'M SURE THEY BOTH LEARNED AND THEY BOTH WILL PAY THE PRICE.

THE REST OF US NEED TO MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS AND ATTEND TO THE NEEDS OF OUR OWN CHILDREN SO THAT OUR CHILDREN DON'T END UP LIKE THEM, IF ANYTHING . . .

OTHERWISE, MIND YOUR BUSINESS . . .

I'M TEAM BREEZY AND I APPROVED THIS MESSAGE.


Holla on Mar 02, 2009 at 01:06:43 said:

what da fuck Domestic Violence isn't a race issue, So stop trying to make it one.
U people always think blacks are bad people but please dont make Domestic Violence a race issue because its not.


Live4Gossip on Mar 01, 2009 at 21:30:34 said:

Just :sad: for both parties.


Li on Mar 01, 2009 at 21:13:45 said:

Its interesting how you pick and chose with NB comment you want to showcase on this site, because there are over 500 comments plus, on NB about the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation, and not all them are against Chris, not are all against Rihanna, and there is a big group of comments that are neutral and not against neither party. But its easy to write a bias article and pick and chose which comment to highlight.


Nikka on Mar 01, 2009 at 13:39:35 said:

Domestic Violence isn't a race issue, So stop trying to make it one.


Nikka on Mar 01, 2009 at 13:37:37 said:

STOP BRINGING RACE INTO THIS, BECAUSE THIS IS NOT A RACE ISSUE PEOPLE!


Hallee on Mar 01, 2009 at 13:35:16 said:

Why does race always have to be brought up in everything? This is not a race issue people!


Drew Crecente on Mar 01, 2009 at 08:20:52 said:

This situation is as predictable as it is regrettable. 44% of all students will have been in an abusive relationship by the time they graduate from college.

FORTY-FOUR percent!

As reprehensible as Mr. Brown\'s actions are, hopefully it will help to increase awareness of this problem. The week prior to this incident was National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week in the US but little mention was made of it in the mainstream media. Protect yourself and those you care about by sharing the information about Teen Dating Violence.

Three years ago, on February 15, 2006 my 18-year-old honor student daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. It\'s too late to save her, but hopefully not too late to save those close to you.

Drew Crecente
Executive Director, Jennifer Ann\'s Group
www.JenniferAnn.org


holl on Mar 01, 2009 at 06:09:01 said:

For the news of Rihanna gave Chris herpes, the new subscribers on the largest STD dating site ==== STDslove.c o m ===== have increased 30% over last month


sean on Mar 01, 2009 at 06:07:19 said:

We'll be reading about Rihana's murder and Chris Brown's arrest soon enough...what a role model she is for our young women....


mountaingirl08 on Mar 01, 2009 at 06:03:46 said:

I would guarantee that the beating Brown gave to Rihanna is not the first one he's given to her. It won't get better.


mountaingirl08 on Mar 01, 2009 at 05:58:55 said:

Rihanna; Are you stupid? Did you really go back to Chris Brown?
You could do a whole lot better than that thug.
Do you think that the beating he gave you is acceptable? If so, then you must condone spousal or date abuse. Because by going back to Chris Brown you have in effect endorsed it. And who do you think you are (besides a victim)? You are supposed to be a role model; right, a role model for women who put up w. abuse.
What are you thinking? Or are you?
AS Dr. Phil would say, being beaten is a deal breaker.
You need to kick Brown to the curb.
Pronto.

-->




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