Dec 22 2010

Could Beating Up on Chris Brown Hurt Our Daughters?

Yesterday Chris Brown tweeted a picture of the diploma he received after completing a 52-week domestic violence class.

A popular website on Newsweek’s list of “Most Influential Bloggers” posted,

How embarrassing it must be for his mother to have a son who had to be ordered by a judge to complete a domestic violence class…Once an abuser, always an abuser! chris brown still has unresolved, deep-seated mental issues with women (including his own mother). I feel sorry for any female who runs into brown on a bad day. If she thinks a dime store certificate means he has changed his ways, she will find out how wrong she is on that day.”

Though few are as harsh, this isn’t the only person publicly bashing Brown. Browse the comments section of any online story about Chris’s diploma tweet and you’ll get your fill of words like “disgusting,” “creep,” “loser,” “monster,” “coward” and “not forgiven.”

I don’t get it. I mean, I understand the venom one would rightly have towards any man beating up a woman, and I believe the initial outrage and subsequent vilifying of Chris Brown by the media were more than justified. But, we’re talking about a 19-year-old kid who was ordered by a judge to get help with his problem–and he did exactly what he was told. Regarding his progress while on probation, Judge Schnegg said to him in court,

“Out of thousands of probationers, no one has done a better or more consistent job than you have, and I really want to commend you for taking responsibility and for actually working diligently to complete all the things the court has required of you.”

As the mother of four daughters, I am definitely not one to minimize the seriousness of violence against women, but the unwillingness of folks to believe Chris has the potential to learn and change is troubling. I can’t help but worry that the message Chris-bashers are inadvertently sending to young abusers is don’t bother trying to get help managing your anger because if you are violent now, you always will be. That is a dangerous message that can only lead to more women being victimized.

According to a San Jose State University study, there are many factors that contribute to an abuser never reoffending, and one of them is “those who completed the program were significantly less likely to indulge in further domestic violence.” The fact that Chris Brown did complete a domestic violence education program actually is something to celebrate. Whether or not it was appropriate for him to proudly share his accomplishment via the Internet is open to debate. In his own defense, Chris tweeted the following:

Sceptics who don’t believe a violent abuser can be rehabilitated should familiarize themselves with the story of Kevin Powell, whose Huffington Post article on the subject is a must-read:

“…through the years, I have been brutally honest, in my writings and speeches and workshops, in admitting that the sort of abusive male they are describing, the type of man they are fleeing, the kind of man they’ve been getting those restraining orders against–was once me. Between the years 1987 and 1991 I was a very different kind of person, a very different kind of male. During that time frame I assaulted and or threatened four different young women. I was one of those typical American males: hyper-masculine, overly competitive, and drenched in the belief system that I could talk to women any way I felt, treat women any way I felt, with no repercussions whatsoever.

As I sought therapy during and especially after that period, I came to realize that I and other males in this country treated women and girls in this dehumanizing way because somewhere along our journey we were told we could. It may have been in our households; it may have been on our block or in our neighborhoods; it may have been the numerous times these actions were reinforced for us in our favorite music, our favorite television programs, or our favorite films.”  -Kevin Powell

I have always felt like there was one angle in the Chris Brown story that was never really included–that is the degree to which Chris’s own mother abused him. No, wait… Wasn’t it his stepfather who was the violent one? Wasn’t it his mother who was the victim of that violence? Yes, Chris’s mother was a victim of violence. However, by not removing her son from that violent relationship, she repeatedly victimized him, and by staying with and loving a man who hit her, she taught her son that hitters are lovable. No misogynistic hip-hop video or dehumanizing film can send a more powerful message than that.

Chris Brown is not a victimized child anymore, he is a man now who has victimized a woman, and regardless of where he learned the violence he perpetrated against Rihanna, he is responsible for eradicating it from his character and putting a stop to the cycle he was born into.

I applaud the work he’s done so far. I hope he never uses violence or coercion as a means of solving a dispute again. I pray other young people will learn the many valuable lessons his story can teach.

If Chris wins, we all win. Root for him.