Two months ago, a young voice started singing an R&B song in the backseat of my car. It was Chris Brown’s song… and it was my seven year-old brother’s voice.
“Brian, do you know who sings that song?” I asked. “Duh Peyton, it’s Chris Brown,” he said.
I doubt that Brian knows what happened on February 8, 2009. He doesn’t know that Brown had an argument that left his girlfriend in the hospital. He didn’t see the pictures of Rihanna’s injuries. He doesn’t know that Brown pleaded guilty to a felony.
Although Brian is unaware of this domestic violence case, the rest of America is not. Images of Rihanna’s face sparked outrage and disgust, offering a national platform for discussion of domestic violence. This celebrity couple proved that domestic assault is a very real and very prevalent issue.
After the incident, Wrigley Company canceled its contract with Brown, terminating his role as spokesman. American radio refrained from playing his music, and Jay-Z threatened to pull out of the 2009 BET Awards if Brown performed.
When these decisions unfolded, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, America was going to show zero tolerance for domestic violence.
Only three years later, a battered America has returned to its abuser.
In the United States, Chris Brown’s album Fortune debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, giving Brown his second number one album in the US. Today, his single “Till I Die” sits at number eighteen on the US Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Since February 2009, Chris Brown has performed at three BET Awards. He has collaborated with numerous other notable artists such as Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, and Kevin McCall.
Perhaps the most disturbing collaboration occurred earlier this year. On February 20, 2012, (Rihanna’s 24th birthday), the full length version of her single “Birthday Cake” premiered online. The featured artist was Chris Brown.
Reports in June suggested that Rihanna and Brown are back together. Celebrities and the general public were outraged and disappointed at Rihanna’s decision to reunite with Brown. How can she return to her abuser? What kind of example is she setting?
Ironically, America is blaming Rihanna for an action that America has already committed. We refuse to delete him from our iTunes playlist, because we have invested $0.99 in each song we have purchased. We refuse to leave a club if a DJ plays his songs, because we have invested an entrance fee in the club. And, let’s face it; a lot of us simply love his music.
In a three year period, our nation has retreated back to an abusive partner. There are barriers to exiting the relationship, and we can’t overcome the investments we have already made. Rihanna and thousands of other women retreat to their abusers just as Americans have retreated back to Brown. Before we judge their decisions, we must examine the factors of an abusive relationship, and how we contribute to the normalization of domestic violence.
My little brother might be nine or ten or sixteen years-old when he finds out that Brown assaulted Rihanna. I don’t know how old he will be, but the point is that someday he will find out that it happened, and I won’t be able to use Brown as an example of a person having to pay for his actions. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Chris Brown song is playing on the radio the day we have that conversation.