Chris Brown’s self-titled debut album was released in late 2005, almost twelve years ago. My little sister was infatuated with him, and by extension, I had to be too.
Our love for him began to dissipate after accusations of him physically abusing his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, in 2009. The images of Rihanna’s vicious attack — her black eyes, busted lips, bloodied nose — have never escaped me. Even since then, Brown has remained in the limelight for his music and singing on every single hook in music’s history.
Let’s face it: Hollywood has never had an appropriate response to misogynists, only seeming to make them more famous following horrid allegations — Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Dr. Dre, R. Kelly, and the list continues. We simply refuse to let the reality of who these individuals are impact our love for them, no matter the deeply-rooted toxic nature of that love.
Seven years later, after the world saw what was done to Rihanna, Brown is again being accused of the same physical and emotional abuse, but perhaps it’s what we have seen throughout the last seven years that’s so troubling: more allegations, several court cases, physical assault charges, throwing chairs backstage at Good Morning America, and crying at award shows (after hitting many off-pitch notes) to ask for forgiveness.
And we fall for it every time.
It’s clear that when it comes to Brown, something in the buttermilk isn’t clean. Sadly, instead of forcing him to tackle these problems head-on, many of us want to defend his actions, to keep Brown around in some effort to save him from an inevitable spiral. Being light-skinned attractive, tall, misogynistic, and possessing the ability to sing and dance aggressively are apparently drugs that many of us happily (and consistently) ingest when it comes to Brown — no matter his history and regardless of whether we see him not attempting to save himself.
But what happens when the inevitable has already occurred?
Earlier this week, news broke that Brown’s now-former girlfriend Karrueche Tran successfully filed a restraining order against him, alleging that “Brown told a few people that he was going to kill me.” Based on his history, Tran is right to have that fear of Brown. In a statement to the judge, Tran testified that Brown noted if he couldn’t have her, then no one else could. Previously, Tran has also claimed that years ago, Brown “punched me in my stomach twice,” as well as shoving her down the stairs. This is at a time where Brown would have still been on probation for pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna.
Brown, and the many abusers before him, understand the grave impact of emotional manipulation and abuse — and they effectuate it well.
Tran’s fear of Brown makes sense in their own historical context. Brown and Tran have been on-and-off again since 2011. The couple officially split in 2015, when it was revealed that Brown fathered his now 2-year-old daughter, Royalty. But Brown couldn’t handle the break-up, and he made this known by screaming that he wanted her back in the 2016 remix of “Back to Sleep,” featuring Usher and Zayn. In it, Brown directly references his past relationship and continued infatuation with Tran.
“Now where you been, it’s been a year,” Brown begins his verse. “Baby I ain’t seen you, you know I miss you. Baby let me love you back to sleep once more.” He continues, “You want me to say your name girl? Okay, Karrueche!”
Brown can’t let Tran go because, to people like him, she is his property. He “made” her, so he will be the only one to completely stop the relationship, even when one has clearly moved on for quite some time. That’s the nature of emotional manipulation and abuse.
To be sure, Tran’s fear of Brown’s retaliatory actions aren’t far-fetched, as he explicitly noted stalking and bringing misery to those he ‘loves’. Just weeks ago, Brown posted a video monologue in which he swears that “If I love you b*tch, ain’t nobody gonna have you. Imma make you miserable… Imma chase your a** around.” What’s even scarier is Brown has no real motivation to get help because, as consumers, we continue to eat up the toxicity on our plates.
If the first question being asked is “why would Tran stay with Brown so long after she knew he was abusive,” then we are asking the wrong questions. Instead, the questions should be: why is society continuously letting people like Brown off the hook? Why can Brown consistently make hits after it’s clear that he has a history of abusing people? Why are we so prone to defending misogynists generally, but especially when there is an iota of talent? Why do some of us seem to care more about Brown’s mental health and well-being than him?
I’m not in the game of diagnosing someone, because that could stigmatize those living with mental illnesses, but it doesn’t escape me that something, most things, aren’t connecting.
So, why is it that people can’t seem to let Brown go?
Perhaps many people feel a connection to Brown because his childhood history reminds many of us of our own — and in a way, defending his actions would be a way of implicitly defending our own actions. Brown has openly spoken about his stepfather abusing his mother, but he also stated that it made him consider how well he would treat women. And we see how that’s gone.
Brown has also opened up about his childhood sexual experiences growing up in Virginia, noting that he lost his virginity at 8 years old. In an interview, Brown stated “[b]y that point, we were already kind of like hot to trot, you know what I’m saying? Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So, at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it. You can be the best at it.”
That’s called rape.
Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Brown was raised in a less-than-desirable environment, but it’s also clear that he is using that environment to then concoct excuses for his continued mistreatment of women and others around him. Then, far too many of us defend it.
And then, Brown is black so it presents a complicated relationship for many of us. I love black people because we’re the most caring people in the entire world, which forces us to repeatedly give chances — even when others don’t deserve it. We understand that in a white supremacist world, we won’t be given many. But our love can also be a blind spot for deciding when we need to let a person go.
In 2014, Brown appeared at a D.C. Superior Court for a possible plea deal for allegedly assaulting a man outside of a popular District bar. The number of fans that showed up to defend Brown’s action was frustratingly shocking. It became abundantly clear that many did not want to see Brown get any better.
Try as I might, I am not sure why we are holding onto Brown any more. He’s abusive, misogynistic, violent and defends his heinous actions. Brown needs non-court-ordered therapy to address any internal issues occurring. Brown’s obvious cries for attention, however, are not just evidence of stunted emotional growth and low self-esteem, but a bigger picture of what happens when celebrities have reached stardom too young, too fast. Until then, if Brown doesn’t get the help he needs, a very public death could be his final curtain call.
And Brown — and those who never hold him accountable — will be responsible for that.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with The Root and theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.