It wouldn’t be a shocker if Rihanna and Chris Brown started dating again. Victims of domestic violence often return to their abusers. They’ve reportedly been seen at parties together, possibly holding hands, and have apparently collaborated on a remix of the Rihanna song “Birthday Cake.” As upsetting as it may be for those of us that still have vivid memories of Rihanna’s face after her violent encounter with Chris Brown three years ago, it is her choice.
It would be incredibly easy to say to ourselves ‘Rihanna has gotten over it. She’s forgiven him. She’s moved on. We should do the same.’ A lot of people have been saying this exact thing for the past three years. That misses the point entirely.
Earlier this week there was a huge uproar over a video posted on hip-hop magazine XXL’s website, in which veteran rapper Too Short offered “advice” to teenage boys on dealing with girls that amounted to sexual assault. Apart from the petitions and apologies, the backlash prompted a wide-reaching discussion on the messages sent to youth about sex and sexual violence among community activists, journalists, and scholars across the web. On Twitter, it led to the creation of the hashtag ”#ItsBiggerThan2Short.”
It’s bigger than Chris Brown, too.
It’s bigger than Chris Brown because he didn’t invent domestic violence. It’s bigger than Chris Brown because he isn’t responsible for hitting every woman that has ever been a victim of domestic violence. It’s bigger than Chris Brown because he won’t be the one to punch your sister, niece, aunt, mother, grandmother, or daughter.
The issue has never been whether Chris Brown deserves our forgiveness or a “second chance.” He has paid his debt to society, according to the sentence passed down by a judge. He has a right to work. It doesn’t mean we have to embrace him. And it doesn’t mean we have to forget what he did.
Those young girls who have been fans of his since he was a fresh-faced teenager, drawing comparisons to Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake, haven’t forgotten. But if the tweets that appeared during Sunday night’s Grammys broadcast that said they would let Brown “beat me up all night” are any indication, they’ve taken entirely the wrong message from this ordeal.
Rumors of Brown attempting to flirt with a woman by saying to her “Can I get your number? I promise I won’t beat you!” prompted another Twitter hashtag game, ”#ChrisBrownPickupLines.” Among them were such jewels as “if you like Beats By Dre you’re going looove beats by Chris” and “Are you an angel? You will be in a minute when I’m done beating you to death.” Because really, this is all a big joke, right?
No, this isn’t about Chris Brown at all. This is about how at every turn we have failed to have a real conversation about how to prevent this from happening again. We gloss over Brown’s troubles because of his celebrity or talents or relative youth, then dismiss the influence he has over the culture, young girls specifically, because, as we have shown time and again the past three years, we are not prepared to have a dialogue about how to protect little brown girls from violence. But we need to, now more than ever.
This country is currently waging a war on women and the black and brown ones still remain the most vulnerable. We continue to legitimize the idea of their worthlessness, while simultaneously saying to black boys that their worth lies in an ability to physically dominate and abuse the women in their lives. Everyone is losing.
Rihanna may forgive Chris Brown. She may even welcome him back into her life in a romantic way. I’m not here to psychoanalyze, but I would interpret it as a sign that neither of them have received the help they truly need to recover. But their reconciliation doesn’t solve anything. Our young people need us and they need to know violence against women is wrong and why. They need us to love them enough to overcome jitters and cold feet in order to provide them with the tools they need to love one another in a meaningful way.
Follow Mychal Denzel Smith on Twitter at @mychalsmith