BET: What about the survivors?

Chris Brown’s “breakdown” during his Michael Jackson tribute at the BET Awards
*Trigger Warning*
On the last day of the US Social Forum, I ran into an old friend from a campaign I had worked on a few years back. I had seen her on the first day but bee-lined in the other direction. I was dodging her because the only Rose she had ever known was a woman who felt trapped in a domestically violent relationship. I have since left that relationship. Years have passed since then, but I am occasionally haunted by memories when I see an old friend from that era of my life and they ask me the dreaded question, “Are you still with him?”
Blood on my walls. Cops at my doors. Large scars on my back from being pushed on the floor. These are the things I remember with great sadness when my memory is triggered by an old friend’s concern about my present well-being or the sighting of male aggressors of violence. These are the things that ran through my mind when the BET awards showcased Chris Brown, probably one of the most infamous batterers of our generation. And if Chris’s presence alone on a stage that drew 7 million viewers isn’t enough of a stab in the gut, Jermaine Jackson pressed the knife by claiming that it is Chris, in fact, who needs healing.
Ann Powers over at the LA Times also used language that disarmed me. Although Powers conceded that BET airing Chris Brown was problematic, she described Chris as someone who will “forever be in recovery.” It’s as if there has been a pandemic of amnesia and some among us have forgotten who the victim really is here.
America’s conversation about Chris’ conviction of felony assault has officially been shifted to the controversy at play in Chris’ tears. Adding insult to injury were the stars and fans who have been caught on camera cheering on him, his performance and calling Sunday night’s performance a comeback. I can’t help but ask: what about us? What about the women who relive their experiences when a man is given a platform to imply that his pain is greater than the brutality he has inflicted on a woman’s body? What about Rihanna? Where is the tribute for survivors and what has BET done to change the scourge of violence in Black women’s lives?
I am thankful for the presence of male allies who have the courage to stand up and remind us that African-American women ages 15 to 34 die more from the violence of a current or former intimate partner than by anything else. Than By Anything Else. This makes BET’s decision to air Chris a profound act of traitor-ship against women and girls. Plain and simple it was an irresponsible action taken by BET. And this can’t be wanded away by Queen Latifah serving as a host and a two-sentence plug about Dorothy Height. BET owes African American girls and women so much more than a year grace period for one of the most remorseless batterers of our time.

Join the Conversation

  • sparky17

    Maybe it’s dumb, but for kicks I searched facebook to see how many anti-Chris Brown groups they have. I found none. I did, however, find a lot of groups joking about how Rihanna got beaten. HAHA domestic violence is oh so funny, huh?
    It makes me very sad.

  • Miranda

    Thank you for this, Rose. The public’s shameless love for Chris Brown continues to astound and sadden me.

  • Chris

    It’s pretty stunning to read the comments of all the blogs talking about this, and I peruse right-wing blogs all the time. Men and women are both going out of their way to make excuses for Brown, if not actively attack Rihanna.
    I get the feeling that if it were a “sexy r&b singer” like him instead of say, an ugly dumpy dude like Phil Spector, he could literally get away with murder. Neither the music community nor the media, or any entertainment properties are standing up here. Everyone is made worse for the lack of shaming and consequences.


    BET are worthy of censure for this, and the UK immigration authorities had the right idea.

  • Aims

    “African-American women ages 15 to 34 die more from the violence of a current or former intimate partner than by anything else. ”
    I clicked on that link, and then clicked the link for where they got the statistic from, and the link doesn’t seem to be working. Can anyone track down where this came from? I’m not doubting, I’m just wondering, because:
    Domestic Violence – 12%
    Heart Disease – 11%
    Cancer – 10%
    is a lot different than:
    Domestic Violence 70%
    Heart Disease: 25%
    Cancer: 22%
    Both are horrible, but I am curious.

  • Cola

    Hear hear.
    I’m tired of abusers being treated like victims.

  • Bridgette

    Every time I write a story about child molestation and sexual abuse, I feel the same way. I look at the people who pretend to be concerned about the child’s suffering and then act as if their person is the one who is wronged or hurt. I did up a story today about a priest who was going to spend his life in “penance” instead of in jail. I wade into those stories I remember what those monsters are like. While I do not know what it is like to be battered by a spouse, I know the pain of silence and being shackled to the past. For twenty-five years, I was shackled to my own rape at the hands of a man who I trusted.
    Thank you for speaking out. Chris Brown deserves to never sing again. He is not the victim, and he is not the one who must heal. That kind of noxious patriarchal poison has to stop, and far too many women are unwilling to see that they are enabling more batterers and more molesters out there by condoning and supporting a ‘man’ like Brown.

  • char3169

    as much as I completely agree with your vies on the BET preformance, it does stir up a lot of questions for me, the main one being:
    what do we do with a domestic abuser?
    Is it possible to forgive? I know I haven’t forgiven the man who threatened my life, and he didn’t do any lasting (physical) damage, this being five years later. Is the prescribed jail time and anger management therapy expected to work, or is it just lip service paid to brand the attacker as a criminal? If they do “work”, are we supposed to forgive them? would treating them with continued anger make them understand how they’ve done wrong, or anger and stimulate them to be repeat offenders?
    I also wonder who’s idea it was to pay tribute to Jackson, a man who was raised in a household with extreme domestic (spousal and family) violence, by using a singer who has committed acts of domestic abuse. That just seems like more of an insult then a tribute.

  • Tapati

    I can’t speak for others, but as I watched Chris Brown break into tears I had flashbacks to how my abuser would cry after beating me and I would end up comforting him.
    When I couple that with the growing push for survivors to all “forgive” as if it’s a requirement and we’re stupid or selfish or hurting ourselves if we don’t, I feel that I am supposed to somehow participate in forgiving Chris Brown. Well, forgiveness is not something that needs to come from me. I’m not the one he terrorized that night.
    On a practical level, yes I want abusers to “recover” if by recover we mean the same thing as in alcohol or drug treatment–recover from whatever compels this ugly and damaging behavior and learn to be nonviolent.
    But I don’t think we’re required to hold a love fest for them so they can feel like everybody forgives them and reassure them that they are good people. This is work they can do with a therapist and/or a support group, just like anyone else with a troubling compulsive behavior. If batterers don’t have programs to help them change, there will just be more battered women in the future. So yes, by all means, “recover.” But do so on your own time.
    I also had to wonder, why wasn’t BET holding this love-fest for Rihanna?
    I think BET needs to do some kind of big program to benefit domestic violence survivors and educate the community. Every network ought to do their part, of course, but BET needs to reach out to the survivors who were affected as I was by this show. Let them also address how the misogynist lyrics of rap songs feed into this violence.

  • IAmGopherrr

    Amanda Marcotte had a post about this on pandagon.I was pretty disgusted to learn that some were sympathizing with him! Its amazing what some crocodile tears can do! His manipulation just goes to show that he hasnt changed. As far as I’m concerned I’m disgusted he’s even still around. These arent ‘little mistakes,’ like saying something inappropriate,(I think Mel Gibson was chastized longer for saying some inappropriate things while drunk that Chris Brown has after beating a woman) this is on the lines of crimes that you dont forgive celebrities for. You arent entitled to the limelight, nor to being a celebrity so therefore theres no reason for you to continue being in our face any longer. Theres someone that can and will gladly take your place and do a much better job. As far as I’m concerned I dont even want to hear his stupid name in any celebrity rags any more! Ciao Chris Brown!

  • LalaReina

    I’m sorry but Chris Brown gets to live. Chris was absolutely tremendous and I was very moved by him and loved his performance. I was also touched how the community/those there put an arm around his shoulder and said “enough already”. Chris Brown gets to live.

  • Cassius

    A Chris Brown whom the public forgave is better bizness than a Chris Brown the public shuns. The “public forum” is given or lobbied for by the people who want to take money out of Chris Brown. If he wouldnt make those people money they would not bother.

  • Anonymous

    first, never think Latifah is a role model, and I’m insulted that she even did the tribute to such a great woman.
    second, no one is stopping breezy from living. but he’s a public entity, and, as such, accepts the public’s adoration, as well as scorn, because it’s his job to.
    third, “enough already”? he hasn’t finished his court-appointed commitment, IIRC.
    fourth, we live in a culture that is too dismissive of violence against women, and too accepting of anti-social behavior, in general. if rihanna had been the beater, do you really think that audience would have allowed her back so quickly?
    no one is stopping him from living. but i can speak out for survivors the world over at this constant reminder.