As soon as the news of Chris Brown's alleged assault on Rihanna broke, various media outlets rushed to consult well-known experts on the situation, i.e., any black male celebrities under 40 who would give them a quote. In most cases, the commenters tried to remain neutral, offering generic messages of support for both Rihanna and Brown as the young stars navigated a difficult personal matter in the public eye -- which left a lot of folks, including me, unimpressed. At best, such remarks implied that a terrible thing had just happened to two mixed up kids, as opposed to one of those kids doing a terrible thing to the other. For instance, Ne-Yo saying, "I won't say who was responsible. I won't pick no sides. I'm just saying it was wrong it had to happen like that, and I'm praying for the both of them."
Really? You won't say who was responsible? That seems to imply Rihanna could have done something to deserve being beaten like that, and there's no way a celebrity would come out and say something so asinine, right? Oh wait, here's Kenan Thompson: "I don't know the whole story, but I know how women can get when you get a text message from another female, so I'm just saying, you have to learn that you can't put your hands on a female." No matter how tempting she makes it!
Usher offered us a brief respite from all the "I'm not going to judge" comments, when he said, upon seeing a picture of Brown jet-skiing in Florida, "I'm a little disappointed in this photo... C'mon, Chris. Have a little bit of remorse, man. The man's on Jet Skis? Like, just relaxing in Miami?" But two days later, he rescinded that oh-so-scathing criticism. "I apologize on behalf of myself and my friends if anyone was offended. The intentions were not to pass judgment and we meant no harm. I respect and wish the best for all parties involved." Ah, that's much more appropriate. I mean seriously, "Have a little bit of remorse, man" -- why don't you just come right out and call him the devil?
Here, I will take off my sarcastic bitch pants for a moment and acknowledge that I can imagine lots of reasons why a celebrity wouldn't want to give an unequivocal opinion on an emotionally charged issue and/or an unresolved legal matter, and I don't necessarily think less of any of these guys for their comments. (Well, except Thompson. "I know how women can get?" Seriously?) Furthermore, piling on Brown excessively would likely have the side effect of reinforcing negative stereotypes of young, black men; for once, the nation is talking at length about violence against a woman of color, which is a positive change, but how much of that attention is because this culture's already wedded to the notion that black men are inherently predisposed to violent crime? See? We were right!
Still, I've been really saddened to see that the party line has consistently been, "It's an unfortunate situation for everyone involved," not "Unfortunately, Brown, [allegedly] did a very bad thing." All the blah blah about how it's impossible to judge without knowing both sides of the story is apparently meant to remind us that Brown is a human being, not a monster -- but it also implies that Rihanna must have, or at least might have, played a part in causing her own assault. No. It doesn't work like that. Abuse is caused by abusers, not by victims. One person beating another is really not a two-way street. Brown still hasn't been found guilty, but yesterday, he was charged with two felonies, assault likely to cause bodily injury and making criminal threats. There really shouldn't be any question of "who was responsible."
All of which is to say, it was awfully refreshing to see that Ghostface Killah has released a new track to the internet that offers support to Rihanna and other domestic violence victims. "This is for all my women out there that be getting beat up, you know what I mean, struggling, welfare, sometimes the jobs ain't right, they going through mad trauma, especially with they man when they don't really need that shit," he begins the song, while in the background, we hear Rihanna's name called out.
In the days leading up to Brown's court date, there were numerous reports that the couple is back together -- even married -- which set off another round of "Well, then she deserves whatever she gets" from the internet peanut gallery. No. It doesn't work like that, either. For all the reasons why it doesn't, see Jaclyn Friedman's excellent post on the subject, which is pretty much Domestic Violence 101 and yet sadly, not common knowledge. If Rihanna has decided to take Brown back, what she needs now isn't condemnation for making a choice that many victims make, for many reasons that have nothing to do with their being stupid or masochistic. She needs compassion and support, which is what Ghostface's song offers unequivocally. It's about time.