Huffington Post, 29 November 2012
Why do feminists have such visceral hatred for R&B singer Chris Brown?
Some will say the answer is obvious: it’s because he beat up Rihanna. It’s because in February 2009, as they were driving home from the Grammy Awards, Brown launched a horrendously violent assault on Rihanna which left her badly cut and bruised.
Yet as terrible as that attack was, it doesn’t explain the peculiar intensity of feminist campaigners’ loathing for Brown, or the fact that, in newspaper columns and certain sections of the blogosphere, his name has become synonymous with male brutality and violent misogyny.
After all, Sean Penn has also been convicted for a domestic violence offence, after he hit Madonna on the head with a baseball bat in 1987, yet feminists don’t hound him. They don’t put up anti-domestic violence posters whenever Penn is in town to promote a film, as Swedish feminists did this month ahead of a Chris Brown concert in Stockholm, and nor do they describe Penn as “the worst person in the world”, as the American site Feministe recently branded Brown.
Charlie Sheen has been accused of domestic violence many times, first in 1994 and most recently in 2009, yet there are no demands that Sheen’s TV shows be banned, as there is with Brown’s music. Indeed, such is the shoulder-shrugging attitude towards Sheen’s history of domestic abuse, certainly in comparison with the constant fury over Chris Brown’s, that Time magazine recently argued that the treatment of Sheen, a “serial batterer”, as a loveable, jokey figure suggests “we don’t give [domestic violence] the seriousness it deserves”.
Roman Polanski stands accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. Yet when did you last see cultural critics refusing to review or praise Polanski’s films on that basis, as they sometimes refuse to review Brown’s music? One music magazine caused great excitement on Twitter and much cheering in feminist circles when it gave Brown’s new album Fortune “no stars ever” on the basis that Brown is “repugnant” and a “misogynist”. The reviewer said Brown “brutally assaulted a woman, and is still regularly invited back to award shows and worshipped by… fans worldwide. Which is, frankly, disgusting.”
Imagine if a film reviewer said of Polanski’s 2011 film Carnage, “It’s crap, don’t see it, because this man raped a girl”, or slammed Penn’s starring role in Milk with the words, “People are cheering Penn’s acting? After he hit a woman on the head? That is, frankly, disgusting.”
You would think that was weird. You would think it was strange that critics, or audiences, were incapable of separating these men’s art from their past acts of bad or criminal behaviour. Yet in relation to Brown, it is treated as perfectly normal to demand that, because he beat Rihanna in 2009, his music should be banned from the radio; his albums should have stickers on them saying “Warning! Do Not Buy This Album. This Man Beats Women”; and he should be excommunicated by the music industry.
How do we explain this extraordinary double standard? Why is Brown’s crime seen as so much worse than similar crimes committed by other well-known people?
Well, there is one important difference between Brown and the others. Brown is black.
Even worse, he’s a tattooed, swaggering, foul lyric-singing black, all blinged-up and possessed of bad attitude. Which, in some people’s eyes, is the worst kind of black there is. It is fundamentally this - the cultural constituency that Brown hails from and represents - which explains why his act of domestic violence is treated so much more seriously than anyone else’s.
In essence, Brown is being turned into the new Mike Tyson: a symbolic big, scary, cocky and arrogant black man that it is acceptable for respectable white folk to be scared of and to hate.
Following his conviction for rape in 1992, Tyson was, in the words of one observer, turned into a “stereotypical version of a black man as a hypersexual brute”. Through the terrifying figure of Tyson - big, muscular, a professional fighter, and seemingly riddled with masculinity - it became acceptable again in 1990s America to feel freaked out by “naturally violent” black men.
As a correspondent with Ebony magazine put it in the early 1990s, the focus on “Tyson’s brutish, animalistic behaviour” was “just what White America wants to hear”, because it gives the impression that all black men are “base, lower creatures”.
Today, something very similar is happening with Chris Brown: he is being made into a symbol of violent black manhood. Of course, modern-day feminists are way too PC to blame Brown’s violent outburst on his negro genetic make-up, as racists would have done in the past; so instead they blame it on the culture he comes from, on the apparently problematic culture of misogyny and casual violence in modern-day rap, hip-hop and R&B.
So Brown is continually referred to as “arrogant”, as “vile”, or indeed as the worst person ever, because he is essentially seen, not as a man who in the past committed a terrible crime, but as a man who has an in-built propensity for violence, whose violent outburst was not a mistake or a one-off but an expression of his deep-rooted cultural make-up.
This cuts to the heart of the gaping chasm that separates feminists’ relatively relaxed attitude towards someone like Penn and their frazzled, furious, permanently on-edge attitude towards Brown: where Penn’s violent act is largely considered an aberration from his norm, Brown’s is looked upon as the extension of his inner swaggering brute, of his inner dark, dangerous, hip-hopping devil. His violence is seen as an extension of his character, rather than as a past failing in his character.
In short, feminists are helping to make it okay again to look upon certain black men - those who let their jeans sag and who speak in un-PC lingo - as “base, lower creatures”. They have rehabilitated The Fear of the bad black man. Well done, ladies.
Read more of my articles for the Huffington Post and other publications here.