by Lisa Guerrero, reposted from NewBlackMan
Last week while still reeling from the controversy put into motion by Too $hort’s avuncular primer for young black boys on how to violate young black girls, people momentarily paused to consider, and by “consider,” I mean “rush to judgment,” on Rihanna’s decision to collaborate with Chris Brown, her former abuser, on a remix of her song “Birthday Cake.”
As one of my friends on Facebook put it: “Rihanna needs to sit down and have a talk with Tina Turner.” I can’t say that I necessarily disagree. The idea that a woman would choose to invite her abuser back again to play a role in her life after having broken free from his abuse is seemingly unfathomable to many people, men and women alike. What seems ungenerous in many of the criticisms of Rihanna circulating around this decision is that she isn’t the first woman to make such a choice, and sadly, won’t be the last. The cycle of codependency isn’t one that is neatly broken, not even by the act of the dissolution of the relationship, which is “getting away” only in terms of physical proximity.
I can say to myself that I would never make such an obviously silly choice, but then, it’s only “obviously silly” to me because I’m not in that situation. However, what I do know of Rihanna’s situation, and why I feel that her decision is more complicated than people assume that it is, is this: much of the rest of the world seems to have forgiven Chris Brown his trespasses, if they ever held him accountable in the first place. So why is it the sole responsibility of Rihanna to withhold her forgiveness and force his accountability? Why should she be anymore forceful than a legal system that apparently felt that his domestic violence merited no jail time? Or a fan base that apparently feels his talent far outweighs a little thing like beating his girlfriend?
Yes, she is his victim. Yet she is no less his victim than she is the victim of a society who so cavalierly and quite systematically ignores, dismisses, and erases the violence enacted by the day, the hour, the minute against black girls and women. Chris Brown violated her. But she has since been continually violated ideologically and discursively by an excessively self-centered consumer public who has never demonstrated a sustained outrage against Chris Brown long enough to stop buying his albums, but has enough outrage to go around for Rihanna that she would ever choose to collaborate with him.
This latest flap over Rihanna and Chris Brown comes on the heels of the furious flurry of ever more outrageous manifestations of a problematic performative black masculinity that anchors itself in the unapologetic denigration of, and dominance over women generally, and black women in particular. Let me say upfront that this critique is not a new one. The ongoing critical narrative around the misogyny and homophobia of, for example, the singular arena of hip hop is, on its own, a media and scholarly cottage industry, and not without good reason. But my interest here is not necessarily to rehash this well-trodden and well-deserved critique of commodifiable black masculinity. My interest is in thinking critically about the relationship between the discursive moves within media culture that work to serve consumerist desires while ideologically and materially sacrificing the safety and subjectivity of black women.