“Let’s pray for him.” These words tumbled sarcastically out of my BFF’s mouth a couple of weeks ago during a routinely short phone conversation. The subject of our conversation—the ‘him’ in question—was Chris Brown, who just hours earlier, had concluded the public relations disaster that was his appearance on “Good Morning America” with Robin Roberts. Yes, let’s bow our heads.
As a preemptive strike against the barrage of rage-filled responses likely to follow this post, let me clarify my stance: this is not an essay condoning Brown’s arguably immature angst-filled outburst, or those of similarly volatile men who, like Brown, have committed vile acts of aggression towards women. By all accounts, the data that details the myriad of ways in which violence towards us, as women, is perpetuated by male figures in our lives is grim. In her essay, “Feminist Focus on Men: A Comment,” bell hooks reports that “half of all married women are victims of male violence, one girl in four is a victim of male incest, one woman in three is raped.” Those of us who have nursed a sistah, a sister, a mother, a daughter, an aunt—or ourselves—back to health following a physical and/or emotional assault recognize that behind each sobering statistic is a bruised face, a broken bone, a ravaged body, a splintered self, or a shattered soul.
But if we, as black people, choose not to look carefully at the type of monster that Brown represents, the trope that he embodies—if we fail to ask ourselves about his origins and motivations, if we refuse to question why and how he has survived in our midst—then we’re likely to continue to generate, in our private and public interactions, the very fodder that allows him to survive and appear masked and disguised as our brothers, boyfriends, husbands, fathers, and sons.
At 21, Brown has just grazed the precipice of black manhood within the confines of a society where black men and black women occupy two different social planets, each spinning on its own axis, traveling on its own orbit. Is it any wonder that from him emanates a childish aura that betrays his confusion? Hair salons and nail shops are filled with pervasive chit-chatter about the shortage of black men, period; ‘good ones,’ it seems, are a relic. In those spaces, there are abundant testimonies offered as indisputable evidence that ‘niggas ain’t shit.’
Somewhere along this lonely road to Damascus, public discourse on black male-female relationships has stalled. It’s stuck between DC socialite turned—dear God, help us all—self-declared relationship guru Helena Andrews’ Bitch is the New Black, and thrice married comedian turned self-appointed relationship-guru Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Lady and Act Like a Man. A perfunctory glance at excerpts from these texts will reveal this to even the casual reader: both authors offer instructions on whom, when, and how to date (or not), and yet neither explicitly tells us how to love. The difference between the two worlds is substantial.
Chris Brown personifies the nauseating stench that oozes from the wound housed in our individual and shared experiences as black men and women. Yes, he is not entirely of our making—the wound that he represents has been exacerbated by centuries of emasculation, and prolonged physical and mental enslavement, the reasons for and consequences of which are better elaborated on by historians and sociologists. But he is ours.
I’m applying war paint on my face, planting my feet firmly on the ground, and standing staunchly by Chris Brown. After all, he is my brother, boyfriend, husband, father, and son—he is my other; therefore, his wounds are my wounds, and vice versa. If I—as his sister, girlfriend, wife, mother, and daughter—don’t love him back from the brink of implosion, then who will? If I, as a black woman, can’t will him back to life, then who can? Yes, let’s pray to Nyasaye, Mungu, Ngai, Yesu Christo, and all others we call God for him—let’s pray that he retreats into solitude and finds healing for and respite from the pain that is searing through his soul. And let’s pray the same for ourselves.
(Originally Posted 4/7/2011)
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