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It’s been three years since Chris Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna, and a public apology and five-year probation later, the r&b star is eager to move on. But the rest of the world isn’t necessarily as ready to forgive Brown as he is to be forgiven, judging by reactions from critics, who loudly registered their displeasure over his recent appearance at the 2012 Grammys via blog entries, essays and other social media. But with so many of Brown’s fans defending him and suggesting it’s time to move on, questions remain about what if anything he could do to satisfy his detractors, or whether or not his career is redeemable at all, regardless of his efforts to make amends.
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But there are two larger issues surrounding this act of violence that continue to divide his critics and champions, and make it virtually impossible for one side to see the other’s: Brown’s post-assault behavior, and the attitude an individual has about the forgivability of any violent transgression, especially one involving a man and a woman.
Many of Chris Brown’s detractors were never satisfied by his attempts to take responsibility for his behavior. As sincere as his two-minute apology might have been, for example, words mean little in comparison to the brutality immediately visible in the pictures released of Rihanna’s battered face. And further, many felt that his acceptance of a plea deal that required him to perform community labor, five years’ formal probation and domestic violence counseling, but did not officially label him “guilty” of his crime, let the performer off without truly forcing him to acknowledge the impact of his actions.
Nevertheless, Brown might have silenced his critics had his subsequent behavior reflected a newfound maturity, or even self-awareness. But since 2009, Brown has shown little public remorse over what he did, and he incorrectly assumed that the world would forgive or at least forget his crime as his career (and the rest of the world) moved forward. Eight months after the incident, Brown appeared on Larry King Live and initially claimed not to remember what he did to Rihanna, but later recanted his claim in a public statement that contradicted that. “Of course I remember what happened,” he said. “Several times during the interview, my mother said that I came to her right afterwards and told her everything.” Although he also added, “[that night] was and still is a blur.”
The problem that people continue to have, however, is that his determination to move on doesn’t seem to match his determination to take responsibility for himself and correct his behavior. In March of 2011, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts interviewed the singer during his promotional campaign for the album F.A.M.E., and asked about the incident with Rihanna. His reaction was to throw a violent temper tantrum, break a window and confront the show’s producer until others stepped in and separated the two of them. This sort of behavior wouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances, but two years after an assault incident, for which he’s supposed to have taken domestic counseling, how is this behavior reflective of a person who has learned from past behavior and chosen to resolve situations in a constructive nonviolent way?
Meanwhile, Brown did himself no favors then either, tweeting “I’m so over people bringing this past s**t up!!! Yet we praise Charlie sheen and other celebs for there bulls**t.” Within ten minutes, Brown removed the tweet from his feed and replaced it with something more positive, but his initial reaction was clearly the more honest and natural of the two.
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All of which brings us to the Grammys. Grammy Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich did nothing to quell complaints of indifference to Brown’s offense by suggesting that the show was victimized by his public excoriation: talking to ABC News Radio, he said, “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” That a multimillion dollar awards show was somehow a victim in a scenario in which a woman was physically assaulted is an offensive suggestion in and of itself, but the fact that Ehrlich’s subsequent comments highlight Brown’s growth without acknowledging his crime is patently irresponsible.
“What he’s done and what he’s done to reclaim his career and seemingly the kind of person that he has become makes him — I don’t even want to use the word eligible — but you know, it’s time,” he said.
Of course, there still remains contemporary culture’s problematic sense of culpability when it comes to gender roles, much less domestic abuse. America has a long and unflattering history of victimizing women — subjugating them within families, places of employment, and society as a whole. And the divide over a very public fracas between two celebrities has only exposed that disparity with greater clarity: when anyone male or female suggests that a person (much less a female) was responsible in some way for their own abuse, it not only devalues the pain and suffering they endured, but highlights a collective lack of empathy for others.
While Rihanna emerged stronger and more successful from the incident, and publicly forgave Brown, that doesn’t invalidate the pain of the assault she suffered. As public figures, both she and Brown must continue to highlight that this behavior is unacceptable, and that people must actually take responsibility for their behavior, not merely make a feeble, superficial mea culpa and assume that the world has, will or should have accepted it.
Following the Grammys, Brown tweeted another gloating statement, which he has since taken down, in which he suggested that the people who criticize him are little more than “haters” who want to decry his success. “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY,” Brown said after his win for Best R&B Album. “Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF.” Unfortunately, it seems as if Brown still doesn’t understand why he is being and will for the foreseeable future raked over the coals by former fans, pundits and critics — namely, because he did something terrible, and doesn’t seem particularly sorry for it.
Mind you, he seems plenty sorry that it happened, and he’s definitely sorry that he got in trouble for it. Until he makes a sincere attempt to make up for actually doing what he did, however, people will continue to, indeed, hate him. And the bottom line is that his behavior, while unforgivable, is not unredeemable. But in order to turn hate into love, Chris Brown has to show the world that he knows the difference between the two.
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