Sunday, March 1, 2009

Black College News: What Chris Brown and Rihanna Need to Think About


By Dr. Boyce Watkins

Forgive me for diving into the crazy world of pop culture, but the fact that Chris Brown and Rihanna are a couple again is something on which I had to comment. I am not speaking on the issue because I love Chris Brown or Rihanna’s music (they are ok). I am commenting because young people need to have a serious conversation about relationships and domestic violence.

Here’s the deal: I don’t know exactly what Chris Brown did and did not do. From the picture I saw and police reports, it appears that he may have done some serious damage to Rihanna’s face. Again, I am not convicting Chris Brown and I am not pretending to know if he is a bad human being. In fact, Chris Brown could very easily be a good man who did a very bad thing. But if he did do this damage to Rihanna, then he should pay a price for his actions.

But it appears that Chris won’t be paying a price, since Rihanna does not seem to be interested in pressing charges. Rihanna’s actions are nothing new: Every day, across America, women are beaten to a pulp by their boyfriends (roughly 13,000 incidents per day are reported to police), and then choose to excuse their inexcusable behavior. The prosecutor prepares a solid case that will send the guy packing for years, and the case falls through because the woman chooses not to press charges. So, as extraordinary as Rihanna might be as a performer, her behavior is actually quite ordinary.

Chris Brown, if he was the cause of the facial damage shown on pictures released to the media, needs serious counseling. He needs to learn that growing up watching your father beat your mother (as Chris admitted on the Tyra Banks show) may establish a destructive social norm, thus making you believe that violence is appropriate in male/female relationships. He also needs to learn about the serious consequences for brothers who choose to beat up on their partners. Even if Rihanna is crazy, provocative or evil, you have no business laying your hands on a woman. Not only is violence wrong, but it will land you in a criminal justice system that destroys the lives of young black men every day. I understand young people making mistakes (I’ve made far too many to count), but you must learn from those mistakes, and we are not doing young people any favors by pretending that this didn’t happen.

Rihanna needs her own counselor. She needs one that will give her and other young women the self-esteem to realize that there are few genuine excuses for a man to put his hands on you. She needs to have someone who truly understands where all this is going, to make her realize that no matter how cute he is, how popular, how rich, or how charming, a man like this can eventually kill you. You don’t know domestic violence until you’ve seen DEATH. It starts innocently enough, and eventually escalates to the point that someone is in the morgue. Any self-respecting adult should, in my humble opinion, refuse to sit idly to the side and allow your teenager to ponder reasons that Chris Brown should have hit Rihanna. No, he should not have done this, and I encourage Chris to make sure he sends the same message.

Old people can be obnoxious. We pee on the parades of young love by writing articles like the one I am writing right now. I hate doing this, but I have my reasons. My friend, a professor in Florida, died at the hands of her husband, who then killed himself and left her two young children without parents. This happens every day, and most of these cases start out like the situation between Chris Brown and Rihanna. In fact, your daughter, friend, sister, mother or cousin may have that lovable boyfriend who only shows peeks and hints of violent behavior, but just enough that your gut is telling you that something isn’t quite right. Listen to your instincts, for they’re trying to tell you something. Love should not end with anybody getting punched. Domestic violence is not a silent killer… usually warns you all along the way. Whether you choose to listen is up to you.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” For more information, please visit

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