Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Do Batterers Deserve Our Forgiveness?

AKA, another Chris Brown post. We've had several requests to comment on Chris Brown's emotional breakdown during his Michael Jackson tribute at the BET awards. Many people in the media and many of Brown's fans feel that he has been punished enough and that it's time for us to forgive. Many others think that Chris Brown has never truly apologized for his use of violence and that this is another carefully constructed ploy to revive his career. As always, WRC wants to defer to the experts. We want to know what survivors of domestic violence think.

Survivors are certainly not a monolithic group, and many will have differences of opinion, but when wondering if it's time for forgiveness, Ruth from Feministing, a survivor herself, writes:

On the last day of the US Social Forum, I ran into an old friend from a campaign I had worked on a few years back. I had seen her on the first day but bee-lined in the other direction. I was dodging her because the only Rose she had ever known was a woman who felt trapped in a domestically violent relationship. I have since left that relationship. Years have passed since then, but I am occasionally haunted by memories when I see an old friend from that era of my life and they ask me the dreaded question, "Are you still with him?"

Blood on my walls. Cops at my doors. Large scars on my back from being pushed on the floor. These are the things I remember with great sadness when my memory is triggered by an old friend's concern about my present well-being or the sighting of male aggressors of violence. These are the things that ran through my mind when the BET awards showcased Chris Brown, probably one of the most infamous batterers of our generation. And if Chris's presence alone on a stage that drew 7 million viewers isn't enough of a stab in the gut, Jermaine Jackson pressed the knife by claiming that it is Chris, in fact, who needs healing.

Ann Powers over at the LA Times also used language that disarmed me. Although Powers conceded that BET airing Chris Brown was problematic, she described Chris as someone who will "forever be in recovery." It's as if there has been a pandemic of amnesia and some among us have forgotten who the victim really is here.

America's conversation about Chris' conviction of felony assault has officially been shifted to the controversy at play in Chris' tears. Adding insult to injury were the stars and fans who have been caught on camera cheering on him, his performance and calling Sunday night's performance a comeback. I can't help but ask: what about us? What about the women who relive their experiences when a man is given a platform to imply that his pain is greater than the brutality he has inflicted on a woman's body? What about Rihanna? Where is the tribute for survivors and what has BET done to change the scourge of violence in Black women's lives?

I am thankful for the presence of male allies who have the courage to stand up and remind us that African-American women ages 15 to 34 die more from the violence of a current or former intimate partner than by anything else. Than By Anything Else. This makes BET's decision to air Chris a profound act of traitor-ship against women and girls. Plain and simple it was an irresponsible action taken by BET. And this can't be wanded away by Queen Latifah serving as a host and a two-sentence plug about Dorothy Height. BET owes African American girls and women so much more than a year grace period for one of the most remorseless batterers of our time.

If a victim wants to or can forgive her batterer as part of her own healing, that can often be a healing choice for her. But please stop asking us to forgive Chris Brown. We will continue to hold him, and Charlie Sheen, and Mel Gibson, and all other famous batterers accountable for the violence they inflict on their partners. There is certainly a place for forgiveness, but until these men start actively trying to undo the harm they've done by partnering with an organization like Men Stopping Violence, we can't take their apologies seriously. After all, using violence against a partner is supposed to harm your career. That's why they call it punishment.

1 comment:

Ann Powers said...

I was using the term "in recovery" in the twelve-step sense. In other words, Brown will never be free of the burden of his actions. I did not imply to mean he was some kind of victim. akp