rihannaA few days ago, some friends and I (mostly female, I should point out) were talking about the work Chris Brown did on Rihanna. I felt completely dead inside when I read the reports of how battered and bloodied she was after the attack. But when the images were released, a much deeper part of me was affected. I don’t know Rihanna personally, but my heart hurt for her when I examined the photos. I don’t care what she may have done, she did not deserve this. Whatever respect I once had for Chris Brown was tossed out the window when this story surfaced.

But then I made the mistake of looking at this situation from a different perspective; a perspective for which I was vehemently attacked later. Instead of doing the responsible thing by making Brown pay for the unforgivable crime of hitting her, she dropped the charges. At that moment – and in my book – she went from being a victim to an enabler. What should have been an open and shut case of “guy hits girl, guy gets arrested, guy’s public image is forever tarnished for being a nitwit” quickly turned into a laughable and disgracefully concerted effort between the attacker and attackee.

Before I could even finish my argument, the ladies were ready to tie me to the stake. I was getting burned for putting the victim on the stand by asking the simple question: “Why is she accepting his behavior?” As it turns out, it was apparently a capital offense to make Rihanna; or the scores of other women who condone bad boy behavior; complicit in the act.

Truth be told, a part of me was expecting to receive this opposition. I’m no clairvoyant, but I knew well in advance that I would get attacked for having the gall to even assign a tiny morsel of blame to Rihanna for (1) her decision to be with a bad boy and then (2) to pardon him for beating her up. I’ve always maintained that this enigmatic lifestyle has become so commonplace that it increasingly and predictably accepted by other women, especially in the so-called “Black Community”. But when somebody like me to criticizes the women’s decisions to be with these thugs while REFUSING to make excuses for their irresponsible behavior, I’m labeled the bad guy. Whatever. Besides all that, the Angry Independent (A.I.) over at one of my favorite blogs: Mirror on America made an argument almost identical to mine. Based on the responses he received, it was all too predictable that I’d be subjected to some of the same rejoinder. The women folk did not disappoint on that end.

A.I. made a great point when he examined how history has bore witness to both the evolution and de-evolution of women. Prior to the Suffrage period, women were viewed as feeble, vulnerable, and powerless; dependent on men and – in many instances – reduced to nothing but property. Then the Women’s Suffrage emerged, where women proactively gained social, political, and economic independence. From there, women took on a more domestic and subservient role; leading up to World War II. The brief period during the war (iconized by Rosie the Riveter), women once again assumed an important – albeit limited – role as they became the manufacturing muscle of the War. After WWII, it was back to the kitchens they went. Decades later -between the 60’s and 70’s – a second wave of the Women’s Liberation movement emerged, allowing women to once again recapture their independence and sense of self-empowerment; lasting up until somewhere in the 90’s. But it seems like this new century represents a trip back in time where women are victims and incapable of making sound decisions. At least, that’s what many women’s activities seem to suggest.

So when stories like Rihanna’s start to surface, victimization is the first and only thing we consider. True, she is a victim of hypermasculine aggression. She was victimized in so far as not being able to physically defend herself against a much stronger man. But, again, where she lost me was when she decided to look the other way.  If you don’t listen to another word I say, PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS: From a man’s perspective, it is very, very, very difficult to view women as strong, self-sufficient, and responsible when they allow themselves to be treated like powerless children who need to be taken care of and occasionally “put in their place.” You can’t have it both ways. *Side note: This oddly reminds me of the phenomenon of men being required to pay on dates, even if the woman claims to be “independent”. End of digression.*

I suppose what bothers me most about circumstances like this can be summed up in three points:

(1) In the “Black Community” especially, there is an increasing disinterest in decent, nice, sensitive and perhaps even “corny” brothas. I often get put on blast for having Celtic Woman in my iPod, but not 50 Cent. Or for watching CSPAN and not B.E.T. Or for spending my spare time at a museum or at a bookstore instead of ‘tearin’ the club up’. Or for trying to be considerate enough to make my lady happy instead of trying to regulate things. To be fair, I get the idea that black women want their men to be black in both color and spirit. But at the same time, I challenge women folk to redefine for themselves what “blackness” means for their men. On top of that, I challenge them to recognize that in certain environments (i.e. the workforce, the suburbs, or any other places where blacks are still struggling to assimilate), toting around our “blackness” is not always prudent, given the racially ignorant nature of some of those institutions. Simply put: y’all remember the episode of the Fresh Prince where Carlton and Will were both arrested driving Uncle Phil’s car?  Carlton’s Tom Jones Discography, Princeton connections, or blue blazers were not enough to prevent him from being perceived as another troublemaking n**** in the police’s eyes. We may not all have cornrows, wife beaters, blunts, or hypermasculine aggression. But we are all still black nevertheless. Diss the “corny” brothas in favor of the thugs all you want. But you can most assuredly expect to get attacked for it – in Rihanna’s case, quite literally.

(2) On follow up to point (1): From a social standpoint, cultured and refined black men are often viewed by black women as people who have stripped themselves of certain “black” behaviors and thought processes in order to achieve a certain level of mainstream validation in a culture made by and sustained by white America. Oppositely, the thug is seen as somebody who operates outside of that culture and is not restricted by those societal norms. The fact that thugs are usually angry and untamed tends to appeal to black women largely because – at their core – black women are also pretty combative against “the system.” Women, however, are generally able to justify going along with “the system” because of being women. When black men do it, there are spineless “sellouts” and are “not being a man.” In short, the more dependent on or assimilated to “the system” black men appear to be, the less attractive they are.

(3) There is an unfortunate tendency for the greater society to overlook the perils of validating negative black male imagery and defending women who embrace it. Due to their celebrity status, impressionable young people, especially our little girls, are watching the growing phenomenon of “Thuggin’ Love” blossom right before their eyes. Our young black boys are aspiring more and more to be those hardcore roughnecks on TV who supposedly don’t compromise their “blackness”. Our young girls think that kind of attitude is what it means to be a “black” man. In the end, this is merely setting up the stage for more thugs, more attraction to thugs, and the constant proliferation of Rihanna/Chris Brown, Ike/Tina storylines.

**I know toward the end here, I shifted the conversation from women in general to black women. But I’m speaking directly to my experiences which – up to this point – have exclusively been with women of color. But I suspect many of this can also be applicable to women in general.**

Call me insensitive to victims if you want. But I only wish more people would offer a fair and honest assessment of this situation instead of covering it up or trying to offer nonsensical excuses for it.

What say you?

– ACL

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