Thoughts on the Rihanna-Chris Brown Collaboration

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I've been meaning to write about Chris Brown and Rihanna since the Grammys, but wanted to collect my thoughts. You can check out the song here. I make no comment on the music here. But as to the substantive point of a woman reuniting in a creative capacity with a man brutally assaulted her, I think the following:

1.) It would be good for everyone to re-read the police report which chronicles what, precisely, Brown did to his then girlfriend. Regrettably, the legalism "spousal abuse" rather obscures the facts of the encounter instead of illuminating them. 

Forgive the long quote. But this deserves a reprinting:
Brown was driving a vehicle with Robyn F. as the front passenger on an unknown street in Los Angeles. Robyn F. picked up Brown's cellular phone and observed a three-page text message from a woman who Brown had a previous sexual relationship with.

A verbal argument ensued and Brown pulled the vehicle over on an unknown street, reached over Robyn F. with his right hand, opened the car door and attempted to force her out. Brown was unable to force Robyn F. out of the vehicle because she was wearing a seat belt. When he could not force her to exit, he took his right hand and shoved her head against he passenger window of the vehicle, causing an approximate one-inch raised circular contusion.

Robyn F. turned to face Brown and he punched her in the left eye with his right hand. He then drove away in the vehicle and continued to punch her in the face with his right hand while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The assault caused Robyn F.'s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle.

Brown looked at Robyn F. and stated, 'I'm going to beat the sh- out of you when we get home! You wait and see!' " The detective said Robyn F. then used her cell phone to call her personal assistant Jennifer Rosales, who did not answer. Robyn F. pretended to talk to her and stated, 'I'm on my way home. Make sure the police are there when I get there.' After Robyn F. faked the call, Brown looked at her and stated, 'You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I'm really going to kill you!'

Brown resumed punching Robyn F. and she interlocked her fingers behind her head and brought her elbows forward to protect her face. She then bent over at the waist, placing her elbows and face near her lap in [an] attempt to protect her face and head from the barrage of punches being levied upon her by Brown. Brown continued to punch Robyn F. on her left arm and hand, causing her to suffer a contusion on her left triceps (sic) that was approximately two inches in diameter and numerous contusions on her left hand.

Robyn F. then attempted to send a text message to her other personal assistant, Melissa Ford. Brown snatched the cellular telephone out of her hand and threw it out of the window onto an unknown street.

Brown continued driving and Robyn F. observed his cellular telephone sitting in his lap. She picked up the cellular telephone with her left hand and before she could make a call he placed her in a head lock with his right hand and continued to drive the vehicle with his left hand. Brown pulled Robyn F. close to him and bit her on her left ear. She was able to feel the vehicle swerving from right to left as Brown sped away. He stopped the vehicle in front of 333 North June Street and Robyn F. turned off the car, removed the key from the ignition and sat on it.

Brown did not know what she did with the key and began punching her in the face and arms. He then placed her in a head lock positioning the front of her throat between his bicep and forearm. Brown began applying pressure to Robyn F.'s left and right carotid arteries, causing her to be unable to breathe and she began to lose consciousness.

She reached up with her left hand and began attempting to gouge his eyes in an attempt to free herself. Brown bit her left ring and middle fingers and then released her. While Brown continued to punch her, she turned around and placed her back against the passenger door. She brought her knees to her chest, placed her feet against Brown's body and began pushing him away. Brown continued to punch her on the legs and feet, causing several contusions.

Robyn F. began screaming for help and Brown exited the vehicle and walked away. A resident in the neighborhood heard Robyn F.'s plea for help and called 911, causing a police response. An investigation was conducted and Robyn F. was issued a Domestic Violence Emergency Protective Order. I don't say this to diminish the import of domestic violence. But there's a way in which the language of the trade can be anesthetizing. It's true that Rihanna (Robyn F) was a victim of domestic violence. It's more true that Chris Brown bashed Rihanna's head into a car window, threatened her with death, repeatedly punched her, bit her, and then choked her until she began to lose consciousness. It's important to understand that "domestic violence" is actual--often lethal--violence. 

2.) I think that there is no guarantee that "empowerment"  will be accompanied by "wisdom." We can empower groups who have traditionally suffered oppression--black people and women, for instance--but there really is no guarantee that every member of that group will be wise in the usage of that power. We can inform people. We can give them the tools of liberation. But the act of liberating has to include the individual. 

There's simply no way to guarantee that this will happen. We can't force people to make good choices. I'm still working my way through this, but I might even argue that it is unwise to attempt to force good choices. But that deserves more thought. My point is that we can't really stop Rihanna from doing business with someone who once threatened her life, subjected her to near lethal force, and still manifests considerable violent anger when questioned about his behavior. 

I think that energy could better be directed toward the women who lack the tools to excise themselves from violent situations. There are women in the world who live under this sort of constant threat, but because of children or finances or family, simply don't have an out. My heart aches especially for them.

You can't "make" people free. And agency is more than just a slogan. 

3.) I think we should assess our relationship with celebrity. Nothing about being able to sing or dance or entertain guarantees sound thinking. Often such talents actively militate toward foolish thinking. Celebrity means the ability to surround yourself with people whose short-term finances depend on pleasing you. There's nothing about fame that encourages dissent or hard truths. 

With that in mind, I think an expectation that the record industry, through the Grammys, would be our moral compass is to expect too much. Historically this is an industry that has shunned nothing, save red ink. And it is powered by the sort of people whose talent are regularly transfigured into moral virtue. 

We should reject that thinking in all its forms. Even when it isn't convenient. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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