Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chris Brown & Our Responses To Violence

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It would be an injustice to let this week go by without addressing the various forms of media that come into play surrounding Chris Brown. I’m not one who wants to write about him, and this is because there are so many layers to violence, abuse, healing, representations, narratives, and community responses that are at play with him that they can easily get ignored and others may read that as erasure.

For those of you who are not aware of what current event I’m referencing, visit the ABC website,
watch the interview, and read what happened after Brown’s performance this week.

I’ve learned that sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. That is not to say that answers are not important, but asking questions and thinking them over and creating a response centered in healing that results in action is important and critical. Plus, we do a lot, A LOT, of hard work quietly. That’s what thinking and building may look like for some of us. Often answers stem from questions that are posed. So instead of trying to find answers, I’d like to ask some questions and have us think about a few things that are still at play surrounding Chris Brown.

Here are the main areas I’d like for us to question:

1. What timeline or deadline do folks have for healing? Is it different for celebrities or the wealthy (read folks who have access to care in specific ways)?
2. What does it say about our community(ies) when violence is so public?
3. Where are the voices, opinions, questions, and answers of young people?
4. What spaces and communities of healing and support do we create and are a part of establishing?
5. What type of power is connected to violence? How does that power shift?

For many folks, especially those of us who are healing, I think the first question is that there is no deadline or timeline to our healing. We may put it off for decades, yet that does not make the healing any less valid or significant. So I wonder why we think that healing is different for celebrities or the wealthy? I understand how the idea may be connected to class status and access. Yes, it may be easier for someone with more money and access to go to a Caribbean treatment facility versus doing work in their bathroom that is shared by more than two people, or to a basement of a building of worship. Sure, that trip and location sounds a lot more relaxing. However, the work that it takes to heal is no less different based on space and location.

Do we have stereotypes of celebrities and the wealthy that they can heal more quickly than those of us who do not have that status? Why is that? How may these stereotypes be connected to our own healing we do? Perhaps we need these stereotypes to help us heal and cope with our situation and experiences. Yet, what does it do to us when we allow for such us vs. them binaries to exist? How does it isolate us? See our healing as different from theirs?

When violence is public and represented in a particular way, what does that say about our communities? Are we normalizing certain types of violence? Is there complacency that some may become frustrated with? I’d argue that, from experience, sometimes that complacency is a part of the healing process. Sometimes it hurts too much to care. And in these situations it is important to find and have people/places to go to find comfort and to be reminded that our action, even lack of action, does have consequences and specific outcomes we must be aware of. This is when it is important to acknowledge there are various forms of healing and not to prioritize one over the other, as each of us is different.

Trying to find the voices, ideas, and answers of young people in such conversations on violence and media representations is not as much a challenge as it used to be. There are several youth who are creating their own media and posting videos on YouTube or using social media to share their perspectives. I also recognize that in me writing this article, I am also taking up space that could be occupied by youth perspectives. How does my work limit such inclusivity that I argue to want to create? There are times when I tell myself that writing one column a week versus monopolizing an entire virtual space is one thing. That providing an opportunity for folks to share their ideas in comments is part of this space that connect to a larger discussion.

Many of the pieces on Chris Brown in the past 24 hours have not been by youth. Why not?

I’m personally discovering that there are many folks who I have in my network who are defending Chris Brown. I didn’t think this would irritate me as much as it has. I mainly find irritation in their defending of Chris Brown because they identify as heterosexual women of Color, are physically and sexually attracted to Brown, and are raising children. I do realize this is specific to my community. There may be several similarities among many folks who find themselves in support of Brown as well, perhaps they are not teenage girls, perhaps they are adult men.

I’d like to be clear that a major part of my discomfort with the folks in my community sharing their support for him is how they are responsible for other people: their children. I’m also concerned because, like me, we are women of Color and a part of the same community of practice and healing. I realize that part of this discomfort and frustration is in my understanding and expectation of parents. There remain questions for me about how a parent can support a violent act of any sort upon another person’s child. Just as I do not want someone dictating if I should/not have a child I do not think I can dictate to a parent how to raise their child. I can provide my opinion if asked, support, resources, and tips to approaching such conversations. Yet, I realize that I am not going to misuse any power I have to tell that parent what they are doing wrong/right per my standards.

So then, how do some people, especially women of Color who may find themselves attracted to Brown, use their attraction and adoration to ignore and erase his history? Mind you, these are people who may not ever meet or speak with Brown. Yet they are still very much on #TeamBreezy. How may some folks be allowing their imagined physical/sexual connection with a celebrity to guide their stance on issues that affect our community every day? How may this impact the work we can do collectively? Are some folks choosing to remain in a position of oppression and violence?

As a result, I ask questions: What does it mean that we have parents who are supporting violence, abuse, assault, rape, and harming of others, of our communities? Can we really allow ourselves to be surprised to know that parents will support their children, even if they
allegedly raped a 11 year old girl and it was caught on video? Are we as educators prepared to work with the children and parents who share these ideas? How could we begin to prepare?

Also, can we please stop talking about “anger management” as the only solution? As my homegirl
Sofia Quintero has said over and over again: anger management is not what is at issue among folks who are abusers. Such folks know how to manage their anger, they don’t act out at work often, nor in public, many times they wait until they are home or with someone in their family or who they have an intimate relationship/friendship with. So, Brown knows how to manage his anger, he did not act out on stage or with Robin Roberts who interviewed him. He waited until he was in a particular place to act out violently. He made a choice.

How are our choices in violence connected to power? I remember teaching an upper level women’s studies course and listening to a reggeaton song by Ivy Queen. The song was
“La Abusadora.” One of the students shared how she believes, that for many marginalized and historically oppressed women, claiming some level of violence was one of the few forms of power they had. This has stuck with me for almost ten years. It struck me because I thought about the ways I have claimed violence as a form of power. How I have power in other ways now and have not had to claim violence as a form of power. What does it mean that power may be connected to violence because it may be the only form of power someone may have? Do we forget that the power we do have is not always guaranteed based on where we live and who we are?

Which leads me to ask what spaces of healing and support are we working to create? This past weekend was International
Anti-Street Harassment Day. I became familiar with several different outlets and community events occurring all over the world. One such event featured media maker Nuala Cabral who I interviewed last year. Her media focuses on anti-street harassment and useses various forms of media to begin such conversations. She collaborated with several other folks to provide a live performance of her film “Walking Home” as well as participated in community rallies and demonstrations. You can see her documentation of these events at her blog.

Often folks believe that the only “real” way to heal is by seeing and working with folks trained in Western ways of healing and counseling. I know this may work for some folks and I know it may not work for others. As a result I’ve found myself in support of non-traditional and complimentary forms of healing and care. This may be found in circles of support, art therapy, walking, traveling, and doing spiritual work and meditation. All this to say that there is not only one way to heal. There is not one right way to heal. Let’s limit essentializing healing for ourselves, others, and even for celebrities. As I’ve
shared before, I believe there is room for all of us to heal in the best and most nurturing and comfortable ways.

Lots of questions, not many answers. But
asking the questions and talking about them, thinking about solutions and approaches, are important work too.

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