Analyzing the words of Chris Brown's Father
After you’ve been through something personally – whether it’s childbirth, graduate school, or domestic violence – everything you read on the subject resonates a different way. As a woman who escaped a violent marriage, reading the E! Online interview with Clinton Brown on his son Chris Brown’s recent arrest gives me the creeps.
To be sure, Clinton Brown meant for his words to mix family remorse with support for his son. He tried to minimize what happened, while pretending he was not minimizing it. Sadly, most of the public will accept this sort of thinking with a sad nod, because after all “We all have our shortcomings.” Even the news media reporting the interview did not bother to point out the flaws in the elder Brown’s whitewashing of a terrible, violent act.
Let’s consider what Clinton Brown said, line by line:
“This is unfortunate—this stumble, this situation.”
First it should be noted that “fortune” traditionally refers to things that happen by chance or by fate. Violence is a choice, not an accident or a matter of fortune.
From the outset, Clinton Brown refuses to name the crime. To be fair, he may have excellent legal reasons for not naming specifics. As the father of the alleged perpetrator, we can hardly expect him to detail his son’s heinous act for us. Nevertheless, throughout the interview he demonstrates practiced acumen at minimizing the nature of the act. According to some reports, Chris Brown threatened to kill his girlfriend, and nearly succeeded: They say he choked Rihanna until she passed out. Other accounts describe a black eye, bloody nose, and busted lip. This is not exactly a “stumble.”
Vague words like “stumble” and “situation” are common in the vocabulary of abusers and abuse deniers. They are used in place of specific words like punch, slap, kick, choke, threaten, or imprison.
“Hopefully, he will get past it.”
I really love this bit of optimism. It’s all about the man, and whether he will get past it. Again, we do not know what “it” is – the charge, the tendency to hit women, the woman herself?
Most troubling is his focus on the perpetrator. What about the victim? Rihanna is the cultural ambassador of Barbados, with an internationally acclaimed singing career. Her livelihood is based on her voice, and she has already canceled performances because of her injuries. How will this affect her career, her psyche, her sense of safety and her future relationships? Is there any hope in this father’s heart for a young woman who rose up from a remote island in the Caribbean to thrill the world with her song and style, and then became reduced to someone’s whipping post? Clinton Brown offers no fond hope that Rihanna will get past the beating. She is viewed as an obstacle to Chris Brown’s success, rather than a person.
“We all have our shortcomings.”
Whenever someone makes such a glib statement about a heinous crime, I’m always tempted to ask, “Oh, you mean, you beat up women, too?”
“We all trip."
We trip, we do not all choke someone half to death on the way down.
"If you are on his side, you are on his side," he said.
This is a classic false dichotomy. You probably recognize it from the Bush presidency. It makes everything in the world about Chris Brown. Every single human being is sorted, like the proverbial sheep and the goats, into for-Brown and against-Brown. Abusers use this type of thinking to detract from criminal actions and point the finger at someone else. For an abuser, people in the “for” category include friends and family members who deny abuse, people who believe them just because they are cool or charming or providing something, girlfriends who say they fell down the stairs, and policemen who tell battered women not to call 911 again. In the “against” category are victims who speak, friends who intervene, and anyone who refuses to play along with the script.
"Just because someone trips, if you are truly a fan, you are not going to demonize him instantaneously."
The above sentence is a double-whammy in the linguistic manipulation department. Clinton Brown implies that if you are a “true fan,” you will continue to buy Chris Brown’s music, attend his concerts, and give him awards even if he did strangle his girlfriend on the curb. He cannot say this outright, because it is untenable. So he substitutes “trips” to minimize the abuse, as he did before. But this time he goes a step further and uses the word “demonize” to describe the action of someone who stops being a fan. Chris Brown does not have to be a demon to keep us from buying his music. We are not fans of men who beat up women, either.
"This music industry is very unforgiving when it comes to having indiscretions.”
The “unforgiving” trope is used liberally by every abuser on the planet. If a woman forgives a violent man ninety-nine times and leaves him the hundredth time, she will be labeled “unforgiving” or even “bitter.” (See this blogpost at War Against Women)
In this case, we see the label lobbed at an entire industry as a sort of threat against black-listing the man who attacked his girlfriend in the street. If you mind that he did this, you are “unforgiving.”
For a new twist on minimizing, Daddy Brown now uses the term “indiscretions,” as if terroristic threats and choking are just momentary lapses of judgment. This interesting little term has been used for decades as a euphemism for extramarital sexual activities. Such violations of trust have always felt like more than “indiscretions” to the faithful spouse – but to use this flippant little word for violent actions is unconscionable.
“He will continue to be a good person.”
Clinton Brown knows what he is saying. If he stated “He is a good person,” we would snort. But by stating that his son “will continue” to be good, he points to the future while pushing through the implied statement that his son is good.
“He loves people.”
Most abusers do. In fact, many of them cite love as a motive. That’s why any time police find a female homicide victim, the first person-of-interest is her husband or lover. In the majority of cases, the first guess is correct.
“And like most of us, most humans, things will occur.”
Sorry, Clinton Brown, but you are wrong again. Most men do not choke their girlfriends, hit their wives, or otherwise terrorize the females in their lives. Most men recognize that their greater size and power obligates them to protect, rather than abuse, the women they know.
“And hopefully a person won't be judged simply on that alone."
As intelligent beings, we make judgments about other people all the time. We use many criteria, and are often to known to say that someone was an excellent athlete or musician or actor, but a terrible person. If there is any single axis on which we ought to judge a person, it is how that person treats those who are smaller and weaker.
All of us love our children, so naturally we expect words of support rather than condemnation from Clinton Brown. However, even a parent cannot be excused from minimized the nature of abuse or demanding that violence against women be dismissed from the criteria used to judge who is a good person.