For some time before the official announcement that Chris Brown and Rihanna are a couple again, there were plenty of images of the two of them cuddled together. The announcement simply confirmed what the public already knew. Since the incident in which she was brutally beaten anyone and everyone has taken the time to decide and dictate what Rihanna should do. A lot of this has been couched in Rihanna’s so-called responsibility to her young and impressionable fans. The most recent celebrity to weigh in is Lena Dunham and predictably, she is not impressed. In a podcast with renowned sexist Alec Baldwin, Lena Dunham had the following to say.
Being a role model is amazing. It’s an amazing thing and it’s like, it’s a platform that you have to take seriously. Which is why sometimes it’s like I used to be really into Rihanna, that pop star, and then it’s like again, I don’t want to ever throw stones from my glass house, but I follow her on Instagram and I just think about how many little girls beyond what I could even comprehend are obsessed with Rihanna. Like you know, she left Barbados, she’s had this amazing career, she’s won a Grammy. She’s talented. And then she gets back together with Chris Brown and posts a million pictures of them smoking marijuana together on a bed. And it cracks my heart in half in a way that makes me feel like I’m 95 years old.
First off, Rihanna is a singer, and she did not sign up to be anyone’s role model. People have the choice about buying her music and supporting her career. It’s a parents responsibility to decide for themselves what their child consumes. Early on, I made it clear that our home would be a rap free house because of the frequency in which the N word is employed in the lyrics and the misogyny. It’s really not that hard, trust me. Furthermore, Rihanna’s experiences can open the door to talking to our sons and daughters about domestic violence, as has happened in my home.
I am amused that Dunham brings up throwing stones, considering that her show is completely vapid and has erased people of colour in NYC, of all places. She is certainly not a person any young girl of colour should be taking direction from, regardless of her success. But yeah, she takes her responsibility as a role model seriously. Dunham may very well see herself as free wheeling liberal hippy but all see is a White woman with far to much privilege for her own good. It must be nice to sit on her lofty perch and judge someone else. It’s clear to me that Dunham has not given a moments thought about her privileged position relative to Rihanna. The very idea that Dunham believes she has some inalienable right to criticize the actions of an Black woman, in a conversation with Baldwin, speaks volumes about how far Dunham still has to go in recognizing her racial privilege. . Who is Dunham to believe that she has the right to discipline anyone into performing in a specific manner. The person who is most likely to be hurt by the reconciliation is Rihanna herself, not some nameless, faceless fan in Middle America.
When people look at Rihanna, all they see is her wealth and privilege as a celebrity and that makes it difficult for them to understand the psychology behind her role as a victim of domestic violence. In an interview regarding their return to couplehood, Rihanna had the following to say:
“He doesn’t have the luxury of fucking up again. That’s just not an option,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone this far if I ever thought that was a possibility … You see us walking somewhere, driving somewhere, in the studio, in the club, and you think you know. But it’s different now. We don’t have those types of arguments any more. We talk about shit. We value each other. We know exactly what we have now, and we don’t want to lose that.”
This statement speaks volumes. Chris Brown is a violent abuser and none of his actions since that fateful night have proven that he understands the gravity and horror that his behaviour inflicts upon others. Like all abusers, I am sure that Chris Brown is charming and manipulative. Abusive relationships don’t start out with the abuser being an ass and they involve a systematic break down of the victim. There is a reason that it takes an average seven attempts, before a victim leaves a violent and or emotionally abusive relationship. One can be certain that since Brown beat Rihanna, he absolutely has been emotionally abusing her.
Abusers will say anything to convince their victims that the can and will change. Even though the victim has clearly been hurt, it is important to remember that there is love in this relationship and most are desperate to believe their abuser. Though we say that a woman cannot change a man, plenty try every damn day.
There is also the fact that Rihanna herself grew up with an abusive father. When a child witnesses abuse in their formative years they either empathize with the victim or the abuser. Violence becomes very normalized and this is why it’s so hard to break a familial history of abuse. As much as I have zero sympathy with Chris Brown, he also grew up watching helplessly as his mother was beaten. This is something that they share in common and it more than likely feels like an intimate connection, even though they have moved beyond horrified witnesses, to each having a specific role in violence now.
Telling Rihanna that she must leave Chris Brown probably feels good and it seems logical, but it is not the right thing for the public to be engaging in. To Rihanna, it will only feel like she is being controlled and she already gets enough of that in her relationship. What Rihanna needs is support and understanding, based in the psychology behind her decisions. Rihanna will eventually make the right decision but it won’t be because people are jumping on the bully pulpit to judge her, but because she is finally ready to face her demons. Even with all of the privilege that Rihanna has, it takes courage to leave an abusive relationship and though she won’t have the same issues that poor abuse victims have, let’s not belittle her experiences or ignore her personal history.