by Matthew Vega
I’m not sure what happened to Chris Brown. I remember working in the projects I had grown up in, picking up kids to go trick-or-treating, and playing “Forever” as loud as I could so that we could have something to jam to. It became the go-to, so it always made me happy when I heard his music. Now, when I listen to his music or see pictures of him, my emotions range from anger to sadness.
After assaulting his then-girlfriend at the time, Rihanna, Brown was sentenced to five years of probation community service. Not long after, Brown’s public image and demeanor changed from the Michael Jackson-like teenager icon, appearing in videos alongside gangster rap artists, including The Game. So, this afternoon when I heard about his standoff with the police, I wasn’t all that surprised. But as I watched Chris Brown’s public response to the police, his second video struck me the most:
“I ain’t did shit, I ain’t gon’ do shit, and it’s always going to be fuck the police. Black lives matter, n****.
The most jarring thing about Brown’s response was his attempt to legitimize his violence against women again by evoking #BlackLivesMatter. Moments after, Ray J went public on Instagram to defend Chris Brown against what he says is a “false story” without ever naming the victim and employing a rhetoric strategy many of us often hear by police departments to discredit Black Lives Matter activists themselves: “we don’t have all the facts.” As long as the so-called “facts” are suppressed or withheld from us, we are told to suspend judgment from the alleged perpetrators in positions of power. This is a common tactic to squelch dissent, so when we see these ploys operative among Black or Latino men to silence the cries of women, we have a right to push back with force. We are witnessing this with Nate Parker and the controversy that his past rape history is having with his upcoming movie Birth of a Nation. We witnessed Black men come in to defend Bill Cosby, suggesting that it was some conspiracy of white people to slander him. I am not immune to this kind of deflection.As a lover of boxing, I dismissed critiques of Mayweather’s violence against women under the pretext that this was an attempt to discredit him because he is black. Nate Parker is not a victim of some conspiracy to thwart viewers from watching “Birth of a Nation.” Bill Cosby is not a victim of some plot to slander Black men. Floyd Mayweather is not labeled a violent abuser of women because he is Black. Chris Brown does not get a free past to beat up women because he is a Black man. I’m not saying that we do or don’t hold these Black men to higher standards than white men. That isn’t the point at all. The point is that these conversations revolve around the feelings/fragility of men while ignoring the women who should be at the center of them. Black and Latino men cannot cry “racism and #BlackLivesMatter” when their sexism is confronted anymore than Israel can cry “anti-Semitism” when their anti-Arabism is confronted. As Dr. Keaanga-Yamahtta Taylor points out in her book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation:
Black women have been central to every significant campaign for Black rights and freedom. Black women, including Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and countless and unknown others, were critical to the development of the civil rights movement, but that movement is still primarily known by its male leaders.
In other words, to cry #BlackLivesMatter while actively working against the lives of Black women is not only inconsistent with history – it is blasphemy. It is blasphemy because the lives of Black men can never be free without the freedom of Black women. Partial liberation is not liberation at all, and until we come to terms with our own sexist evil, our cries of #BlackLivesMatter will continually ring hollow.
Matthew Vega is a R3 Contributor
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