Rihanna. (Flickr/Eva Rinaldi)
Thank God for Rihanna and Chris Brown. It’s the one violence-against-a-women-of-color story that money media can’t get enough of.
To recap, the Grammy Awards took place; Rihanna performed live from the stage. That was news in itself. Four years ago, a much-publicized attack on the musician by her boyfriend, fellow recording artist Chris Brown, left her too beaten and bruised to perform. The two skipped the Grammys that year and Brown was charged with a felony in connection with the attack and sentenced to five years probation and 6 months community service.
Fast forward to 2013. Just days before the Grammies, Brown was back in court on charges he’d failed to complete his community service. Rihanna was seen blowing him kisses from the gallery, and days later, there they were, a cuddly couple at the Awards, Rihanna with a big sparkling rock on her ring finger, unironically performing her ballad “Stay.”
What’s going on? Rihanna told Oprah Winfrey she still loves Brown. In a cover story on Rolling Stone she’s quoted as saying that dating Brown makes her happy and "If it's a mistake, it's my mistake…After being tormented for so many years, being angry and dark, I'd rather just live my truth and take the backlash. I can handle it."
Leaving aside the culturally unfortunate pairing of “angry” and “dark,” when it comes to backlash, Rihanna knows whereof she speaks. Backlash is us. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the young woman’s decision to snuggle up to her batterer, from the MSNBC show host Melissa Harris-Perry to the creator of the HBO series Girls.
Watching Rihanna go back to Brown “breaks my heart in half,” Girls’ Lena Dunham told Alec Baldwin, because of all the young girls who look up to and admire the artist. "[Being a role model] is a platform that you have to take seriously.”
Others swamped Twitter with calls for pundits to lay off: It’s nobody’s business if Rihanna goes back to Brown. As she says, it’s her mistake, her personal choice. And so it goes on.
Two things are striking about this story. First, the conversation is all about Rihanna. Secondly, the more people talk about it, the more obvious it becomes that they have absolutely no faith that our current criminal justice responses to domestic violence work. The assumption is that Brown will beat again, even after arrest, conviction, probation and at least some service. The statistics bear the skeptics out. This is what should break our hearts.