Thursday, March 31, 2011

Everybody Hates Chris? Why I Don't

I'm not looking to change minds on how people feel about Chris Brown two years after the incident. I'm looking to opening your mind to see why I've been in his corner. His latest incident on Good Morning America plus his appearance on Dancing With the Stars Tuesday has brought out the usual number of folks who are angry at him.

I criticized him right away because it was stupid and irresponsible. Robin Roberts is a professional and if he got upset over that, then he needs to chill out and get his head right. What did he expect? He acted a fool and deserved to be treated like an idiot.

Yet I don't see a monster. I see a 21-year old who's trying to figure out his life. I see someone struggling with his identity as he embraces a bad boy image (and a terrible dye job) while still trying to endear himself to his mostly young, female fanbase.He hasn't accepted his scarlet letter because he's trying to show he's more than that.

I root for him because he's still young with plenty of time to repair his life. He assaulted Rihanna at 19. I can think of many folks who did dumb stuff at 19 that they are grateful doesn't follow them into their late 20's and 30's.

At college I saw many at 18 and 19 who acted stupid, partied hard and/or faced legal trouble. By the time we graduated and beyond, they've moved well passed that to have good lives and be responsible adults. Did all of them commit crimes? No, unless you count underage drinking. Maybe it's not assault but most of us have dark spots on our reputation that we wish folks wouldn't bring up as we try to move past it.

It's the same with Chris. He's turning 22 this year and he has plenty of time to show that he's grown from that incident.

Second, he's has been punished quite enough for what he did. He's lost a year of his career, which is everything in this fickle pop age. He's lost respect and fans that he will never get back. Most of all, he has to live with what he did. Folks are quick to say he doesn't seem repentant in public but living with guilt, working to forgive yourself and being reminded of what you did daily is enough a cross to bear.

Too often we punish folks (celebs or criminals) because it makes us feel good instead of having it fit the crime.  I believe Chris has served his penance and I'd rather see him show that he's sorry by living his life and being a better man instead of saying it every time. If Rihanna has a chance to reclaim and reshape her career, so should Chris.

Michael Vick needed Tony Dungy to reclaim his life. Something Chris Brown needs too.
This leads to my most important reason. I see Chris like I see so many young men who don't have mentors to guide them. Many young Black men lack an older male role model who can teach them how to cope with adversity and give them sound advice they NEED to hear. I see plenty of immaturity because he isn't being shown - as opposed to being told - how to grow up.

Chris grew up with an abusive father. He inherited that attitude without knowing it because most young people don't realize they carry parental attitudes until 18-21 years old. I vowed to be different than my Dad until I realized in college that I began to act like him and had to embrace that.

He had no way of knowing Rihanna would bring out the anger in him yet unfortunately, he didn't take steps when that anger began to come out. He's embracing the bad boy look by cursing more and not caring how he's perceived yet it feels forced and not authentic. What he needs now is somebody to advise him to be himself and have his back while not being afraid to call him out privately.

He needs a Tony Dungy to his Michael Vick. An older R&B star who wants to see him grow as a man because he has some much ahead of him. An older figure who'll coach him on how to handle the media and look everyone straight in the eye.

I salute writer/activist Kevin Powell for writing this letter to Chris coming from the perspective of not just an older male, but someone who had bad history with women and risked his career because of it. This is what Chris needs. Not just scolding but advice on how to handle situations now. He doesn't need jail, he needs to open his eyes and ears and somebody needs to teach him.

You may say I'm being far too kind and delicate. But I care about him as a man with potentially a lot of power to impact others. What good is it to punish someone if you can't also teach them how to be better.

I've spoken to several victims of abuse and I can understand why they won't forgive him because they know what Rihanna went through. I've debated my views on him for the past 2 years with folks who take a hard line stance. You might even wonder why I'm easy on Chris and not Ben Roethlisberger (because at worst, he forced himself on two women and gotten off far easier publicly than Chris has despite being older and having a higher profile).

Chris needs to grow up and understand the world. As he promotes the #1 CD in America, he's gonna have to face questions about Rihanna like Vick faced about dogfighting last fall. He will mess up. That's part of the road to recovery. As long as he does more good than bad, providing that bad doesn't include violence against women.

If he wants to reclaim his life, he has to start with his head high, face the music and start wising up before he loses. But I'm willing to give him more room for now because he needs it after we criticize him.

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