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She The People

Rihanna and Chris Brown are proof that


domestic violence is everyones business
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By Michelle Bernard February 11, 2013

(Christopher Polk Getty Images)

A few weeks after the 2009 Grammys, photos released of R&B soul singer Rihannas face after
her then-boyfriend Chris Brown had assaulted her were explanation enough as to why she had
not appeared at the Grammys just a few weeks earlier. She had been brutally assaulted by Brown.
In a November 2009 interview with Diane Sawyer, Rihanna told Sawyer that it takes eight or
nine incidents of domestic violence before one leaves an abusive relationship. Moreover, she
told Sawyer that When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result into some young
girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldnt be responsible If Chris never
hit me again, whos to say that their boyfriend wont kill these girls. Rihanna told young
girls, Dont react off of love. F love.
Conventional wisdom was that the relationship was over Rihanna would become a role model
to women around the world, and through her actions, would demonstrate that no man is worth it.
Fast forward three years.
In an August 2012 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna told Winfrey that she had lost her
best friend (Brown) in one moment. She said that It was a weird, confusing space to be in,
because as angry as I was I just felt he made that mistake because he needed help. [And I
wondered], whos going to help him? Rihanna continued, telling Winfrey that No ones going
to say, He needs help. Everybodys going to say, Hes a monster. Without looking at the
source.'
Three months later, in her seventh studio album, Unapologetic, Rihanna and Brown recorded a
song together entitled Nobodys Business.
In the Jan. 31 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, after officially reuniting with Brown, Rihanna
told contributing editor Josh Eells, I decided it was more important for me to be happy. I wasnt
going to let anybodys opinion get in the way of that. Even if its a mistake, its my mistake. After
being tormented for so many years, being angry and dark, Id rather just live my truth and take
the backlash. I can handle it.
Then, last week, to the utter shock and dismay of men and women all over the world, Rihanna,
blowing kisses at Brown, accompanied him to a probation hearing where prosecutors argued that
he had failed to complete his 180 days of community labor, which he had agreed to after
pleading guilty to felonious assault in 2009.
In part, the lyrics to Nobodys Business provide that It aint nobodys business. It aint
nobodys business. Youll always be mine. Sing it to the world. Always be my boy, always be my
girl. Aint nobodys business. Aint nobodys business. Aint nobodys business, but mine and my
baby.
But domestic violence, the propensity of some to accept it, its causes, and its aftermath is
everyones business.

As a society, we must ask ourselves what is it that happens in the rearing of children in virtually
every culture and at every socio-economic level that raises girls and boys who are willing to stay
in, or go back to physically and/or verbally abusive relationships.
There are many reasons why women (and men) in abusive relationships dont leave. Money (the
lack thereof); children; child custody concerns; a lack of adequate protection through the
criminal justice system; poverty and the possibility of homelessness are all issues that
immediately come to mind.
But, what about the case of women of means who can leave and choose to stay? What about
cases like Rihanna where one leaves an abusive relationship and then chooses to go back to it
knowing full well that this self-bondage puts one at constant risk of physical and/or verbal
abuse?
According to Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor of Social Work at Howard University and author
of The Ultimate Betrayal: A Renewed Look at Intimate Partner Violence, What this story tells
us is that domestic violence doesnt discriminate and that it can occur no matter how wealthy you
are, how beautiful you are or how smart you are.
Moreover, Bent-Goodley states that It is so much easier for us to focus on one individual why
doesnt she just leave it is much harder for us to focus on ourselves and our communities
what are the messages we send that keep women being abused in abusive relationships? Our
silence and our own inability to champion this issue fosters a sense that domestic violence is not
an issue. We need more courageous people to stand against domestic violence.
Bent-Goodley asserts that what we see with Rihanna and Brown and in numerous incidents of
domestic violence is not just one issue, but a combination of many factors. Stigma, not wanting
to be associated with domestic violence, fear of losing social stature, cultural beliefs that physical
abuse is a normal part of being in a relationship, and romanticizing what your relationship used
to be versus what it actually is and whatever is actually going on internally with the individual
who has been victimized that leads them to stay (or go back to an abuser), are just some of the
many issues we must look at as a nation in order to halt this crime.
As an African-American woman myself, I couldnt help but ask Bent-Goodley about the
complicated issue of domestic violence in our communities. Bent-Goodley asserts that in the
African-American community, one of the issues many black, female victims of domestic
violence face is not wanting to put a black man at the mercy of the criminal justice system.
As Bent-Goodley told me, While domestic violence impacts all communities, black women are
further burdened with the fear of going to the police and the courts because they dont want to
turn black men over to the criminal justice system. They dont want to bring shame to the
community and they dont want others to think negatively about them and about black men
because they have the added dimension of racism and discrimination to contend with. It can be a
crippling burden no matter your economic status.

After watching Brown watching Rihannas performance at the Grammys last night, I couldnt
help but to ask once again what we can do to teach our daughters that no man is worth abuse?
According to Ludy Green, president and founder of Second Chance Employment Services, the
first and only employment placement agency in the United States for domestic violence victims,
By helping our daughters understand that we do not need to depend on any man, we have the
capacity to do whatever we wish or desire intellectually as well as physically. First, we have to
be an example to our daughters to maintain relationships in the home characterized by mutual
respect and affection. No man is worthy to take away our peace of mind or distress us on a
regular basis. Respect and understanding is key to a well-functioning relationship.
In 1923, in Any Womans Blues, jazz legend Bessie Smith sang Every woman in my fix is
bound to feel blue too, cause I love my man better than I love myself and if he dont have me,
he wont have anybody else. Maybe what we need to teach our daughters and sons is that not
only is this everyones business, the key to happiness is loving yourself first.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public
Policy. Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard