It seems that the mainstream media are at it again: demonizing black men, and this time the targets are Bobby Brown and Chris Brown.
Bobby Brown is a complicated figure who has admittedly earned the criticism he has gotten over the years for being the "bad boy" of R&B. With the recent death Brown's ex-wife, music legend Whitney Houston, talk of Bobby Brown as the central reason for her demise has been front and center in the media coverage. The blame game has played out in specials, editorials and the comments section of many online posts.
I cannot count how many times I have seen "I blame Bobby Brown," written in the comments sections of this site and others, as if Houston had no culpability in her troubles. In Houston's last interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, even Houston appeared to place a lot of blame on Brown for her addictions. While Brown bears some responsibility, he can't possibly bear all of the responsibility for the madness that was in their lives.
One had only to watch a little of the reality show Being Bobby Brown to see that the sheer and utter foolishness that marked their personal lives lay squarely at the feet of Houston and Brown. However, I am less interested in joining in the blame game than I am in examining why the media are so willing to paint Brown as the villain in the fairy tale that ended tragically.
One thing that stood out in the reality show-turned-train wreck Being Bobby Brown is that viewers were able to see that Houston and Brown actually liked each other and appeared to be friends, even as they battled their personal demons. By all accounts, Brown and Houston had a familial relationship post-divorce, so much so that Houston sang at the funeral of Brown's father just last year.
I find it interesting that a 14-year relationship and all of its complexities would be reduced to a "bad boy meets good girl and destroys her life" narrative.
Bobby Brown isn't the only Brown under attack. Chris Brown has been under fire since being invited to perform at the 2012 Grammy Awards earlier this month. Country singer Miranda Lambert spoke out against Brown on Twitter, stating that he should not have been allowed to perform because he "beat on a girl." Interestingly enough, she failed to speak out against country legend Glen Campbell, who was honored at this year's awards. Campbell, who has Alzheimer's disease, apparently has been forgiven for brushes with the law earlier in his career.
Chris Brown's performance and win at the Grammys has led to him being pummeled in the press all over again for battering pop princess Rihanna, who appears to have moved on from the incident since she dropped two new singles with him last week.
Again, if the actual victim of Brown's crime can move forward, then why can't the media and other celebrities? Chris Brown did not invite himself to perform at the Grammys, so where is the ire for CBS executives and those in charge of the awards? If Chris Brown can never be forgiven for his sins, then why can convicted batterers like Tommy Lee be allowed to move on? Didn't recurring batterer Michael Lohan just get a radio show?
My point is that the media's continued insistence on painting Bobby Brown and Chris Brown as horrible people, despite what they may or may not have done, is part of a larger dominant narrative that plays out in the media, which is that black men are inherently bad. I'm not here to make excuses for either man — their shenanigans throughout the years speak volumes — but I do believe that the media's willingness to paint Bobby Brown as a no-good man, and Chris Brown as a batterer for life, falls in line with their long history of demonizing black men. The narrative sits well with readers and viewers because it is one that is heavily promoted: black men as drug addicts, criminals, absentee parents and brutes.
I'm here to say give it a rest. The media obsession with Bobby Brown and Chris Brown is troubling and transparent.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.