Why can't you keep your hands to yourself?
Dear Celebrity Black Man,
There seems to be an avalanche of news reports that show men beating on women in the news – mostly if not all, black men. Like clockwork, every month there come revelations of another brother swinging on a woman. If the information that is being leaked by some of these situations is to be taken as fact, these fights are no mere lover’s quarrels but violent, brutish, and sometimes life threatening situations.
As a black man who doesn’t have the fruits of fame to enjoy, it causes me some angst to hear and see these things. I know your Mama’s taught you better.
Since I was a small child, I was taught by my mother and grandfather to never let someone put their hands on me without retaliating. To be certain, we came from a fighting household where all of my siblings and I fought one another quite often. But I was also taught to never to hit a female under any circumstance. My brothers were bound by the same rules as I regarding non-violence toward the so-called fairer sex.
But that last lesson was kind of hard for me with an older sister that had a hair-trigger temper who was not bound by the same oath of non-violence toward members of the opposite sex. My sister was considerably larger than me for most of our childhood and was a dirty fighter, tossing lamps, chairs, dishes and fists on some occasions. The best way to escape that hurricane was to find shelter and baton down the proverbial hatches and wait for her to cool off. But when I got older, around 16-years-old, she tried to provoke a fight. This time, instead of retaliating or running, I simply sat on her until she calmed down. We grew closer afterwards and she would go on to fight many of my battles, against males and females, for the rest of our childhood.
But outside of family, my personal constitution and upbringing would be tested again with a girlfriend I had in college. She was beautiful. In fact, many of my teammates from the basketball team would compare her favorable to Dawn Robinson of En Vogue. Yeah, she was that fine. In fact, she was so pretty that I let her get away with just about anything. She was very confrontational and exhibited all the traits of a spoiled diva with none of the fame, and she was…handsy. Meaning, she would slap or shove me for any perceived slight while in the confines of my dorm room out of public view.
I endured this for an entire semester because I loved her. But after leaving school for summer break, I seethed over it and vowed to strike her back if she ever hit me again. The following semester I began operating by a different rule. For every three times she struck me, I would hit her back. That tactic hastened the demise of our relationship. And the recollection of those slap-happy days still cause me great emotional discomfort. Why didn’t I just walk away? Because I loved her.
Now, as a journalist specializing in the coverage of African-American culture I have witnessed you, celebrity black man, appearing in the news far more often than is comfortable for me to bare for brutally striking your mates. Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of my own pass transgressions or maybe it’s because I know that all black men are painted with the same broad brush by the media when it is clear that incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by black male celebrities are not the norm.
For those who are uncertain as to what exactly constitutes a black male celebrity clarification may be in order. It is any television or movie star, musicians or sports figure who is in the public eye and is thus used, for better and for worse, as the standard of black male masculinity by the general populous.
Over the past five years the list of domestic violence offenders that I was able to cull is far too long to explain. Hip-Hop producer The Dream has been accused of domestic violence for punching and strangling his pregnant ex-wife. The Game is accused of striking his fiancée Tiffney Cambridge. Then there’s former NFL receiver Chad Johnson’s head-butting of reality TV star Evelyn Lozada, Floyd Mayweather who faced domestic violence charges, and the Ray Rice video of the NFL star standing over the limp body of his then fiancée was a stomach turner. Terrence Howard is accused of punching his first ex-wife in the face and being abusive toward his second mate. And the incidents of domestic violence that former Scandal star Columbus Short has been accused of in chasing his wife with a knife while she held their child are disturbing. And who can forget the horrifying pictures of beautiful Rihanna after she suffered a brutal beating from pop star Chris Brown? These weren't merely shoving matches or slap fights. These were barbaric beatdowns.
In many of these celebrity related instances, the court of public opinion that takes place on social media often turns toward the victimized women being blamed with questions like, “What did she do?” Or other popular comments that include, “I know he didn’t hit her for nothing. I bet she was trying to take his kids away.” To me, these are nebulous assumptions that have little or no basis in reality. On the flipside, there are those who eviscerate the men accused of these heinous acts as being spineless and cowardly.
Reasons and excuses have a funny relationship. One is seen as a logical summation of intent and the other is a negative character trait. But no matter the reason or excuse, any rationalization of violence against an individual who is, for the most part, smaller, weaker and physically lacking the ability to defend herself, is null and void from a societal standpoint and a legal standpoint as well.
In recent news, TMZ - at the vanguard of all things ratchet in celebrity news - published a video on its website that shows sister to international superstar Beyoncé, Solange Knowles, attacking her brother-in-law, Jay Z. To his credit, Jay showed tremendous restraint in not striking Solange back amidst her kicks, in-the-face pushes, and attacks. In response, actress Whoopi Goldberg, a panelist on the daily roundtable The View, is on record saying that Jay Z had the right to strike Solange to defend himself. Opinions like Whoopi’s continue to run the gamut as many social media “tough guys” rain insults down upon Jay for not hitting her back.
Jay’s approach was admirable. But I cannot say with any certainty that it was an anomaly. I would say that emotionally mature men walk away from such confrontations more often than not. But no one hears about this, because a man doing what he is supposed to do is simply not news. However, when you’re a celebrity, and a black man, many factors come into play. You should know this, Dear Celebrity Black Man. Yet we continually see your dirty business plastered across the pages of the nation’s tabloids.
It might not be fair that this letter is being addressed to celebrity black men. Some White dudes beat the crap out of their ladies all the time. Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, and Oscar Pistorious have all been accused of being abusers, with the last on trial for murdering his girlfriend. However, their actions do not reflect negatively on an entire group of men. Yours, dear black men of fame, do.
Believe me, I know it isn’t easy to simply walk away when you feel disrespected verbally or threatened physically. But the consequences of responding otherwise are mammoth. Not only is it wrong and affects your marketability as a celebrity, but it also shows us – as black men – in a bad light again.
Does it matter to you? Probably not. But it matters to me and millions of other brothers across the nation. As an adult, I have learned that being a strong black man often means showing great restraint, even in a situation where public opinion and legal precedence might support your actions.
But what I wish you’d do when faced with an angry or seemingly disrespectful woman is get away from the cause of your angst by any means necessary. Run away as fast and as far as you can, lock yourself in a closet, call your sister, do anything but strike her unless your life or that of your children absolutely depends on it.