My mom and I sat on the couch anxiously staring at the silhouette of what had to be the reincarnation of Michael Jackson. We let out a collective gasp when we saw Chris Brown’s face peek out from that signature black fedora. With our eyes glued to the screen, we were mesmerized as Brown took over the stage and literally became Michael. It was as if for a moment the pop legend that had meant so much to so many hadn’t actually died. Instead, Michael was right there in front of us. After Brown’s unbelievable performance, he emerged from backstage to sing “Man in the Mirror.” At first, when the words weren’t coming out in succession, I thought he was trying to catch his breath from his electrifying dancing. I soon realized that he was very visibly crying. “Oh my God! Come on Chris, you can do it,” I shouted senselessly at the television, as if he could hear me. I found myself unexpectedly rooting for Chris. There are many people who are already suggesting that Brown’s performance was a PR stunt — a well orchestrated comeback. I find myself extremely defensive at such an insinuation. Ultimately, the safest career move for him would have been to just do a phenomenal job from start to finish especially with the amount of inappropriate behavior he’s exhibited since pleading guilty to assault charges last year, but if this performance showed us anything, it reminded us that this, at times dysfunctional 21-year-old is actually a human being. As a card-carrying feminist, I am still shaken up by my personal response to the performance and the subsequent discourse. Questions rapidly circle through my head. Am I condoning domestic violence? By saying I want to believe in Chris, am I making excuses for men who viciously beat their girlfriends? What about the women who don’t survive mental and physical assault, or those who will never find a way out? My mind also seems to rest on the myriad of Black men rotting in prison, the very place where Brown could have been. What do we say to our brothers when they come out, that there is no hope for them, no redemption? Is time ever served or will we treat them no different than a mainstream society that creates dangerous paths to recidivism, translating virtually every prison bid to a life sentence. I can’t fully reconcile my internal conflict, but I know my deepest hope is that little boys can grow to be men and find healing in taking responsibility for their actions. And that we can be there along the way to praise them when it is deserved and hold them accountable when they fall.
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