Chris Brown's Missing Preschool Lesson

Rhianna and Chris Brown
Rhianna and Chris Brown (The Root)

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Lisa Crooms
Professor, Howard University School of Law
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 1:00 PM

"Beyond noting that [Chris] Brown had a Wrigley's Gum commercial, [my son] Joel and I hadn't really talked about him since the holidays. Until last Monday morning. During our 25-minute ride across town to his school, we found ourselves listening to "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" crew lamenting about Chris Brown and Rihanna. "Mommy, what happened to Chris Brown?" Joel asked. I shushed him so we could both hear the story. Chris Brown was in police custody because of a domestic dispute involving an unidentified woman everyone assumed was his boo, Rihanna."

Related Story: Artist Arrest Spurs Forum On Violence (Post, Feb. 18)

Lisa Crooms, professor at Howard University School of Law, was online Wednesday, February 18 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss her article, Chris Brown's Missing Preschool Lesson and and why she feels that it's not too late for the pop star to learn that "boys don't hit girls."

A transcript follows.

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Lisa Crooms: Good Afternoon. This is Lisa Crooms and I'm looking forward to chatting with you about the issues raised in my essay about Chris Brown and Rihanna from theroot.com.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Professor: I am disturbed by comments to your Root article suggesting that gender equality means it is fine for men to hit women who hit them. It saddens me to say it, but there is a fair amount of misogyny and denial in the black community. Your thoughts?

Lisa Crooms: I am saddened but not necessarily surprised. I think what's apparent that there's a need for a real and honest dialogue about violence within the black community, regardless of who the perpetrators are. While the comments to the essay demonstrate the need for such a conversation, I'm encouraged by reports of the types of conversations hosted by Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington last night. If we don't talk about it, then it definitely won't change. The point of the essay was to get people talking.

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Laurel, Md.: This incident with Chris Brown personifies one of the black community's most important problems -- people who use their blackness as a ready-made excuse to engage in unacceptable behavior. It manifests itself in ways large (fathers absent since the creation) and small (people who talk loud and interrupt).

I know plenty of whites who are perfectly okay dealing with the blacks they actually know, but who prefer to avoid environments full of unknown blacks because they expect the standard of behavior is lower than it is in a white environment. Bill O'Reilly was both praised and condemned for expressing his surprize at the (high) standard of decorum in a Harlem restaurant. But in my neighborhood, most people know which movie theaters are mostly white and mostly black, and choose accordingly based on audience behavioral characteristics.

Lisa Crooms: While some of the comments to my essay might be characterized that way, I think it doesn't describe the majority of them. Perhaps this incident and the discussions it spurs will allow people to examine the extent to which they use their race, class or any other aspect of their identity to justify interpersonal violence.

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Islamabad, Pakistan: Surely, Chris Brown shouldn't have hit or assaulted Rihaanna for any reason at all. He needs to learn women though equal in gender, needs to learn not to hit girls out of rush of blood or rush of supremacy. ANWAR

Lisa Crooms: I think you've identified a key problem with the way people tend to understand equality. The "boys don't hit girls" rule seems unfair and unequal, but it doesn't support the idea that anyone is saying girls should be free to hit boys. For many, allowing men to hit women who hit men is about equality. Perhaps the point is that all hitting is wrong and focusing on what appear to be the specific facts of this case, it seems that a young man was violent with a young woman with whom he had an intimate and loving relationship. When the roles switch and there's a young woman who is violent with a young man with whom she has an intimate relationship, then that should be met with the same concern as has been spurred by this most unfortunate incident.

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Capitol Heights, Md.: Hello Ms. Crooms, I didn't get a chance to read your article, so I was just wondering how you explained the incident to your son. Thanks!

Lisa Crooms: I didn't have to explain it. We were listening to the radio on the way to school and it was being discussed on The Steve Harvey Morning Show. There were few details at that time but what was reported indicated that Brown was in custody for allegedly hitting an unnamed woman. We talked about hitting and particularly if boys should hit girls. But he's been raised to understand that all hitting is wrong and the best thing to do in that type of situation is just to walk away.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Lisa, I think what has disturbed me most in the aftermath of this incident is the backlash against the victim. So many people are coming with this "she hit him first" response. I guess my question is two-fold, when are the bruises on a battered woman enough to be sole the focus? I don't advocate anyone resorting to violence, but it seems "she got what she gave" is becoming the mantra -- and that doesn't help the fight against any kind of domestic violence.

Lisa Crooms: I have to agree with you and that was, in large part, what made me write the essay. Tehre seem to be too many people who believe that retaliation is the only way to deal with violence. I'm not a proponent of responding in kind when it is just as easy to walk away. I don't know what's more disturbing - men who feel they sacrifice their manhood if they chose to walk away or women who want simultaneously to blame the victim and to offer themselves to the man in question as a potential mate. We've got a lot of work to do if we want people to consider the range of options they might have and to choose something other than a violent response.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I wish to compliment you on withholding a privilege when your son hit a girl. I have often been amazed at parents who fail to see the contradiction in spanking their children for fighting or hitting each other. Do you think spanking is ever justified?

Lisa Crooms: That's a tough one, but the reality is that my son has been spanked 3 times in his entire 9 years. Once by his father. Twice by me. I try to be consistent and I realize it's hard to tell a child he shouldn't hit anyone and then resort to hitting to discipline him. I think it makes us much more mindful when it comes to dealing with disciplinary issues. It also communicates to him that non-physical repercussions are often more of a punishment than getting beat. I was beat as a child and often weighed the costs of the beating (which might have hurt but was short-lived) against the benefits of whatever I wanted to do that would most assuredly result in me getting beat. It's interesting to me that my parents didn't breach the men don't hit women rule - my mom physically disciplined me, not my father.

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Northeast D.C.: I think there is a message or belief out there that some violence in a relationship could be okay because it indicates a high level intensity and passion. I mean Brad and Angelina tried to kill each other in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. One could think of many more pop culture references where fighting (sometimes physically sometimes just verbally) leads to a passionate embrace. From what I've witnessed these relationships don't work in real life, but some try to justify the violence in their relationship using "passionate and intense" as an excuse. No matter who's hitting who this incident is another chance to say "we don't hit or otherwise hurt the people we love."

Lisa Crooms: That's an important point about domestic violence and the harms it causes. In a relationship where you would reasonably expect the other person to act in your best interest rather than to hurt you, it is perhaps more of a shock to find yourself being abused. I think the fact that this happened so close to National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week (2/2-6/09) means it helps to further the conversation and raise folks' consciousness about intimate and personal violence in what are supposed to be loving relationships.

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Washington, D.C.: Professor Crooms, While I certainly don't condone domestic violence, I definitely think that the conversation in households needs to shift from "boys don't hit girls" to "people need to keep their hands to themselves." Personally, I have a hard time reconciling telling a boy not to hit a girl...yet no conversation taking place with little girls. While the conversation with Joel may have been boy don't hit girls, how do you reconcile that with the conversations taking place that "if someone hits you, hit them back!"

Lisa Crooms: My essay was just about my experiences with my son. It shouldn't be understood to condone girls hitting boys. I think boys and girls both need to be taught that resorting to violence is unacceptable. It's just that my child is a boy, and I hope there are parents out there raising their girls that hitting is wrong as well.

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Atlanta, Ga.: As a black woman, I am quite frankly afraid of the black men who hit and the black women who are quick to wonder what I did to "deserve" it. What scares me most about these people is in the unexpected places I've found them, e.g. church. What can we do to eliminate the idea that it is OK to hit a black woman?

P.S. I don't go to "black" movie theaters either. I don't like the talking.

Lisa Crooms: This kind of discussion is the first step. It's also about not turning a blind eye to the violence within your community, your church, your school, and your family. There are few things more sobering than getting a call from a distraught friend (or student) who needs to get out of an abusive situation and needs you to help her move. Too few people have considered the following question, "If someone called needing this type of help would you step in to support them or would you leave them high and dry?"

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Washington, D.C.: Why did you tell your son that "Boys don't hit girls" rather than "Don't hit other children"?

Lisa Crooms: I was responding to the specific incident involving the little girl. That was one teaching moment, but not the only one. He knows hitting is unacceptable no matter who is being hit, but I also know that men hitting the women they claim to love is much more prevalent than women hitting the men they claim to love. If we (his father, his stepfather and me) are going to raise this little boy to be a man, he definitely needs to understand that hitting women is particularly eggregious.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I think it's most important to reach out to young women, teenagers who don't understand the impact this has on society. There are girls who may hear people saying "it's her fault" and forget that that cute guy singing to them is (allegedly) an abuser. And they'll continue to "love" him, forgetting that he's physically harmed a woman. I don't necessarily believe in boycotting artists, but Pearl Cleage's Mad at Miles is a great essay on this subject. At least these young girls need to acknowlege that they are swooning over a man who doesn't appear to respect someone he's supposed to like. And they aren't going to do that unless someone forces them to be aware of what this really is.

Lisa Crooms: I agree, but I think much too often we focus on only half the problem - raising the consciousness of girls and leaving unexamined the role boys play in perpetuating intimate and personal violence. It's like dealing with rape. You can make women aware of all the risks that might make them rape victims, but if we don't change the way men view women, we'll never address the problem. If we're going to come out of this whole, then everybody's got to believe they have a role to play.

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Lisa Crooms: Thanks so much for chatting this afternoon. I appreciate you taking the time to read my essay and chat about the issues it raised. Peace.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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