Rihanna, Race, Real Life

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

As has been much discussed, a staggering 46 percent of a survey of Boston teenagers believed Rihanna was "responsible" for being attacked by her boyfriend, Chris Brown. Of the 200 teenagers surveyed, every single one had heard of the incident, which made me think about celebrity. I wondered how the survey would have turned out had Rihanna and Chris Brown been regular people and not icons to the 12-19 year olds surveyed.

Apparently other people had the same thought. Dosomething.org created this educational video that is a "re-enactment," featuring two non-celebrities, about what supposedly happened between Rihanna and Brown. In detail that is blood-chilling even if you already know the specifics from the police report, a young male repeatedly punches a young female in the face, chokes her, generally assaults her while a dead-pan narrator explains the scene. Seeing it played out without the gloss of US Magazine or the backdrop of an MTV soundtrack truly magnifies exactly what is at stake, exactly what the case against Brown is.

But I am likely preaching to the choir. Amongst every single adult I know, the immediate reaction to the entire Rihanna-situation is outrage and pity. Do you know one person who is entertaining thoughts that Rihanna "deserved" to be abused? Even Oprah has weighed in! Which is, of course, the most disturbing aspect of the Boston survey. How did the lessons we teach our kids--"use your words" and "don't hit" come to mind--translate to an acceptance of violence and, even more mind-boggling, a re-calibration of responsibility and blame?

In law school there was this entire jurisprudence that I called "starfu&%ing"--situations in which it seemed that the bench was treating people differently because they were famous. Sometimes it seems like we are harsher on celebrities because they are in the spotlight--think: ostracizing Mischa Barton or that girl from Party of Five for tiny bits of cellulite. Other times, I suppose, we give celebrities more leeway. Is that what's at play in the Boston survey?

And I wonder: How much of the issue has to do with race, if at all? What were the races of the teens surveyed? Does it matter? In talking about the whole thing with friends, I have repeatedly heard amongst some black friends clear overtones of disappointment that such young African Americans in the public eye are perpetuating old African American stereotypes. One friend, in defending Puff Daddy (or is he P Diddy now? Or Puff Daddy Redux? You know who I'm talking about) for lending the teenage couple his estate for a supposed reconciliation said, "Man, he was trying to do damage control for an entire race."

True? What do you think? What would you think if the story involved two South Asians? Anything different? What would the Boston teens in the survey have said if it involved two South Asians?

Obviously...I have no answers. My kids are little and I don't have to worry yet about the potent interaction between celebrities, race, icons, impressionable teenagers. But, especially just having had a girl, the idea of a world in which 46 percent of kids think a woman deserved to be hit? Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Hopefully one of you guys can figure out what we should do about this sometime in the next, oh, 14 years or so...
15 comments:
kp said...

great questions but unanswerable...

Anonymous said...

Had heard about the dosomething video and hope all the Boston teens watched it...

Opal said...

Diddy. Just Diddy.

Bahar said...

I am so glad you wrote about the race component, I feel like it doesn't get talked about and of COURSE this is about race. You have to wonder whether those surveyed would think a white woman "deserved" to be hit.

Anonymous said...

like you said the question doesn't seem to be what we, adults, would think if the situation involved two south asians, i think we would all still feel pity and outrage like you said. the question ish ow the race would affect kids. i can't even predict what the kids would think to see two south asians because i can't really understand the survey in the first place, it's so surprising and of course scary.

Anonymous said...

This is the anonymous poster from yesterday: Now this is what I was talking about! This has issues of motherhood wrapped up in issues of race and is thought-provoking. All I was saying yesterday is that your readers are not all card-carrying liberals and you might want to remember that. I like this site quite a bit and have not before found so much quality content that is directed at me which I appreciate.

Anonymous said...

Funny, that's what people say about Obama. Diddy and Obama together haha.

Anonymous said...

If it were South Asians nobody would care. Unless it was Anoop.

Jaya said...

I don't know about that but I do know that stories of abuse and domestic violence tend to get "buried" in the South Asian community.

Anonymous said...

If it were South Asians, the South Asian community would try to distance itself as much as possible, not try to force a reconiliation and I dont know if this is good or bad.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know. I definitely know Indian women our parents contemporaries who divorced after hush hush domestic violence who were then ostracized from socity and of course it's horrible. BUt if it was Indian celebrities? Maybe your point would hold true that there is something about it that lends us to give celebrities more slack.

Preschool Teacher said...

The problem is not only the fascination kids have with celebrity but also the fascination they have with hip hop. It wasn't the case when I was growing up, where we revered New Kids on the Block and, if we were particularly edgy, Nirvana. The entire culture of hip hop is different and decidedly alluring with all the beauty, glamour, money, women. Kids want it and can see no wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think blaming hip hop is a little simplistic but I do agree that we--adults and children alike--seem to grant celebrities "get out of jail free" passes.

Anonymous said...

The survey shocked me when I first heard about it and I found myself thinking about it often, especially when I see teenage girls walking around in that age where they look so unsure of themselves, half child half woman. I don't have any answers but I have a daughter too and it really makes me scared about the world we are raising kids in, not in any dramatic way but just as a general fear because these ideas have to come from somewhere, and they aren't coming from us right? So where?

curly said...

The survey shocked me and saddened me at the same time. That so many of the young still blame the victim of the abuse rather than the one that delivered the abuse.

As for the South Asian angle..it does happen with the SA celebs (think Salman Khan, etc). Yet, the man is still popular despite having multiple girlfriends that claimed abuse...I mean that many woman couldn't have made it up? Yet, it is brushed off...

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