An Open Letter to Chris Brown and Rihanna

Malika Saada Saar

Please know that I recognize the need for privacy during a time of tragedy and attempted healing. But I ask that you consider how this might be a teaching moment that recognizes the sacredness of women and girls' lives.

Please know that I recognize the
need for privacy during a time of tragedy and attempted healing. But
I ask that you consider how this might be a teaching moment that recognizes
the sacredness of women and girls’ lives. 

Like Rihanna, one out every three
American women has been beaten, sexually coerced or otherwise abused
in her lifetime. The lives of African American women are even more diminished
by violence. Intimate partner violence is the leading cause of death
for African-American women ages 15 to 45.  That means more African
American girls and women are dying because of violence than car accidents
or cancer. 

What is the value of a woman or
girl’s life? 

This is a moment when you can affirm
the value of women and girls’ lives. You can publicly criticize the
bloggers who were so quick to blog that "it is her fault,"
"she had it coming," "if women didn’t shake their asses
to misogynistic lyrics
." Make it clear that Rihanna was the
victim, and not the cause, of the violence done to her. Both of you
must state that when violence does happen against a women or girl, there
must be accountability, that we cannot continue the culture of impunity
when women and girls are hurt. Chris, you can demonstrate that accountability
through prison time and intensive counseling. 

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Of course, I am sure that there
are many reasons why you might shun my request. Too often America has
played out its entrenched dynamics of sexual and physical violence against
women through the African-American experience. Before you, it was Kobe
Bryant, Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson. But you have a chance to expand
our public square discussions on violence to point out that violence
against women and girls cannot be circumscribed to the world of hip-hop
or urban communities or to the margins of Black or Brown communities. 

The narrative of physical and sexual
violence against women and girls cuts across the buffers of economic
or educational privilege, and breeches every divide of race, class and
ethnicity in America. It is a story whispered in the corners of mansions
in affluent neighborhoods, in the best private schools and universities,
behind the walls of women prisons and girl detention centers, and on
the street corners where girls are sexually exploited and trafficked.
You can speak to how violence against women and girls is part of the
American narrative–that the story of gendered violence done to women
and girls is a painfully American tale. 

Please do not choose silence instead.
Your voices in authentic denunciation of gendered violence matter at
this critical time. Rihanna, tell young girls who think that violence
is an inevitable part of any intimate relationship, that the occurrence
of violence in your relationship was harmful and will never be repeated
because violence against women and girls is never appropriate. Seek
counseling and healing, remember your sacredness, and publicly reach
out to other women and girls victimized by violence. Chris, join in
the movement to end the crushing levels of violence hurting so many
American women and girls–and do this not from place of professional
self-interest or PR strategy, but because you want to break the cycle
of violence that has played out in your own family. Ask other men to
join you. 

If you both do this, you will honor
those who have been hurt or cut down by violence (including yourselves),
and you will bring us closer to remaking a safer and more just nation
for women and girls. 

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