Over the course of its three seasons, Black-ish has proven itself to be one of the most fearlessly progressive shows on broadcast television. In addition to offering a nuanced and thoughtful perspective on what it means to be black in modern America, the show’s put forth insightful takes on a variety of topics including masturbation and sex education, gay marriage, and—in a particularly well done episode—parental leave and the challenges of being a working mother. Black-ish has never been afraid to craft a complex vision of black masculinity that questions many of the assumptions of what men—and black men in particular—are “supposed” to be like, or to take an aggressive feminist stance.
Which is why it’s somewhat surprising that tonight’s episode features serial abuser Chris Brown.
If you’re not familiar with Brown’s history of violence against women, here’s a quick recap: in February 2009, Brown—then in a relationship with Rihanna—wound up in the news after a violent altercation following a pre-Grammy party that left Rihanna bruised, bloodied, and in the hospital. In the eight years since that horrific assault, Brown’s repeatedly been accused of assaulting women, in episodes ranging from allegations that he punched a woman in the face to being accused of threatening a woman with a gun. Most recently, Brown’s ex Karrueche Tran— who has a restraining order out against Brown—told the media that he once threatened to kill her. To be blunt, there’s virtually no question that Chris Brown is a violent man who’s repeatedly harassed, assaulted, and abused women—exactly the kind of man you’d think Black-ish would want to come out against.
there’s Virtually no question that Chris Brown is a violent man who’s repeatedly harassed, assaulted, and abused women—exactly the kind of man you’d think Black-ish would want to come out against.
And yet, tonight he’ll be featured on Black-ish, appearing as a rapper who winds up working on an ad campaign with Dre (Anthony Anderson). In a video posted on Twitter, Anderson revealed that Brown (whom he’s apparently been acquainted with for the past thirteen years) was cast after creator Kenya Barris learned he was a fan of the show; apparently, being a famous fan carries more weight than a history of unrepentant violence and abuse.
Brown’s casting is troubling for a number of reasons. There is, of course, our collective willingness to turn a blind eye towards the singer’s destructive behavior and abuse of women. Eight years after photos of a battered Rihanna went viral, Brown still gets work. Even in the weeks immediately following the Rihanna story, Nickelodeon refused to remove him as a Kids’ Choice Award nominee (following protests, Brown eventually withdrew his name from consideration).
But there’s also the fact that black women are at a particularly high risk of experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault, and that black women who experience this violence are more likely to be ignored and silenced, while less likely to report their abuse or seek help from others. For a show that’s repeatedly called attention to the painful and often violent realities of black life to not just turn a blind eye to the suffering of black women, but burnish the reputation of a man who has repeatedly perpetrated this violence, sends a message that, in many ways, the suffering of black women doesn’t matter. And that message is unacceptable.
In his Netflix special The Age of Spin, Dave Chappelle wrestles with the pain of realizing that Bill Cosby—a man who has unquestionably done a great deal to advocate for and improve the lives of black people—is a serial rapist. Chappelle—who’s spoken before about his aggressive desire to protect the reputations of other black men—notes that he was initially unwilling to believe the allegations against Cosby; that it took dozens of women coming forward before he was able to acknowledge that, yes, Cosby had assaulted many women.
Perhaps Barris and Anderson are motivated by a similar desire to stand for and protect other black men; perhaps the casting of Brown—in spite of everything he’s been accused of—is meant as a show of solidarity for a man who’s still surviving in a world that’s largely stacked against him. But when that solidarity comes at the expense of women like Rihanna and Tran, it’s actively hurting a group that Barris and Anderson should be equally motivated to protect.
Earlier this month, a widely circulated study from Psychology of Women Quarterly noted that white women are less likely to protect black women from sexual assault than they are their white peers. When black men like Barris, Anderson, and Chappelle continue to stand beside and support men who rape, assault, and abuse women, they’re making it clear that they, too, are unwilling to safeguard the wellbeing, not merely of women generally, but of black women in particular. The fans of Black-ish deserve better than that.
Lux Alptraum is a writer, consultant, and comedian with one thing on her mind. Past issues of her weekly newsletter, The Lux Letter, can be found here.