Race Card: Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen, Race and Domestic Violence

Nadra Kareem Nittle
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Which celebrity has earned more bad press for reported acts of domestic violence—Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen?

When gossip Web site TMZ.com criticized Brown Jan. 21 for appearing with designer Jean Paul Gaultier, in makeup that made him look bruised and bloodied for a "warrior-themed runway show," visitors to the site accused TMZ of vilifying Brown while giving Sheen a pass for allegedly battering his wife on Christmas.

Take a commenter who wrote: "Charlie Sheen beat his wife's ass and tried to kill her only one month ago!! The only thing you guys seem to want to cover is him visiting the wife he beat in the hospital, but Chris Brown one year later is still being criticized. That is simply racism to the fullest extent. …So my question is, where is all the bad press for Charlie Sheen…?"

Another wrote: "TMZ STOP IT!! Love Gaultier and love Chris Brown!! Leave this kid alone. You sure did a nice write up on Charlie Sheen earlier. You people love to rip black people apart, while you allow white people to redeem themselves. It's sad..."

And still another remarked: "Give it a rest people...Funny how you constantly slam Chris Brown, but praise Charlie Sheen and attempt to garner sympathy for him. So biased it is ridiculous."

If you're wondering why I'm highlighting comments left on a gossip Web site, it's because TMZ.com played a significant role in influencing public opinion about Chris Brown's battery of Rihanna. TMZ was the first media outlet to release the photo that the Los Angeles Police Department took of Rihanna following Brown's beating of her. Moreover, by breaking big news stories (however unscrupulously) such as Michael Jackson's death or the medications found in Brittany Murphy's home after her demise—TMZ has come to be seen as a reliable source of information on celebrity news. That said, I think it's fitting to weigh in on the site's coverage of Brown and Sheen.

So, is TMZ vilifying Brown in ways that it has failed to vilify Sheen? I'm inclined to agree with commenters who said that TMZ not only hasn't vilified Sheen but has also tried to garner sympathy for him. After reporting that Sheen's wife, Brooke Mueller, had accused Sheen of domestic violence on Christmas Day, the Web site first moved to discredit Mueller, reporting that she was legally intoxicated when police showed up to intervene. And the commenters above are correct when they say that there's been underlying sympathy throughout reports about Sheen needing permission to visit Mueller in the hospital when she developed a high fever related to oral surgery.

But is race to blame for TMZ's difference in reporting about two entertainers accused of domestic violence? We could argue that Brown has been more vilified by TMZ, or even in the comment threads of feminist Web sites like Jezebel.com (or this web site), because he lacks the star power that Sheen has. The latter has been a household name for decades, with a famous father and brother, to boot. Plus, while Brown's victim is famous, Sheen's wife is not. Perhaps there's been more vitriol for Brown because the public knows who Rihanna is but remains largely unfamiliar with Mueller. Also, the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words may certainly be true in this case. When TMZ published the picture of Rihanna's battered face, the pubic was able to see firsthand the horrific violence that Brown inflicted on her. In contrast, no pictures surfaced of the alleged finger marks that Sheen left on Mueller's neck after reportedly threatening to kill her. Lastly, maybe Brown worsened matters by repeatedly discussing his battery of Rihanna in the media. After each apology, some viewers questioned Brown's sincerity and were disgusted that he seemed to be trying to garner sympathy for himself in the midst of these apologies. Sheen, however, hasn't granted interviews about his alleged attack on Mueller.

All things considered, the idea that race factors into how differently Brown and Sheen are being portrayed tugs at me. I can't help but to agree with the commenter who pointed out that whites are allowed to redeem themselves while blacks are not. White ex-cons, for example, are much likelier to be able to land work than black ex-cons are. That's because employers are more likely to be forgiving of white felons, to believe that they can be rehabilitated, and give them a second chance. Meanwhile, a black man doesn't even have to be guilty of a crime to be perceived as guilty. Racial profiling, police brutality and wrongful convictions for blacks all indicate this problem.

Clearly, Chris Brown is guilty—and of a despicable crime, no less. But because he's African American, will it be harder for him to redeem himself in the public eye than a white celebrity guilty of a similar crime? If he genuinely changes, that is.

Your thoughts?

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Race and domestic violence

You're right to ask these questions, especially regarding rehabilitation and forgiveness. I hope no one will discount the centrality of the severity of the battery in Brown's case, however. That must make a difference. Proportionality matters. Chris Brown's battery was severe and he compounded it every time he spoke out publicly and refused to take full responsibility. That said, this is not Sheen's first time out in terms of violence and substance abuse. The public's willingness to forgive some celebrities regardless of the severity and repetitiveness of their transgressions is stunning. And does, sometimes, seem correlated to race. I just don't think it's helpful to jump to Brown's defense, and I see a lot of that in the African American community of which I am a part, but I understand the frustration.

race, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen violence against women/batterin

Race has everything to do with how both men are treated and seen in the public eye.

One thing that bugs the crap out of me is that Charlie Sheen, in the middle of the charges for his assaults against Denise Richards, still managed to build and maintain a huge audience for Two and a Half Men, with his character being one of the biggest not only sexist, but misogynist pigs on TV. The story of these two brothers raising a boy and the way they treat the women in their lives is completely accepted by the main stream. And there aren't any strong female leads like there are on other TV shows, to act as foils or at least occasionally question the men's behaviour. There is no way a show with a black cast and the same scripts would have lasted this long. Why white women are willing to watch this crap and participate in the culture of it all is beyond me.

I saw coming down hard on Chris Brown as appropriate. He is a young man with the world laid out before him and he can make other choices then the ones he did with Rhianna. They are both young and while Rhianna has been sucked into a sort of sexist pseudo s/m bad girl image as a way to assert herself separate from the sexism of the music men she has to work with, he has to make his way in a super macho culture where his masculinity is constantly at stake. There is no critical eye in mainstream rap and R&B, especially about the treatment of women, or about how men could make choices to be men in different ways, and the musicians who do have one are not the stars that these two are. So I was hopeful about the slap down, in hopes this young woman would get free and in hopes he would decide not to do it ever again to any woman.

As for the pic w.JPG- show me a gay man in fashion industry and I'll show you a gay man who has made money off of women's misery, and the 'joke' of the pic was surely completely known to JPG when he orchestrated it. He is a pig. But it is Chris Brown who wears the backlash for it. A dose of super fab racism anyone? mm??

So ya, my bottom line is this - We have to hold every single man accountable for his behaviour. I think Sheen's network should cancel the show after this last attack on Mueller. I think some of the men in LA and New York entertainment who cast themselves as foward thinking and progressive, including Maritn Sheen, hello?, should take a serious stand about battering women. I think Chris Brown's mentors should sit down with him and demand he absolutely agrees he won't hurt a woman again, and work with him about anger management and choosing non-violence period. I also think he needs a mentor to help him with some critical thinking skills - unlike Sheen, he is not so experienced with the world and he is not analyzing how to protect himself from the voracious racism of the media and the gossip media. His advisors should be fired for allowing that photo op to go ahead. It was very cynical on their part to allow it.

End violence against women: Rape, battering, incest, trafficking, etc...
End racism in all of its forms.

Peace and in sisterhood.

How about the obvious non

How about the obvious non knee jerk reaction? Sheen may be a douche, but he was not arrested with the weapon he supposedly used(that was packed in his bag in the bedroom) and the call was made a full 20 minutes after the assault was supposed to have taken place? Maybe there is a difference because there was no hard evidence aside from testimony from his wife; whereas a bloody and pulp-faced Rihanna is something that can't be explained away or have two sides to the story.

Chris Brown and racism

Oh SPARE ME the snide,RACIST,hypocritical excuses BULLS##T!! Please Charlie Sheen has a f##king HISTORY of violence against women yet it has eiher been IGNORED or justified by the verrry SAME a-holes who were tripping over themselves to vilify Chris. So who do you think you are kidding?! That goes TRIPLE for the recent awards and accolades for wife-beater Mickey Rourke and defense by big name Hollyweird dumb s$$ts for child-rapist Roman Polanski. I seriously doubt ONE of those people would do that if it were Spike Lee so cut the CRAP this is media racism 101 pure and f&&king simple!

Charlie Sheen vs Chris Brown

<P>I guess what gets me is that Charlie Sheen is a 40 something year old man with children and responsibilties as an “adult”, but he obviously doesn’t care about any of them. People say that Chris Brown is irresponsible and has inpropriate behavior, but has anyone else noticed that Charlie Sheen has done wrong too? Chris is a 20 something year old young man that obviously had somethings that he had to work through and made mistakes, but Charlie Sheen is idolized for acting stupid and inmature. I mean, people go see this idiot in concert to listen to his bull. Half the time this man is on TV, he’s pretty much intoxicated with his “Tiger’s Blood”, but when Chris gets upset because some people can’t move on from something that happened 2 years ago, he’s the bad guy. I understand that Chris has faults, but Charlie Sheen shouldn’t be idolized for being a "winner" when acting like a fool for attention from the media. Charlie obviously does not respect women, children or even himself for that matter so why should we as the viewers and media pay him any attention? I will admit that Chris Brown has made some really bad desicons, but at least he's trying to change his life and get back together. Charlie Sheen, on the otherhand, will NEVER CHANGE. He will always be the indecent human being (that claims he's winning even though he's gotten cut from his sitcom because of his behavior) that he's been ever since we starting paying him some attention. And to all the haters that have something to say against Chris Brown, just know this: While Charlie Sheen is fooling around with 20 year olds, being disrespectful towards the media itself by physically and verbally attacking women and drinking “Tiger’s Blood” (because he thinks it makes him a “winner”), Chris Brown is topping the charts, winning awards, and trying to get his life back together. Ponder on that thought for a minute before coming at Chris like that…#justsayin :/</P>

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