Mar 25, 2011

 
 

Dear Chris,

I really did not want to write this open letter, and would have preferred to speak to you in person, in private. Indeed, ever since the domestic violence incident with Rihanna two years ago, there have been attempts, by some of the women currently or formerly in your circle -- women who love and care deeply about you -- to bring you and I together, as they felt my own life story, my own life experiences, might be of some help in your journey. For whatever reason, that never happened. By pure coincidence, I wound up in a Harlem recording studio with you about three months ago, as I was meeting up with R&B singer Olivia and her manager. You were hosting a listening session for your album in progress, and the room was filled with gushing supporters, with a very large security guard outside the studio door. I was allowed in, as I assume you knew my name and my long relationship to the music industry. I greeted you and said I would love to have a talk with you, but I am not even sure you heard a single word I said above the loud music. I gave your security person my card when I left and asked him to ask you to phone me, but you never did, for whatever reason. And that is fine.

But I have thought of you long and hard as I've watched you, from a distance, as you dealt with the charges of physical violence against your then-girlfriend Rihanna, as you were being pummeled by the media and abandoned by many fans, admirers and endorsers, and ridiculed on the social networks. You were 19 when the altercation with Rihanna occurred, and you are only 21 now. Yes, you've achieved both international fame and success in a way most people your age, or any age, could never imagine. But you also are at a very serious crossroads because of the dishonor of your persona derived from your beating Rihanna. There is no way to get around this, Chris. You must deal with it, as a man, now and forever. For our past can be a prison we are locked in permanently, or it can be the key to our freedom if we glean the lessons from it and deal with it directly. All the external pressures and forces will be there, Chris, but no one can free us but ourselves. And it must start in our minds and in our souls.

That is why I was very saddened to hear about your recent appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" to promote your new album, "F.A.M.E." The interview was embarrassing, to say the least. You slouched through the entire episode, and you were so clearly defensive as Robin Roberts, the interviewer, threw you what I thought were very easy questions about the Rihanna saga. I get that you want to move past it, but that is not going to happen, Chris, until people see real humility, real redemption and real changes in how you conduct yourself both publicly and privately. Whether the interview and what happened at ABC studios were a publicity stunt to push your album sales (as has been suggested by some blogs) is not the point. It has been spread across the internet, and throughout the world, that you ripped off your shirt following that interview, got in the face of one of the show's producers in a threatening manner, and that somehow the window in your dressing room was smashed with a chair. And then there are the photos of you immediately after, shirtless, walking outside the ABC studios looking, well, pissed off. Finally, somewhere in the midst of that morning, you tweeted, "I'm so over people bring this past s**t up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for [their] bullsh**t."

Yes, that tweet was taken down very quickly, but not before it was spread near and far, Chris. And it was a tweet written with raw honesty and, for sure, raw emotion. It is very clear to me, as it is to so many of us watching your life unfold in public, that you are deeply wounded, that you are hurt by what you have experienced the past two years. It's clear that you've never actually healed from what you witnessed as a child, either -- your mother being beaten savagely by your stepfather, and how that must've made you feel, in your bones. You've said in interviews, long before the Rihanna incident happened, that it made you scared, timid and that you wet the bed because of the wild, untamed emotions that swirled in your being. I am certain you felt powerless, just as powerless as I felt as a boy when my mother, who I love dearly and have forgiven these many years later, viciously beat me, physically and emotionally, in an effort to discipline me, to prepare me, a Black man-child, for what she, a rural South Carolina born and bred, working-class woman, perceived to be a crude and racist world.

 

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