Any negative treatment of a person of color is worth examining for racism. Ignore history if you like, but without perpetuating itself, the status quo would not exist. Regarding it warily, and giving minorities the benefit of the doubt represents the bare minimum of human decency.
And so, it's reasonable to momentarily wonder if Chris Brown's lingering reputation as a not-so-nice guy has anything to do with the fact that he's also a black guy. If his Rihanna-bashing were an isolated incident in an otherwise spotless track record then, it might be easier to make that case. But what I said about Brown a year and a half ago holds true: he's a hard person to like. This is based entirely on his behavior -- at this point, the only color the guy could be to improve his public profile is invisible. His charmlessness spans his earliest public address of the assault, in which he seemed more focused on how it might impact his career than in expressing accountability, to a recent one when he referred to it as a "mishap" (like the kind explained away with a chain that says, "Oops!"?). In between, there's been whining about a judge's orders to stay away from Rihanna and the possibility of him becoming, gulp, a "mixtape artist." There was an incident in which he mocked Raz B's alleged sexual abuse on Twitter by calling him a "dick in da booty ass lil boy," and then, when his fans took exception, he offered, "I'm not homophobic! He's just disrespectful!!!" Bigotry, after all, is about entitlement.
People have pointed out that the public seems to be picking favorites in our pool of celebrity women-beaters -- Charlie Sheen is the go-to guy for illustrating the perceived racial underpinnings in anti-Brown sentiment. In Anna Holmes' great New York Times op-ed, "The Disposable Woman" (which I otherwise agree with), she wrote, "The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be a particularly new point, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their careers have all suffered, and understandably so." Perhaps a Times reader himself, Brown echoed the sentiment today, when after his window-smashing tantrum at Good Morning America, he tweeted: "I'm so over people bringing this past shit up!!! Yet we praise Charlie sheen and other celebs for there bullshit." If you read this as a plea for fairness, Brown's words sound like those of a child who can't wrap his head around the fact that not everyone wants to celebrate his feces like his mommy does.
The thing is that very few are praising Charlie Sheen for his "bullshit" (which I assume refers to his extensive history of abuse). As Holmes point out, what people have actually done is overlook it. A big reason for that is that Sheen has made it easy to overlook. His performance art is fascinating in itself. Sheen's media-mastery is savant-like and his way with words is diabolical. Chris Brown, a professional writer if you believe his albums' credits, would be lucky in his entire career to stumble once on something as absurdly clever as the shit that just rolls off Sheen's tongue (unlike Sheen, I get the feeling that Brown's boogers and brain are the same age). And that is to say nothing of the fact that the women who Sheen has been accused of brutalizing are not nearly as publicly beloved as Rihanna. Everyone deserves to live a life free of abuse equally, but the fact of the matter is that if you hurt a superstar, you can expect super-sized backlash.
Not that super-sized backlash is what Brown has received. Yes, his sales took a slight, momentary hit. Yes, he has his detractors, but he also has a legion of loyal fans who unleash questionable grammar and vague Biblical references the minute anyone intimates Brown's feces are less than praiseworthy. In the past year, he's had three Top 20 hits on the Billboard 100, and three Top 5 hits on Billboard's R&B chart (including the No. 1 "Deuces"). It would not be surprising if he sold out a tour the size of Sheen's upcoming one (after all, Sheen isn't filling stadiums but theaters). Given the consistent mediocrity of Brown's output and thinness of his voice, the guy is doing fine. His job provides him with an obscene amount of money and the ability to do what he says he loves on a national stage. His work in his other medium of choice, the outburst, regularly gets national coverage, too. If attention is the bottom line or at least close to it, being praised for his bullshit is exactly what Brown is experiencing. If that isn't winning, I don't know what is.