There is something that Chris Brown and Rihanna have in common. No, I am not referring to their talent although that too is something they share. Another is having been raised by dysfunctional parents.
I don’t know if any of her early life experiences inspired the “Breakin’ Dishes” song on Rihanna's “Good Girl Gone Bad” CD. It is a song that I have always found to be somewhat disturbing. It seems too close to some truth.
Rihanna has been open about the difficulties of her childhood as a result of her father’s alcohol and drug addiction. But unless you too have grown up on a small island, you may not understand the immediacy of the impact of a parent’s drug use on a child‘s self-esteem.
There is no hiding when you grow up on a small island. You know how in the US from time to time you see interviews of shocked neighbors saying that they had no idea that the man next door was hiding his daughter in his basement and getting her pregnant every two years? That’s not an option in the Caribbean.
In Barbados, everyone would have known that the big forehead fair-skinned girl’s father was a drug addict. And there may have been little compassion for her on an island that fancies itself to be little England and where people actually value keeping the stiff upper lip. A drug addict who neglects his family would have been perceived as a weak man. And his family would have become the object not of sympathy but of derision.
In the US, a parent’s drug addiction is often categorized as the physical abuse of a child. The argument is that a parent who remains under the influence of drugs may not be available to parent a child properly. The resulting negligence is perceived as abusive to that child. Children are often removed from the care of mothers who test positive for illegal substances upon delivery.
But Rihanna grew up on the small island of Barbados where such services are not routine. And it is because I understand how difficult her early life must have been that I applaud this young woman so. I love her talent and I want only the best for her. I want to see her fully break free of her negative legacy.
And what about her boyfriend, Chris Brown? Let me not give an opinion. Instead I will quote directly from an interview he gave to Giant in August 2007:
Like the day an 11-year-old Brown made a promise to his mother. He vowed that he would go to jail by age 15 for killing his abusive stepfather. "I just want you to know that I love you," he told her. "But I'm gonna take a baseball bat one day while you at work, and I'm gonna kill him." Brown's parents had separated when he was seven. When his mother remarried, she moved her son and his new stepfather to a trailer park. Then his stepfather shot himself in the head. The shot went straight through the eyes. He survived the suicide attempt but was permanently blinded.
"When you're blind, your senses are heightened, like your smell, hearing, your sense of touch," Brown explains. "You can move and maneuver around your sight. But he used to hit my mom….He made me terrified all the time, terrified like I had to pee on myself. I remember one night he made her nose bleed. I was crying and thinking, ‘I'm just gonna go crazy on him one day…' I hate him to this day."
So Chris Brown too is a child of abuse. And when two children of abuse fall in love, there is always the risk of implosion.
This is of course especially true if neither one has had the courage to seek the mental health help to help them transcend their negative childhood experiences and find healthier ways of relating. I have no idea what the outcome of the allegations against Chris Brown will be. I expect only that he will have the courage to face the consequences of any crime for which he may be found guilty. But mainly I wish that both he and Rihanna seek mental health help if they have not already done so. Their respective futures may depend on this.