What to make of Chris Brown being so well supported by a handful of Māori women, some with history of working to prevent family violence, that he's tweeting them to say thank you?
Quite a lot, actually. It's damn good publicity for Mr Brown to be talking about "strong women" about now, when his ability to tour the world is threatened by his use of violence towards other "strong women." Some might say his livelihood may depend on his ability to reframe himself, since he's been banned from entering the UK, Canada and most recently, Australia. While touring isn't the biggest money spinner for musicians these days, it's not looking good for Mr Brown, is it?
So you've beaten up your partner, been caught, hit and run another woman, been caught, beaten up male fans, been caught, threatened to kill a queer man, been caught, beaten up a man on the basketball court, been caught. These incidents span a period of six years, most recent just last May.
Let's get this straight. I firmly believe people can stop using abusive behaviour. That's why I've spent nearly twenty-five years working to end gendered violence. Violence is social behaviour that people LEARN - it's not inevitable or natural or boys being boys. It's also not an accident, it's the logical conclusion of all the ways femininity and women are reduced to less than by dominant cultural values.
Changing violent behaviour - and changing the ways you use power more broadly - is hard work. It requires honesty, self-reflection, feeling the pain of causing others harm. Listening to people you've hurt and taking responsibility for never doing that again is about the hardest process I've ever tried to participate in. Many men who use violence don't seem to have the stomach for it.
The men we look up to matter. They are part of what stitches together gendered violence, misogyny and sexist oppression. Does Chris Brown teach young men to treat women, and all other genders with respect or disdain? Is he the kind of man we want young men in Aotearoa to learn from, emulate, hold up as a role model?
I have no doubt that part of Tariana Turia and other high profile Māori women's support of Chris Brown is disgust at the different ways men of colour and white men are treated when it comes to using violence. She's right about that, and not just at the immigration border. I went to a Refuge hui once where Māori women were talking about criminalisation of Māori men, and Pākehā women were talking about not being able to get adequate police responses to white middle class male perpetrators. I've personally seen the police not charge white men who have knifed their partners, and put their partners in hospital after beatings - even when they knew he was the perpetrator. The reality is, whiteness is like a magic cloud of fairy dust in all kinds of ways, and when it comes to causing violence, it's the best way to avoid consequences, particularly when combined with middle class belonging.
But the answer's not extending the white fairy dust to Chris Brown. It's extending the calling out of the use of violence - with associated sanctions - to white entertainers too. The flip-side of constructing men of colour as scary violent thugs - racist and damaging as this is to Black masculinities - is the invisibility of white men's violence, in all kinds of ways. So next time the Rolling Stones tour, let's have just as much public discussion of Bill Wyman's acknowledged statutory rape and their lyrics promoting raping Black women as the publicity Mr Brown has attracted this last week or so. That would be progress around ending gendered violence.