Remembering 3 Little Girls…For Women’s History Month

Shout out to Pittsburgh artist Jasiri X who comes with a heartfelt thoughtful joint that focuses on the plight of 3 young girls who were brutally slain…

Here’s what Jasiri penned about the women

For Woman’s History Month we wanted to shed light on how violent this society is especially towards woman and girls. “Three Little Girls” tells the stories of the senseless murders of Christina Taylor Green who was killed during the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Brisenia Flores who was gunned down by anti-immigrant militia intent on starting a race war, and Aiyana Jones who shot to death while asleep in her home, by the Detroit Police Department, while they were filming a reality TV show.

I realize these are sad stories, but how can we not be moved to action by the cold-blooded killings of innocent little girls? We have to begin to take an unflinching look at a culture that continues to glorify guns, bombs, and war and sees violence and aggression as the only solutions to its problems.

Written by Jasiri X and featuring 10 year old Hadiyah Yates, “Three Little Girls” was produced by GM3 and directed by Paradise Gray.

Understanding the Libyan Uprisings: An Alternative Perspective

This week we recognize the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, an illegal war of occupation that continues to this day.  The grounds on which the Iraq war was based turned out to be a batch of lies coaxed up by top officials in the United States government.  The U.S. Secretary of State – General Colon Powell, introduced these lies and manipulations to the United Nations at the request of his boss President George W. Bush.  Eight years later and under a new administration, another U.S. Secretary of State makes arguments supporting military action against what would be the fifth country currently under attack by U.S. military forces.  Libya can now be added to the exclusive list of nations being bombed by the United States and her allies, which also includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the occasional bombing of Yemen. (This list does not count the dozen or more nations currently being victimized by U.S. covert actions and state sponsored terrorism.)

To better understand the complex and dynamic circumstances involved in the Libya situation requires an understanding and analysis that goes far beyond what is reported in the mainstream media.  This article will be one of a three-part series that will attempt to shed some light on the situation and fill in some of the voids that are a result of a well designed misinformation campaign against the Libyan government and perpetuated by U.S. and European intelligence agencies.  “Part 1” focuses on who the Libyan “opposition” or “rebel” forces are.  “Part 2” talks about some of the confusing and contradicting language that is being used by Western media outlets, Al Jazeera, and even many of the independent progressive media sources here in the United States. “Part 3” focuses on the question “why Libya?” as opposed to Yemen, Bahrain, and other non-democratic regimes facing domestic opposition in the region.

The conclusions I make are not merely speculative.  Much of what I will be writing draws on both my personal knowledge on the subject, as well as correspondence with Libyan friends who are currently in Tripoli and Benghazi.  My contact in Benghazi is a University Professor who I met while visiting Tripoli a year ago as part of a delegation led by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.  For safety, I agreed to conceal this person’s identity and will not specify which information came from this source, although in some cases it may be obvious.

Part 1: The Opposition Forces?

As I sit to write this article from the safety of an American café in Anchorage, Alaska, bombs rain down on cities and towns all across the North African nation of Libya.  I can hear reports from one of the corporate news stations on the television here.  As I look up at the screen I see a close-up of Libyans cheering, while in a small window on the upper right side of the screen there are far off images of bombs and missiles causing explosions on what appear to be Libyan targets.  I suppose the message here is similar to the visual messages that we were fed 8 years ago as we saw Iraqi’s cheering their new occupiers driving in on tanks and heavily armored humvees.

One of the questions regarding the Libyan unrest that has yet to be answered by any of the news agencies is – who exactly are these Libyan rebels?  The western media, with help from Al Jazeera, has done a remarkable job portraying the unrest in Libya as a popular revolt.  The anti-government or opposition forces have been referred to by various titles, including “pro-democracy protestors” and “non-violent demonstrators” to sell the image of them as a continuation of the pro-democracy movements that began in Tunisia then spread to Egypt.  However these terms, while still being used by some media outlets, fail to correctly identify the extremely complex and diverse makeup of the rebels.  While some of the protestors are calling for democracy in Libya, that is not necessarily the consensus among everyone in the opposition.

For instance, we can begin to understand who this opposition group is by first looking at what flag they are flying.  It seems as though the flag of the opposition has been widely accepted by the rebels.  What is not talked about in the media, and even among progressives, is what this red, black, and green flag with a crescent in the center actually represents.  First of all, it is the former flag of Libya that was introduced after independence under the rule of King Idris.  Idris ruled the monarchy after independence until 1969 when he was overthrown by the military under the lead of a young Colonel with a Pan-Arab/Nassarite ideology.  (A monarchy is far from a democracy and monarchs are still ruling in many parts of the Arab world.  Their rule is passed through hereditary and sometimes marital relations.)

Following the overthrow of King Idris in 1969, the flag was changed from the red, black, and green to a red, white, and black flag with no religious symbols.  In 1977 the revolutionary council led by Colonel Gaddafi introduced a new flag.   The Libyan flag, which still flies today, is a simple green flag.  Libya is the only nation represented by a single color flag with no symbols.

The issue of what flag the opposition forces are flying is of extreme importance because it says a lot about who they are and what they want.  If you recall, during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprising, the protestors flew their national flags, which suggested that although they wanted an end to the dictatorial rule, they still identified with the nation in its modern form.  At the beginning of the uprising in Libya, there were green Libyan flags being flown by some of the youth, students and professionals who make up what can be considered the “intelligencia” class.  These were the very first protestors who where clearly inspired by the democratic movement that hit North Africa, starting with Tunisia and spreading to Egypt.   I remember the first image I saw regarding a demonstration in Libya was online at Al Jazeera English.  The demonstrator, a young man who looked like he was in his mid-twenties, was on camera demanding Libya live up to the country’s official name the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”   [The term Jamahiriya is Arabic for “a state of the masses,” which is another term for the governing structure known as a “direct democracy.”  A direct democracy refers to a system where the masses of the people are involved in the decision making through a process of councils starting from their local community reaching up to their national government.  It differs from a representative democracy where individuals elect candidates to speak for and represent them.]

Immediately following the first day of protests in the capital city of Tripoli the government clamped down hard and things seemed quiet for about a week in early February.  By the middle of February protests sprung up outside of the capital, primarily in the second largest city of Benghazi, which has since been the focus area of the corporate media.  The protests in Benghazi differed from the earlier non-violent protests that occurred in Tripoli.  The Benghazi protests included the attacking of government institutions.  The burning of government buildings quickly distinguished these protests from what was happening in other parts of North African and the Middle East.  The news media continued to call the protestors “non-violent” and “pro-democratic,” even as the protestors themselves acted contrary to those descriptions.  The terminology is important, as it is used strategically to form public opinion.  In “Part 2” of this series I will go further into the biased news reports and terminology that was used to shape the discourse and raise sympathy for the opposition forces.

What should be understood about the opposition forces in Libya is that they are not made up of any one particular group.  In actuality, the opposition is made up of a coalition of groups that only really have one political view in common, ending the 40-year rule of Gaddafi.   However, the problem facing the opposition forces is that there are differing beliefs on what should come after to replace Gaddafi’s regime.  Just because they all want change does not mean that they all agree on what that change should be.  For instance, the intelligencia class was demanding democratic reform, not necessarily the overthrow of the government.  They advocate living up to the true meaning and mission of a direct democracy.  Ironically enough, this was also part of a critique leveled against the Libyan government by Gaddafi himself, in 2008 and again in 2009 when he called for the reforming of the government due to a failed bureaucracy and corruption.  (Another issue that will be talked about in the second part of this series is the fact that the media refuses to recognize the actual government of Libya that is and has been in place prior to the unrest.  If you only listen to the corporate media they would have you believe this 70 something year old man was running every government entity in the country.)

The next group that participates in the opposition coalition is based on partial tribal alliances that would like to see the entire government of Libya overthrown and possibly the re-instatement of the monarchy.  This group is rather powerful and is not new to Libya.  They are strongest in the town of Benghazi and they have a history of being in cahoots with foreign intelligence agencies.  This element of the opposition has been funded and armed by foreign intelligence agencies in the past and even attempted an uprising against the government after a 1996 massacre in a local prison where inmates took hostages and held a prison revolt, but were ultimately killed by prison guards. The exact number of killed prisoners is unknown but some reports claim to be as high as 1200.

Family members of the slain prisoners have on several occasions protested the massacre.  Opportunistic anti-government forces in Benghazi attempted to exploit these protests with the intent to start a popular uprising, by rallying people around this prison massacre.  This brings us to the next group and probably the best organized prior to the current uprising.  This group is made up of educated professionals who feel Libya should be modeled after western capitalist nations like the United States.  Prior to the civil unrest these power hungry opportunists where never able to amass any considerable amount of support from the Libyan masses.  When they tried to use the prison massacre protests to ignite the people of Benghazi, the Libyan government quickly suppressed the protests. This segment of the opposition continued to organize both inside Benghazi and internationally under the title the “Libyan National Council”.

Mahmoud Jibril

The leader of the Libyan National Council is a man named Mahmoud Jibril.  Jibril has close ties with the United States, Britain and France.  It was reported last week by several news agencies that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a brief meeting with Jibril while she was in France.  French officials are also watching over Jibril and protecting him from harm upon reports that Colonel Gaddafi put up a reward of $400,000 to kill Jibril.  Jibril is believed by some to have been on the CIA payroll dating back to when he studied and then later taught in the U.S. prior to working in the Libyan government.  Jibril is an ex-patriot who worked high up in the Libyan government.  Some believe that his CIA ties were discovered and the cause of his quick exile to Europe.  It must be noted that Mahmoud Jibril and the Libyan National Council does not represent all of the anti-government forces in Libya.  There are many who will not follow him because of his close ties with European and U.S. Intelligence agencies.

The third group that contributes to the opposition is the fundamentalist Muslims or what the media calls Islamists.  This is the religious sector in Libya that would like to see a government lead by Shari’ a, or the law of the Quran.  This segment has also made its objectives very clear over the years, they wants to take over the country.  The most popular of the Islamist groups is known as the “Fighting Islamist Group in Libya”.

At the beginning of the unrest Gaddafi came on television and accused al-Qaeda of being responsible for the unrest.  He said that they drugged the youth in order to gain their support.  Many thought this to be an absurd accusation and a desperate attempt to demonize the young protestors.  It may have been a sign of desperation, but it certainly was not unfounded, at least the al-Qaeda part.  As for the drug accusation I can only assume Gaddafi was confused as to why the students would come out against him after all he had done for them and the country.  Making the university system open and free to everyone, or government sponsorship of students to study abroad in the US, Europe and in parts of the Middle East was a product of his (Gaddafi’s) leadership.  He knows the Islamists did not have that big of an influence on the youth and students, so in his mind, they must have been drugged.   How he came up with the charge of drugs is not quite clear to this writer, but what is clear is that al-Qaeda has been active in Libya and conspiring against Gaddafi for over 15 years.

On November 10, 2002 an article appeared in the Guardian, the U.K.’s largest daily newspaper, exposing a plot between the MI6 (British Intelligence) and an active al-Qaeda cell in Libya.  The article charges MI6 with paying the al-Qaeda cell to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1996.  The al-Qaeda cell attempted to carry out the assassination attempt, but was obviously unsuccessful.  The details of the plot are not completely clear, however al-Qaeda members attempted to kill Gaddafi by throwing a grenade at him while he was visiting the town of Sirte.  During an intense gunfight, the Islamists and several civilians where killed.

There are multiple Muslim fundamentalist organizations active in Libya.  It is not clear whether the Islamists are al-Qaeda, or part of another group if any, or if they are just fundamentalists who want Shari’ a law imposed.  On November 3, 2007 the BBC and other press agencies reported that the “Fighting Islamist Group in Libya” merged with al-Qaeda and this was substantiated through a recorded message by Ayman al-Zawahri a senior leader in al-Qaeda at the time.  But regardless of their particular affiliation, what is important to note here are that their ultimate objective conflicts with the pro-democracy youth, the tribal loyalists of the monarchy, and the opportunistic Libyan National Council.   I have to assume that for the purpose of working together against the Libyan government, the Islamists put their differences aside temporarily.

Finally, you have the masses of people who, for the most part did not belong to any of these groups but where caught up in the excitement and the possibility of change and freedom.  I am told that this is the largest portion of the opposition.  Many of these people have legitimate dispute with and disdain for the government.  They just want to live in peace free from fear and repression.  Some have even served in the Libyan military and are applying their training to what has turned into a civil war.  This group includes those in the police and military forces that sided with the anti-government forces.

I have also been told that some of the former soldiers in Benghazi would rather be loyal to the Government, but they fear for their safety and therefore feel that they must go along with the opposition.  This touches on another issue that I will discuss in “Part 2” of this series, that is, the fact that a large portion of the Libyan society is loyal to the government and Gaddafi, whereas the western media would have you believe the opposite.

I have pointed out roughly five completely different groups that make up the anti-government forces.  I refuse to call them “pro-democracy” forces because they are not all for a democratic society.  I also cannot call them “non-violent” protestors because the only non-violent group among them is the actual “pro-democracy” youth.  I was told that some of the students and youth protestors have been pushed out of the opposition because they continually argued for non-violent resistance and opposed taking up arms against government forces.  They understood clearly that they were no match against the military and that foreign intervention would be required to save their lives if they turn the struggle into a civil war.  Other forces within the opposition, mainly within the tribal monarchy supporters along with the opportunists, dominated the opposition politically and forced the armed struggle on the masses in Benghazi and other small towns.  In Benghazi many of the youth leaders and activists have given up because many of the internal conflicts have resulted in fighting within the opposition and many of them left the opposition and the country in fear for their lives.  This is not fear of government forces, but rather of violence perpetrated on them by members of the opposition.  In other words, there was a segment that was following the Tunisia/Egypt model, but they were forced to abandon that model or leave the anti-government ranks.

There where other conflicts between the youth/students and the supporters of the Libyan National Council, such as the issue of the Council’s leader, Mahmoud Jibril.  The youth do not trust him and believe he is an opportunist who will ultimately serve the interests of the west.  They compare him with Hamid Karzai, the U.S. -installed President of Afghanistan.  As with the youth of Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan youth are not willing to settle for anything less than a true democracy, free of dictators and neo-colonial rulers.

The youth also oppose the request for foreign intervention.  They understand what comes with that intervention and how it is applied.  However, the majority of the opposition forces are very hopeful, if not convinced, that support from the U.S. and Europe will lead to a victory against the Libyan military and ultimately the end of the Gaddafi regime.  The Libyan National Council fully supports the foreign intervention because they know it is their ticket to power in the post-Gaddafi Libya.

The question that will need to be asked in the near future is what promises or deals did Mahmoud Jibril make in return for Western support? If the U.S., U.K., and France achieve their goal of toppling the Gaddafi regime, will they install their man Jibril with mass Libyan support or will they do it regardless of any Libyan opposition to the Libyan National Council?  All of this is conditioned on how far Western involvement in Libya extends.  The British Defense Secretary, Liam Fox, recently suggested that Gaddafi is a target, while U.S. President Obama said that Gaddafi was not a target.  Either one of them is lying or they have different objectives.

About the Author:

Troy Nkrumah is a Pan-Africanist with a long history of social justice and anti-imperialist activism. He began as a student organizer in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  He is currently the President/CEO of the Anchorage Urban League and an outspoken advocate for Human Rights.  Troy has traveled extensively throughout Africa and Latin America.  He traveled to Libya at the end of 2009 as part of a delegation lead by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.  Troy has studied, taught and written about Africa and the anti-colonial struggle. He holds a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in International Relations. He also has a Law Degree and has worked in Tanzania for the United Nations at the Rwanda Genocide Tribunal.

An Open Letter to Chris Brown by Kevin Powell

Open Letter to Chris Brown

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 reasons, 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, asked him to ask you to phone me, but you never did, for whatever reasons. 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 both 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 cd “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 is not the point (as has been suggested in some online blogs). 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, shirtless, walking outside the ABC studios looking, well, pissed off, immediately after. Finally, you tweeted, somewhere in the midst of that morning, Chris, “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 also, Chris. And it was a tweet written with raw honesty and, for sure, raw emotion. 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. That you’ve never actually healed from what you witnessed as a child, either, of 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.

But the fact is, Chris, we cannot afford to teach children, directly or indirectly, that violence and anger in any form are the solutions for our frustrations, disagreements, or pain, and not expect that violence and anger to penetrate the psyche of that child. To be with that child as he, you, me, and countless other American males in our nation, grow from boy to teenager to early adulthood. Ultimately it will come out in some channel, either inwardly on themselves in the manner of serious self-repression, self-loathing, and fear. Or outwardly in the shape of blind rage and violence, against themselves, against others, including women and girls.

You see, Chris, I know much about you because I was you in previous chapters of my life. I am presently in my 40s, a practitioner of yoga, and someone who has spent much of the past 20 years in therapy and counseling sessions. I shudder to think who I would be today had I not made a commitment to constant self-reflection and healing. Yes, like most human beings I do get angry at times, but it is in a very different kind of way, I think long and hard about my words and actions, and if I do make a mistake and offend someone in some way verbally or emotionally, I apologize as quickly as I can. And I am proud to say I have not been involved in a violent incident in many years, that I am about love, peace, and nonviolence now, and this is my path for the rest of my life. I am not willing to go backwards, nor am I going to permit anyone or any scenario to take me backwards, either.

But, Chris, it was not always like this for me. The hurt and pain I felt as a child led to arguments and fights in my grade and high schools: arguments with teachers and principals and physical fights with my classmates. This in spite of the fact I possessed, very early on, the same kind of talents you had coming up. Mine is writing and yours is music. And because we both had gifts that people recognized, the more problematic sides of our personas were often overlooked, or ignored completely. In reality, Chris, I attended four grade schools and three high schools partly because my single mother and I (I am an only child) were very poor, and forced to move a lot; and partly because of my behavioral issues at various schools. Many adults could not understand it because I was routinely a straight-A student breezing through everything from math and science to English.

Yet I was no different than countless American children terrorized by their environments, with no true outlets to understand, and heal, what we were experiencing. That is why, Chris, I eventually was kicked out of Rutgers University, why I got into arguments with my cast mates on the first season of MTV’s “The Real World,” and why I often had beef with my co-workers, as a twenty something hot shot writer at Quincy Jones’ Vibe magazine. And why I was eventually fired from Vibe, Chris, in spite of writing more cover stories than any other writer in the magazine’s history. There was always a darkness in my life, Chris, a heavy sadness, born of years of wounds piled one on top of the other. And I did not begin to grasp this until a fateful day in July 1991 when I pushed my girlfriend at the time into a bathroom door in the middle of an argument. As I have written in other spaces, Chris, when she ran from the apartment, barefoot, it was only then that I recognized the magnitude of what I had done. Just like you I had to deal with public embarrassment and court and a restraining order. But the big difference, Chris, is that a community of people, both women and men, saw potential in me, the boy struggling to be a man, in the early 1990s, and rather than shun me or push me aside or write me off completely, they instead opted to help me.

The first step was returning to therapy, as I had done briefly in 1988 after being suspended from Rutgers for threatening a female student. The next step was my struggling to take ownership for every aspect of my life, and not just that bathroom door incident. That meant, Chris, I had to go very far into my own soul, and return, time and again, to being that little boy who had been violated and abused, and meet him, on his terms. I assure you, Chris, it was extremely difficult to do that, and I put off many issues for months, even years, unwilling or unable to look myself in the mirror. Add to that the sudden celebrity of my life on MTV and at Vibe, and I found myself around many other people who were living escapist lives, who were not bothering to deal with their demons, either. That, Chris, is a recipe for disaster, for a life stuck in a state of arrested development. The worst thing we could ever do is only be in circles of people who are wallowing in their own miseries, too, yet covering it up with fame, money, material things, sex, drugs, alcohol, and an addiction to acting out because that is much easier than actually growing up.

As a matter of fact, as I watched your “Good Morning America” interview, and read the accounts of what happened after, I thought a good deal about the late Tupac Shakur, who I interviewed more than any other journalist when he was alive. Tupac was, Chris, without question, equally the most brilliant and the most frustrating interview subject I’d ever encountered. Brilliant because his abilities as an actor (imagine what he could have been had he lived) were towering, and his writing skills instantly connected him with the man-child in so many American males, especially those of us who grew up as he did, without a consistent and available father figure or mentor, and with some form of turmoil in our lives. But, Chris, I could see the writing on the wall from the very beginning, of Tupac’s downfall, because he willingly participated in it, encouraged it, openly advertised it every single time he rhymed about dying, or spoke about a short shelf life in one of his interviews. I do believe each and every one of us human beings is given a certain amount of time on this planet. I for one feel very blessed to be here as long as I have been, especially given my past destructive paths. But I also believe, Chris, that so many of us participate in what I call self-sabotage, or slow suicide. That is, because we do not have the emotional and spiritual tools to process the many angles of our lives, we instead resort to predictable behavior that may feel empowering or liberating on the surface, but is actually damaging to us, and doing even more harm to us.

For an instance when I looked at the photo of you, shirtless, with the shiny tattoos across your chest, I saw myself, I saw Tupac Shakur, I saw all us American Black boys who so badly want to be free, who so badly want to be understood, who feel life unfair for labeling us “angry,” “difficult,” “violent,” “abusive,” “criminals,” or “cocky” or “arrogant.” Yes, Chris Brown, in spite of Barack Obama being president of the United States, America still very much has a very serious problem with race and racism, which means it still has a very serious problem with Black males who act out or behave badly, who speak their minds, who assert themselves in some way or another. I know that is what you are reacting to, Chris. And you are not wrong in tweeting that Charlie Sheen is catching a break in a way that you are not. I am very clear that Charlie Sheen’s father is Latino and his mother is White. But Charlie Sheen operates in a space of White male privilege because of his White skin and his access to White power, and thus he is given a pass for his violent, abusive, mean-spirited, and drug-addicted outbursts in a way you or I never will, Chris. Charlie Sheen, as insane as it appears, is even celebrated in many circles because of how American male (read, White male) privilege can exist while ignoring the concerns of those he has harmed, including women. That is why, Chris, I rarely discuss in public the chapter of my life that is MTV’s “The Real World.” In spite of who I am as a whole human being, my numerous interests and skill sets, the one thing that was played up were the arguments I had with my White cast mates. So I was labeled, for years and years, Chris, as “the angry Black man,” something that troubled me as deeply as you were bothered on “Good Morning America” by the Rihanna questions. And how certain media folks, including Joy Behar on “The View,” must bother you calling you a “thug,” in spite of the obvious racial overtones of such a loaded word. If you are a thug, then what is Charlie Sheen, or Mel Gibson, or John Mayer, or Jude Law, or any other famous White male who has engaged in bad behavior the past few years? Why are they often forgiven, given a pass, allowed to clean themselves up and to redeem themselves in a way Black males simply cannot, Chris? It is because, to paraphrase Tupac, we were given this world, we did not make it. And it is because of power, Chris, plain and simple. Whoever has the power to put forth images and words, to put forth definitions, to determine what is right and what is wrong, can just as easily label you a star one day and a thug and a has-been the very next day. Or make you, a Black male, the poster child, for every single bad behavior that exists in America. Just ask Black males as diverse as Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, or Kanye West. No apologies being made by me for these men or their actions, but the chatter, always, in Black male circles is how we are treated when we do wrong as opposed to how our White brothers are treated when they do wrong. Call it racial or cultural paranoia if you’d like. We Black brothers call it a ridiculously oppressive double standard. And that is because America has historically had a very complicated and twisted relationship with Black men, ranging from slavery to the first heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson to Malcolm X and Dr. King both, and including men like Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Prince, and, yes, Barack Obama. Sometimes we feel incredible love and affection, and sometimes we feel as if we are unwanted, armed, and dangerous. It is a schizophrenic existence, to say the least, and it is akin to how the character Bigger Thomas, in Richard Wright’s classic but controversial novel “Native Son,” saw his life reduced to the metaphor of a cornered black rat. Thus so many of us spend our entire lives, as Black males, navigating this tricky terrain, so few of us with the proper emotional and spiritual tools to balance our coolness with a righteous defiance that, well, will not get us killed, literally and figuratively, by each other or the police, or by the American mass media culture.

I am telling you the truth, Chris Brown, man-to-man, Black man to Black man, because you need to hear it, straight up, no chaser. If you really believe that because you are famous and successful that the same rules apply to you, you are deceiving yourself. Like many, I love people, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, religion, any of that, and I believe deeply in the humanity and equality of us all. But until we have a nation, and a world, where the media places the same energy and excitement in documenting a Black man who is engaging in, say, mentoring work, as it does in a Black man smashing a window at a television station, then we are sadly fooling ourselves, Chris, that things are fair and equal in this universe. They are not. And sometimes it will be big things, like what you just experienced, Chris, at “Good Morning America,” and sometimes it will be quieter moments, far off the radar, where we Black men have to think on the fly about who we are, what we represent, how others perceive us or may want to perceive us, how we say things to people, particularly our White sisters and brothers, for fear or worry of being misunderstood and being pegged as “problematic” or a “troublemaker,” and magically navigate best we can to assert our humanity, our dignity, our leadership, our visions and ideas and dreams, and, yes, our definitions of manhood rooted in our very unique cultural journeys. Complete insanity, this emotional and spiritual juggling act, no question, and our harsh reality in this world, my friend.

So what you have to understand, Chris, and what I had to grapple with for years, is there is no escaping your past, especially if we engage in angry or violent behavior. If we do not confront it, probe and understand it, heal and learn from it, and use what we’ve learned to teach others to go a different way, then it dogs us forever, Chris, and we unwittingly become the entertainment, nonstop, for others. And that simply does not have to be the case for you, Chris. You are too much of a genius to allow this to destroy you, but your self-destruction is exactly what many of us are witnessing. I have no idea who is around you at this point, or what kind of men, specifically, are advising you, but the worst possible thing you could do is act as if what happened with Rihanna was no big deal. It was and is a major deal because women and girls, in America, and on this earth, are beaten, stabbed, shot, murdered, raped, molested, every single day. Because of your fame you have become, unfortunately, a poster child for this destructive behavior in spite of your proclaiming just a few years before, in a magazine interview, you would never do to a woman what had happened to your mother. What I gathered, very quickly, Chris, after I pushed that girlfriend back in 1991, was that I could not hide from my demons or myself. That is why I wrote an essay in Essence magazine in September 1992 entitled “The Sexist in Me.” That is why I made it a point to listen to women and girls in my travels, in my community, even within my family, tell stories of how they had been violated or abused by one man or another. And that is why, Chris, nearly twenty years later, so much of my work as a leader, as an activist, as a public speaker, is dedicated to ending violence against women and girls. In other words, I took what was a very negative and hurtful experience, for that girlfriend, and for myself, and transformed it into a life of teaching other males how to deal with their hurts without hurting others, particularly women and girls.

Tupac Shakur, Chris, never got to turn the corner, as you well know, because he was gunned down at age 25. I do not know if he actually raped or sexually assaulted the woman in that hotel room as he was charged. But one thing he did admit to me, Chris, in that famous Rikers Island interview, was that he could have stopped his male friends from coming into his hotel room and sexually exploiting his female companion that night. And he did not. You, Chris Brown, cannot turn back the hands of time to February 2009. We have seen the photos of Rihanna’s battered and bruised face. Yes, you’ve apologized, yes, you’ve done your time in court and your hours of community service, and yes, and you have been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. But it is really up to you, Chris, to decide in these tense moments, as you approach your 22nd birthday on May 5th, if you want to be a boy forever locked in the time capsule of your own battered and bruised life, or if you want to be the man so many of us are rooting for you to be, one who will take responsibility for all his actions, who will sit up in interviews and answer all questions, even the uncomfortable ones. And the kind of man who will admit, once and for all, publicly, privately, however you must do it, that you need help, that you need love, that you need to love yourself in a very different kind of way, that you no longer will hide behind an album release, music videos, dyed hair, tattoos, or even your twitter account, Chris Brown. That you will make a life-long commitment to counseling, to therapy, to healing, to alternative definitions of manhood rooted in nonviolence, love, and peace, that you will become a loud and consistent voice against all forms of violence against women and girls, wherever you go, as I do, for the rest of your life. All eyes are on you because you’ve brought the world to your doorstep, my friend. The question alas, Chris, is do you want to go forward or not? And if yes to going forward, then you must know it means going to the deepest and darkest parts of your past to heal what ails you, once and for all, for the good of yourself, and for the good of those who are watching you very closely and who may learn something from what you do. Or what you do not do. The choice is yours, Chris Brown. The choice is yours—

Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker, and award-winning author or editor of 10 books, including Open Letters to America (essays) and No Sleep Till Brooklyn (poetry). Kevin lives in Brooklyn, New York. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell