Commentary: A letter to Rihanna

The Miami HeraldMarch 12, 2009 

Dear Robyn Rihanna Fenty:

I was maybe 7 years old when this happened.

My old man had been kicked out of the house for being an abuser and a cheat. Now, here he came a few days later, begging forgiveness. Mom wouldn't open the door, so he pleaded his case through the mail slot, promising to do better, promising to change. Mom stood firm. I, on the other hand, stood bawling like, well . . . a kid who missed his Dad. He saw that, and he worked me like a 9-to-5 job.

"Dad, I want you to come home," I wailed.

"I want to," he said, "but your mother won't let me."

So naturally, I turned on her. "Mom, why won't you let Dad come home?"

Still she held out. Finally, he left our door. We knelt on the couch and watched him walk toward the car. Halfway to the curb, though, he was seized by some dark impulse that wheeled him around and sent him hurtling toward the window. I ducked before he kicked it in. Mom didn't.

She took him back not long afterward. And he beat her on a regular basis until the day, about eight years later, terminal cancer rendered him too sick and weak to do so. I've always regretted whatever part my caterwauling played in influencing her to let him come back home.

Ms. Fenty, I know you've got a lot of people in your business right now, all with an opinion about how you should run your life.

I would not be surprised if you are fed up with it. I would only beg you to put that emotion aside and try to hear what you are being told: If this guy did what you say he did, you need to drop him like a hot rock.

"This guy," of course, being your boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. Last week, court papers were released detailing the alleged Feb. 8 altercation between the two of you. They tell how you and Brown, 19, were in a Lamborghini, leaving a music industry party in Beverly Hills, when you confronted him about a text message on his phone from his old girlfriend. How he allegedly told you he was going to beat the expletive deleted out of you when he got you home. How he allegedly pushed your head against the window, punched you with his right fist while steering with his left. How you pretended to be on the phone with your assistant and asked her to call the police. How he said, "You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I'm really going to kill you!" How he allegedly choked you, threw your phone out the window, put you in a headlock, bit you.

You can understand, perhaps, why many of us find it incomprehensible that you were reportedly spotted with him, apparently reconciled, just days later. Incomprehensible and yet, not surprising at all. On the contrary, it is the classic behavior of the battered woman. They tell themselves it was their fault. They tell themselves it was a one-time thing. They tell themselves he really is a good guy at heart. They tell themselves their love will change him.

They tell themselves lies, Ms. Fenty – lies, evasions and rationalizations. They tell themselves everything but the truth: that the man they love is damaged and dysfunctional. And that, absent some intense and committed therapy, he will do it again.

Repeating for emphasis: He will do it again. And again.

Yes, you're right. I've got a lot of nerve. I don't know you. Indeed, before this incident, I barely knew of you. You are a 21-year-old singer my youngest son has a crush on. My last crush was Gladys Knight.

But this issue strikes a resonant chord with me for obvious reasons. You deserve – every man and woman deserves – to be with someone you don't have to fear, someone who will not abuse, someone who will not resolve quarrels with his fists. Please think about it, Ms. Fenty.

I understand if you love him. But it's OK to love yourself some, too.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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