The Trouble With BET: On Chris Brown and Media Irresponsibility

I don't watch Good Morning America, so last week when my Twitter timeline exploded with mentions of Chris Brown, I was entirely confused. What had this man done now? Within minutes, someone directed me to video of the most uncomfortable interview I've seen in years and images of a smashed window on a skyscraper and the shirtless singer on the streets of New York. Chris Brown had once again made himself the center of attention for behaving badly, and everyone had something to say about it.

Brown's behavior was indefensible but of course there was a chorus of sycophants on blogs and social networking sites who could not wait to bow before the altar of Chris Brown martyrdom. Repeating refrains of "Shame on Robin Roberts" and "Can't a Black man move on?" They willfully ignored the fact that this incident was not simply a result of Brown's beleaguered racial caste but his unresolved inner turmoil. In America --or anywhere in the world for that matter-- the issue of race cannot be entirely extracted from any situation, but it can be used to obscure other deeper. less-convenient issues. Thankfully, we have impassioned, well-reasoned voices in our community who were willing to not only call out Chris Brown but his cadre of enablers.

The day of the incident, published a piece by noted journalist and filmmaker dream hampton called The Trouble with Chris Brown. Hampton's writing was characteristically stirring. Heartfelt yet stern it embodied a radical love that is our only hope to expel the demons that continue to torment Black America's youth. And 72 hours later, the piece was removed from the website without explanation.

It's reasonable to infer that the performer's management had a hand in the article's removal since Brown and his music have been a staple on the network for the past 18 months. BET, like any cable outlet traffics in ratings and ad dollars, and many of the young men and women who tune into the network's second longest running show 106th and Park when Chris Brown premieres a video or promotes his album are the same members of #teambreezy who on blogs and social networks claim he's been provoked or scapegoated. The network formerly known as Black Entertainment Television once again valued the economically expedient over the socially responsible.

As a business first and foremost, BET is required to do nothing but stay Black (ownership excepted, obviously) and generate profit. I'm under no delusions that the company was ever meant to be "movement media," and no one would ever imagine that its top execs would put the larger interests of African Americans before revenue. But the most widely distributed cable network for Blacks in America had an opportunity to promote a candid discussion about issues which run much deeper than Chris Brown. They balked at the chance, and used a minor scandal and a poignant piece of writing for page views.

In this situation he is not a victim, but the tragedy of Chris Brown is one of pain and exploitation. In that way, he is not much different from the tens of thousands of 20-something Black men in America. His record label, manager, publicist, et al have failed him. Now BET has taken its place among the enablers to which dream refers. The status quo will not be changed without a fight. It is time to demand more of the media that supposedly caters to us.

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Kimberly Foster (@kimberlynfoster) is the Editor-in-Chief of For Harriet. Email her at

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