March 05, 2009

Rihanna, Immigrant Status, and Domestic Violence

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Al Green. Justin Timberlake. And Boyz II Men singing back-up, with nary a close-up of them. This ”group” performance at the Grammys should have signaled to me that something was gravely amiss. I couldn’t imagine anyone planning that performance. But how could I guess the next day’s headlines? Chris Brown charged with domestic violence! The woman in question? Apparently, his girlfriend Rihanna. (Both were scheduled to perform at the Grammys that night but cancelled hours before the show, hence the hastily pulled together group of Green and company.)

The 19 year-old Brown is being investigated for domestic violence and has been charged with felony criminal threats. The shattering picture of Rihanna delivered to the world by TMZ graphically illustrates and appears to confirm that Rihanna is the victim in this case. Many commentators have noted that Brown has accused his mother and former step-father of abusing him. Brown’s step-father denies this claim but if true, such a history certainly is an explanation of, but a poor excuse for Brown’s behavior.

But what explains Rihanna’s behavior? This is likely not Brown’s first abusive act; possibly the worst, but not the first. Given that the superstars were dating for about a year, Brown might have shown his true colors a long time ago. Why would Rihanna continue to date an abuser? Why does anyone remain in an abusive relationship?

I have never thought of the similarities between me and the singer who just turned 21 before now. We both came to live in the U.S. in our teens—me at 18 and Rihanna at about 16. And we both moved here from small countries in the Caribbean: me from Guyana and Antigua, and Rihanna from Barbados. (Like mine, her mother is Guyanese). Unfortunately, that is not the end of our similarities as I too was in an abusive relationship when I was Rihanna’s age. As I think of myself when I was a teenager, and new immigrant to the U.S., I can’t help but wonder how that circumstance fits into the equation. How might Rihanna’s immigrant status be related to her relationship with an abuser?

Moving—in either direction—between third world or developing nations and first world countries can create tremendous culture shock. Every now and then I try to guess the number of ”American” words and phrases that I have learned in the decades I have lived here, such as men named Richard are sometimes called Dick. There are experiences that are so truly foreign like snow, freeways, living among millions of people.

Unless you have experienced such a transition it may be difficult to understand that many basic aspects of life can become a challenge when you move to another country. For example, I was very much into exercise when I moved to New York from Antigua. In Antigua, I jogged on the beach or on the streets and lifted weights at a backyard gym. Upon my move, I bought the weight bench and weights that I could afford and quickly discovered that they were woefully inadequate. I tried running on the road in New York. In January. Once. That was enough for me to accept that my warming body enveloped in frigid cold is intolerable. Not being able to afford the cost of a gym membership and unable to navigate the transportation issues, the question of how to stay physically fit in the U.S. remained unresolved until I moved to California.

If I could not navigate something as simple as working out, can you imagine how daunting the idea of dating was to me? With major differences in speech, fashion, weather, transportation, population, and food, to name a few things, dating was beyond me. I could not decode the non-verbal cues in my new environment; I could barely fathom the verbal ones. Therefore, it was a relief to move a platonic friend into the boyfriend category. At least I could continue to focus college without having to try to figure out dating in the U.S.

Unlike other abused women I’ve read about, I never believed any of the ridiculous and clearly abusive things this man said to me. And given that like many abusers, he became out-of-control gradually, my youth and ignorance encouraged me to believe that he would change. He didn’t. And I felt too out of my depth living in New York to know how to handle this. It’s hard to imagine that I would have put up with such treatment in Antigua. I knew that world and felt confident there. Here, there were too many unknowns.

With her heavy Barbadian accent (I remember Jay-Z mocking her at the American Music Awards), Rihanna probably feels very much out of her element in the U.S.. And while superstardom must buy her lots of “friends”, I bet superstardom is just another arena in which she feels foreign. Maybe like me, she was glad to have some aspect of her life in America settled.

Obviously one does not have to be an immigrant to be abused. I don’t know if statistical evidence indicates that there is a relationship between being a recent immigrant to the U.S. and abuse, but I do wonder whether immigrant women are more likely to be victims of abuse.

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Comments

KIDS LOVE VIDEO GAMES -
We all know that the forbidden fruit is that much more tasty because of the fact that it is forbidden. I'm sure most of you remember glorifying R rated movies, gentleman's magazines like Playboy, and adult activities like smoking and drinking. But do you think such things would have the same appeal if you weren't constantly reminded that you couldn't even come close to experiencing them until you reached a certain, arbitrary, magical age?

Apply the same rules to M rated video games, and you have the topic that is on the minds of all mothers. Can M rated games be that damaging to children? Or are we sheltering them from topics like sex and violence to the point where the are ill prepared for adulthood?

This really is an intresting thought and I would like to see some statistics on the correlation between immigration and domestic violence. In such a foreign and alien environment, many immigrants may easily be swallowed up and left quite vulnerable because they are not able to interpret many of the red flags to dangerous situations in such an environment as is found in the U.S. I think in our society today some (too many) people prey on vulnerability. I think this originates in the childhoods of kids in the U.S. All one must do to see this is look at the "playground politics"; the larger and more aggressive child gets the good equipment and the younger and new kids get what's left and are often pushed around. Feeling out of one's depth is a major inhibition and, as you said, make you put up with things that you wouldn't if you were in you comfort zone. There's that vulnerability that society tends to exploit again. Immigrants may appear much more timid because they simply don't know how to react to various social scenarious that they encounter in their new surroundings.

Appreciate your thoughtful feedback!

This is a very interesting thought and correlation that I never would have thought about in this situation. I knew that Rihanna was born in another country but I did not realize how recently she came to the U.S. Because of the differences in speech, fashion, weather, transportation, population, and food, and not to mention trying to decode non-verbal cues let alone understanding verbal ones, being with Brown and having a boyfriend in the same business must have made her feel a little more comfortable in her unfamiliar environment. Because of his statements about his parents being abusive towards one another and towards him, there is no doubt in my mind that he has these previously learned ideologies and scarring events embedded into who he is. I believe this has carried over to who he is now and has gradually started to come out with him and Rihanna. I believe that because of the fact that she is a recent immigrant to the U.S. that she doesn't leave Brown because even though he is abusive towards her she doesn't feel that there is anywhere or anyone else to turn to. With coming over to the U.S. and becoming an overnight star, realistically how many True friends could she have made that would be there for her. Brown is the only familiar thing she has and feels powerless without him. If this would have happened in her home country of Barbados I believe that she would have had the strength and confidence to leave him and turn to her friends and family for support. I would also really like to see if there is in fact some statistical evidence that there is a relationship between being a recent immigrant to the U.S. and abuse. I think that because of the different culture and unfamiliarity that the statistics would show that immigrant woman are more likely to be abused than women from the U.S.

Your blog is very interesting to me, one because of the fact that when I heard about Chris Brown abusing Rihanna I was shocked beyond belief, and two because it is a wonder to many people if an immigrant status depends on abuse. I am taking a sociology class right now and we are learing about rights and obligations and about different social status. It seems like this chapter in sociology goes along with your blog because of the fact that maybe women stay in abusive relationships because of obligations, even though the man is breaking his obligation. But also the fact that your rights play a big part in this because all people deserve the right to life and freedom and I feel that abuse is breaking that right. When it comes to different social status it is a wonder if an immigrant status plays a role.

I found this blog to be very interesting and honestly I have never thought of the Chris Brown/Rihanna situation from this perspective. My grandfather is an immigrant from Lebanon and has explained to me the culture shock experience that immigrants go through while adjusting to the American ways and lifestyles. Rihanna was in her first serious relationship and even if he mildly abused her, she may have not known any better then to believe it was nothing serious or worth breaking up for. It would be interesting to see some statistics relating to immigrants experiencing abuse in relationships because the concept makes perfect sense. Immigrants coming to America are very naive in the beginning and know nothing better then what the American people tell them or physically do to them.

When you think of Rihanna depending on Chris Brown to lead her through unchartered territories, it makes sense. I agree that a complete culture shock can be extremely overwhelming and even more so when you enter the music business on top of it. What I don't understand is that Rihanna firmly stated that she will never be in a relationship with Chris Brown again, and yet a few days later they are back together and rumored to be married. Rihanna has proved to be somewhat of a rolemodel in the past, and I would think that even if you still felt connected to your abuser, you would take some time to recover and reevaluate.
I agree that she must be naive and very self-conscious, but she also has a very vast amount of support from her collegues. Her existence in the art world gives her access to many different forms of support in our culture and it shouldn't be a problem for her. Perhaps her jump into the media was too quick, and she hasnt be able to go through a socialization process to understand the American life and culture outside of the media and art world.
When I think of Charles Cooley and that we see our self reflected through our interactions with others, Rihanna previously received numerous praise for her individual accomplishments in the music business. Mostly received while she was the girlfriend of Chris Brown. I think perhaps this has led her to believe that her praise can only be restored if she patches things up with him and since she cannot find praise in herself before him, she has become dependent on his influence and support.

Wow! The more I hear about this whole case, the more I realize how serious it is. Honestly I can't believe this has happened!

From a sociological standpoint it is super obvious that this group that she is subscribing herself to [superstar] is putting a tremendous amount of pressure on her. Although I cannot remember who said it, I remember reading in our textbook that regardless of the group, there will always be a set of "norms" imposed on all of the individuals involved. For her, as an amazingly talented singer, she is trying to make it and continue to be successful. She may be seeing how much the rest of society adores Chris Brown so she may think that it is her that has the issue as opposed to him. She quite possibly may figure that if the rest of the world can love him so much then there is no reason that she shouldn't as well.

This may be a the first time that this has happened or it could be something that happens on a daily basis but maybe not as severe. We don't know and may never really know as members of the public but I am sure that there is a huge story behind all of this just waiting to be unfolded. Let's just hope that Rihanna's safety will no longer be a concern.

I think that women in general are likely to be victims of abuse. We're vulnerable, and most of the time we're not physically stronger than males. Just that fact gives males the mindset that they are better and can overpower women in very way. As far as foreign women, maybe it is someone's culture to allow abuse. Obviously many other coutries in the world allow parents to kick the crap out of their children so they probably don't mind if a boyfriend does that to his girlfriend. Maybe it was in Rihanna's culture to be aggressive, because after all I heard that she gave threats too, and that her and her brothers used to play fight with beer bottles.

I don't know if that all is true but like you said, Chris's beating most likely was not the first time and Rihanna may have let it happen before because she may be used to guys bein overly aggressive with her. Behaviors that come from the family stick to a person easily and it is really hard to grow out of those unhealthy habits.

When I first heard about the abusive relationship between Chris Brown and Rihanna I was very shocked. I was shocked mainly at first because I never imagined Chris Brown being an abusive type, apparently his parents abused him and that does not give him any reason to abuse Rihanna, it does give reason why he might have done it. The other shocking thing to me was that even after Chris abused her, Rihanna was still planning on staying with Chris. I know it is difficult for women to leave an abusive relationship in most situations, but Rihanna she have left him and stuck with what she said. Rihanna is a role model for many young girls and when they hear about her getting abused, that news sticks with them. And the even bigger thing that sticks with them is when they hear that she is still planning on staying with Chris. This gives young girls the wrong idea that it is okay for you to stay in an abusive relationship. I think super stars sometimes forget how much they impact others lives and that they need to do the right thing.

When I first heard about the abusive relationship between Chris Brown and Rihanna I was very shocked. I was shocked mainly at first because I never imagined Chris Brown being an abusive type, apparently his parents abused him and that does not give him any reason to abuse Rihanna, it does give reason why he might have done it. The other shocking thing to me was that even after Chris abused her, Rihanna was still planning on staying with Chris. I know it is difficult for women to leave an abusive relationship in most situations, but Rihanna she have left him and stuck with what she said. Rihanna is a role model for many young girls and when they hear about her getting abused, that news sticks with them. And the even bigger thing that sticks with them is when they hear that she is still planning on staying with Chris. This gives young girls the wrong idea that it is okay for you to stay in an abusive relationship. I think super stars sometimes forget how much they impact others lives and that they need to do the right thing.

I found this blog interesting because I would have never thought of seeing this situation from different point of view. I was shocked when I heard that Chris Brown was arrested for hitting Rihanna. I would have never thought that their relationship was not what appeared to be in the public eye.I understand the culture shock Rihanna might have gone through when she immigrated to the U.S.A. I can relate because I also went through a similar experience. I came to this country when I was eight years old. I was very young and only came here with my family. It was for me a very different and difficult transition because I did not know the language and did not know anyone. It was a challenge that over the years I over came and had to adjust to a new way of life. I adjusted to the culture and become more “American,” but unlike Rihanna I am not in the media. I do not know how Rihanna grew up, but I know that Chris had said that his mother and step-dad use to abuse him when he was younger. A lot of what happens to a child or what the child sees are the behaviors that their parents show them. Those behaviors stay with a person and it is hard to grow out of those unhealthy habits.

I found this interesting because i never thought of immigrants as being more likely to stay in a relationship with abuse. I don't really see why it would make a difference, but maybe because you finally get to the united states, where you should live happily and have a good life, but you feel that slowly starting to get taken away because of abuse. It also makes me wonder if Chris Brown has abused other women, or if this was his first time, or if he had abused Rihanna before this and she finally reported it. I guess no one will ever really know the whole true story besides Chris Brown and Rihanna.

I loved this blog, It had interesting things that teens like to learn about, Like Rihanna and Chris Brown. It's nteresting to look at things from theis perspective. If Rihanna didn't leave him she would have a major problem, but she left and was faced with even more problems.

I wonder how much Jay-Z had to do with her not going back with Chris. I do not think any woman should ever go back to an abuse relationship but she kind of seemed like she wanted to.

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