About four years ago I was having a discussion with a friend about his new web show. He wanted to focus on topics concerning the Black community. I told him we should discuss domestic violence. To which he responded, “That’s not an issue. A sista would never let somebody beat her!” I stood there in disbelief, that a grown man with a family could actually believe such a thing. But there we were, standing outside with me trying my best to convince him that many Black women were getting physically abused everyday and it had nothing to do with us “letting” something happen.
Fast forward to earlier this year when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen on video dragging his then girlfriend’s body on the floor of an elevator. Excuses ensued. What happened that night? The theories went as followed:
She was drunk and he was taking her back to their room.
They were both fighting.
Maybe he beat her up.
We don’t know what happened, so “let’s not judge.”
While watching him kick and drag her limp body, there were many presumptions about what happened. The main one always circled around “her involvement.” Not long after, Janay Palmer and Ray Rice married. Then, came the press conference. The couple sat along side each other with Ray trying to undo the PR disaster, while Janay was forced to apologize for “her role.”
Months later, with the football season starting, the full video of the assault has been released. It showed that he spat on her, punched her in the face multiple times, kicked her and dragged her. Now that the public has a wider view of the assault, the excuses are:
They were both fighting.
Maybe he beat her up.
We don’t know all of what happened, so “let’s not judge.”
She provoked him.
She started it.
She still married him.
She doesn’t care, why should we?
She must be a gold digger.
The excuses are almost the same even though we’ve seen the footage. We saw what happened to her. We saw how it happened. Yet, there is still somehow this belief that it “didn’t really happen like that.”
The same thing happened in 2007, when preacher Juanita Bynum was choked and stomped in an Atlanta parking lot. The excuse then was, “She didn’t let him be the man.” This was a woman that had advocated for women to have sex with their husbands, even if they didn’t feel like it. If anyone was a trumpet of patriarchy, she was. Still, the very community she preached within ignored the violence and conjured up ways to blame her for being physically abused.
This leads me back to the discussion I had with my friend. Perhaps, he didn’t see domestic violence in our community because he didn’t want to. Perhaps he didn’t believe it for the same reasons the people defending Ray Rice don’t. They don’t want to believe it because it would mean that Black women can no longer be the blame for “violence” against us. That’s scary because then people would have to be held accountable, Black men included. That’s something our community continues to grapple with. How do we end violence against Black women without further criminalizing Black men in an atmosphere that is hostile to Blackness?
That’s why at this moment there are some people worried about Rice’s career. Where will he work? How will he live? Will he ever be able to get a job again?
Yet, we should be worried about Janay Rice. Will she be okay? Will he take his anger out on her…again? Is she safe? Where will she go? Does she have family members that will support her instead of tell her to “stand by his side?”
There is a difference between criminalizing and protecting. Criminalizing is when a person or group of people are unjustly deemed as inherently criminal. Protecting is when there are consequences for harming a person or group of people unjustly. Protection is a mechanism of prevention. When a man kicks a woman and punches her in the face and he loses his job or goes to jail for it, that’s called Protection. We’re letting members of society know that for the safety of everyone, this will not be tolerated.
For many battered women, there is no where else to go. They often endure mental abuse that prevents further access to care and freedom. This belief that she somehow “provoked him” or “he just snapped” is why so many women are battered and die under those circumstances. It’s just an excuse, another trope of denial in order to circumvent accountability.
This did happen. This is happening.
Still, it is no surprise that Janay Rice partially blames herself. This often happens to battered women. As a well meaning survival mechanism, at times they defend the abuser, taking on the blame for themselves as a way to avoid facing the reality of what’s really happening.
Often times when there are debates about sexism in the Black community, male counterparts often ask, “What privileges do Black men have?” In case you’re still wondering, this is what Black male privilege looks like. It’s the privilege to withhold accountability in cases of sexual and physical abuse against Black women, and still have members of the community vehemently defend their right to do so. Abusers will have people rally on their behalf, including their own victims.
The same thing happens to sexual abuse victims. People go through oratory gymnastics to blame molestation, rape and sexual abuse on the women and girls that were abused. We’ll hear things like:
She was a fast girl.
Why was she over there if she didn’t want it?
She knew what she was doing.
Why didn’t she say anything, if she didn’t like it?
This shower of condemnation of the survivor and excuses for the perpetrator happen time and time again in the case of sexual abuse against Black women.
However, it would be dangerous to believe that sexism, patriarchy, and abuse exist as vacuums in Black communities. They are an overall societal problem, prompted up my mainstream culture. The key issue with the Black community is, because mainstream culture already demonizes Blackness, the Black community fears that by outing abusers, they are adding to the demonization of their community. This has become a dangerously error-prone survival mechanism. Instead there should be an understanding that outing abusers (no matter who they are) is a way of strengthening the overall health of communities.
In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, many Black women related to the now famous words:
All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.
Country wide protests were launched against the movie by Black men and women stating that it would make our community look bad and that it demonized Black men. When on the contrary, it shed light on key issues like incest, child molestation, sexual abuse, patriarchy and domestic violence. These are the issues, we often refuse to seriously address as a community. There was nothing unreal about it. It was just the ugly painful truth for many generations of women. It for this reason that The Color Purple has since become a classic, with many scenes viewers can recite word-for-word.
Indeed, all our lives we’ve had to fight and it will only end when our community rejects its abusers. I’ve had close friends and family members that faced the world with broken souls after being sexually/physically abused and blamed for it. We have to make the decision. Will we protect abusers or not? Will we take a stand against violence or not?
In the case of Janay Rice, the three minute visual of Ray Rice beating her has created more public awareness. Though this is a sad situation, the good thing about public cases like this is that more and more people are publicly condemning this behavior. These condemnations are added boosts needed to sway public discourse around this topic. This issue isn’t solely about one couple or one woman. It’s about the strengthening of our community as a whole. Otherwise, it will crumble within.
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Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
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