Domestic violence happens across race, class and sexuality. It is an extremely damaging social phenomenon and yet we rarely speak about it. Until the latest incident with Chris Brown and Rihanna, the last time this subject matter was prominently figured in our social conversation was during the OJ Simpson trial. What these two incidents have in common is that the violence was perpetrated, allegedly – as in the case of Brown, by a black male.
Blacks have complained about the coverage that the Chris and Rihanna incident is receiving in the media, often referring to it as a modern day lynching. Though many will agree that violence against women is wrong, there is still constant victim-blaming. Along with a desire to support patriarchy comes the fear that once again blacks are being presented as uniquely violent. If we can somehow place the blame for Brown’s actions on Rihanna, then the black male patriarchy can free itself from another in a long line of social stigmatizations that continues our race divide.
A social conversation about domestic violence and its harmful effects is necessary. Daily, women are brutalized. Often, it ends with the loss of life. Children who are raised in this kind of environment repeat the patterns of behaviour, whether they identify with the victim or the abuser. The cycle of abuse continues and we end up having generation after generation of people living with the shadow of violence as constant companion.
The problem is that the media only sees fit to discuss this issue when it can be used to construct people of colour as uniquely violent. Hip hop culture is held up as responsible for the so-called rising tide of violence in the black community. Pundits point to the devaluation and over sexualisation of black women in rap and hip hop videos as causation for black male violence.
What is ignored is that we live in a culture wherein violence against women is readily portrayed in the mainstream media. Nightly on television we can watch women and children being raped and brutalized. Law & Order: SVU, for example, is a show that only focuses on sexual violence and the majority of the victims portrayed are women and children. Violence as a form of entertainment is something that we have participated in since the Roman coliseum, it is not unique to the black community.
Rap and Hip Hop is an expression of false and/or negative power by the black male patriarchy. The issue is that we have racialized patriarchy in such as way that we that we ignore the ways in which violence is understood as occurring in communities of colour. It is easy to point to the black male because since the time of slavery he has been understood as necessarily animal-like in behaviour, as a preventative measure against relationships between black men and white women.
If the black male and the white female were to recognize their shared stigmatization by the white male and work in tangent to destroy white male patriarchy, this would present a legitimate threat. Furthermore, the while male did not/does not want any competition for what he views as his natural mate, the white female. It is in the interest of the white male patriarchy to focus on the ways in which the black male is violent and in this way he can present himself as the binary opposite, while at the same time reifying what is perceived as his natural right to rule.
Black women are continually encouraged to be silent about the violence we suffer at the hands of black men because uplift has been defined as mirroring the white male patriarchy. If we can be silenced, to some degree the black male will have succeeded in having the ability to express power coercively like the white male does. That this strategy is entirely prejudicial is deemed irrelevant in the face of the racialized onslaught that African Americans must deal with on a daily basis.
A black woman that advocates and or professes feminist ideals is further silenced, as feminism in the black community has been deemed only beneficial to white women. Black women are given a choice – submit to black male patriarchal rule, or side with the clearly white-leaning feminist movement. Our interests are at the center of neither framework and as such our oppression continues unabated.
The concentration on black male violence is falsely presented as concern for women of colour. When we consider that the black woman has been deemed the ultimate ‘unwoman’ and has been labelled a jezebel, mammy and a sapphire, how is it possible that such concerns about our womanhood are suddenly appearing? From the time of slavery, our bodies have been brutalized and our femininity questioned. Whenever we have been recognized, it has been for the purpose of oppression. To view the sudden “concern for our safety” as anything other than a prop to support the white male patriarchy is to be blind to the ways in which our bodies have been historically used.
The sudden concern for black women has not translated into increased opportunities, because we are deemed nothing more than tools to be used for the sake of convenience. As we watch as our sons and brothers are once again constructed as violent savages, it is tempting, in the name of fighting racism, to stand in solidarity and defend them against attack. As black women we know all too well what it is to be understood as less than, but solidarity in this issue will ultimately cost us our personhood.
We must be clear in our assertion that male violence against women is wrong regardless of who performs the violence, while critiquing the penchant of the white male patriarchy’s desire to present it as a racialized phenomenon. Our bodies should not be used like a cheap circus act to denigrate our people racially while resulting in no positive gains in our status as women.
We must attempt to gain control of the conversation so that it is understood socially that all violence is not only harmful but wrong. We must seek to infuse our conversations about domestic violence with a sound critique of racism, sexuality, sexism, and class – if we are to understand the ways in which violence serves as a tool to support the worst isms that we have come internalize. No woman’s screams of pain should ever be silenced or ignored, her life and the lives of her children depend on her being heard.