Betty Rosenda Green,
WFTF Family Member
Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice is facing a two-game suspension but it is his earlier physical assault of his former fiancée in an elevator that has brought the media’s attention back to domestic violence. Domestic violence is pervasive within American society. Black Women are murdered by their partners at a rate of two and half times more than white Women. This leaves one to wonder: why is this not media worthy? Rather, victim-blaming still remains the dominate discourse as Female victims are frequently told not to “provoke wrong actions,” as was recently expressed by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith.
Charles D. Ellison at The Root cites several examples from the NFL which insinuate the hierarchy of punishments often used for its players. Strict punishments are often given for players held responsible in cases of bullying, animal cruelty and sexual assault of young, white women for instance, but rarely given for assaults of Women of color. In 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20 year old white Woman and was given a six game suspension (although it was later reduced to four). Both cases related to Roethlisberger and Rice involved violence against Women and yet, disproportionate punishments were rendered in the case.
Women do not all experience their Womanhood in the same way. Certainly, white Women and Black Women do not have shared experiences of their gender. The intersection of race sheds light on the fact that race in America is a complicated, political, issue which often places Women of color in a position of oppression, while rendering privilege to their white counterparts. It is this differential experience of gender and the added complexity of racism that often place Black Female victims of sexual violence in the position of triple victimhood: the initial assault, secondary reactions of people around them and the legal system, and a culture that eroticizes Black Female bodies that are not entitled to the same protection.
Rape culture is when sexual assault, rape, and gender-based violence are ignored, trivialized or normalized. Rape culture is made possible and perpetuated by a misogynistic society that devalues and polices the bodies of Women. Just as misogyny exists; so does misogynoir, or the hatred of Black Women. In a world ruled by white capitalistic patriarchy, where mainstream Feminism equates to a white Female middle-class analysis and combating racism in the Black community means mainly marching for Black boys and men, where is the space for Black Women?
Although I generally do not believe in ranking oppressions against other oppressions because none of us are safe from the sexism, classism, homophobia, and other oppressions that this enslaving system produces, I do strongly believe and have felt that the issues affecting Black Women are vastly sidelined in the Black community as compared to that of Black boys and men. We have shed tears for Emmett. We have rioted for Rodney. We have marched for Trayvon. And we now mourn Eric. But where’s the outcry for Marissa? The marches for Jada? For Renisha? For Deanna? Where’s the acknowledgement that Black Women were lynched as well?
I am not advocating for less vital attention for Black men and boys.
I am advocating for more supportive attention on Black Women and Girls.
I am advocating for us to be included not only as fighters, but as those that we all fight for as well.
Issues that are considered “private” or “none of our business,” like sexual violence and domestic violence, greatly affect the Black community. These issues are rarely talked about, especially without stigma, victim-blaming and slut-shaming. A vivid PSA from South Africa clearly demonstrates the general societal views regarding domestic violence and I would argue that this can unfortunately be applicable to the general view held in the United States.
If these epidemics and those they affect remain silenced, how can we ever address them as a community as well as support victims and their healing processes? Therefore the silence must end; it must be broken and replaced with active conversation and the inclusion of victims’ empowerment and support so that our community can heal.
Black Women’s Blueprint, a Black Feminist organization based in Brooklyn, New York, does the much needed community work that is lacking with regards to Black Women and Girls in this country. One of their important projects include the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is the first of its kind in the United States to focus on Black Women and their experiences with rape and sexual assault. There is currently a call for narratives that can be emailed or left on the hotline specifically for this endeavor. The collection of testimonies will be used for a report and presentation that will be given to the United Nations in 2016.
Black Women have been resisting since we’ve been existing and numerous community organizations have been doing the necessary work to combat rape culture. But as a community, as family members, as friends, as colleagues, we need to start having honest conversations about sexual and intimate relationship violence without victim-blaming and to take seriously the stories of victims and survivors. That means not asking them what they were wearing or how much were they drinking or what they did to provoke the violence. We also need to take these issues, including sexual harassment, more seriously by not giving a mere slap on the wrist through a weak suspension whether it be in the NFL, at an educational institution or elsewhere. We all, not only the justice system, need to take stands everyday against rape culture and its guardians as well as those who abuse, sexually harass, sexually assault and rape. When someone shares with you that they have been sexually assaulted, the first thing you do is believe them.