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Sunday, March 22, 2009


I had the good fortune while in KC to visit with a group of high school students who were gathered to talk about domestic violence and health issues. I sat in on a group of young women who were led by their choir director and teachers on a discussion of the Chris Brown- Rhianna issue. I was the only white person in the room, but most of the girls were middle class - so an interesting mix of perspectives at play.

Most of the young ladies felt that DV is wrong, no matter the circumstance, and that respect for yourself is the crucial component that will lead a girl to safety. But there were interesting undercurrents - should you "abandon" your boyfriend if he hits you or work with him through counseling? Is it your fault he hits you if you provoke him by doing things to egg him on? What would you do if your boyfriend hit you? One girl responded she would tell her daddy and he would whip the boyfriend's butt. Hmmm. I think she is missing the point.

The girls had a spirited discussion and then a young woman came in to give her first hand account of DV in her own life. Jaws dropped as she told her story.
She is 22 with 3 kids. She hooked up with her abuser at 13 and had his baby at 15. Her mother thought she would die at the hand of her abuser.
She clearly and directly walked through how the abuse escalated from verbal, to emotional, to physical abuse. She confirmed Oprah's warning - he WILL hit you again despite all his apologies and promises to do better. The highlight was her total belief in herself - standing up for herself and fleeing the situation. She said it was hard, but necessary. She currently is separated from her husband and father of her other 2 children because he has been verbally abusive. She wants no part of it. Her priorities are to protect herself and to make sure her kids don't have to go through this.

Certainly DV is not limited to the African-American community. DV is an equal opportunity abuse. But the proclivity of poverty in communities of color can put women into a very difficult situation and backs them into a corner. The speaker made one other important point - she said her abuser belittled her to the point that she believed he was the only person who cared for her. She put up with the violence because she came to believe she had no alternative. That scared the high school girls. I think they realized how fragile they are because they are confused and trying to figure out all the things that young adulthood brings. The speaker admonished them to believe in their family, their teachers, and recognize that you are never going to be abandoned by everyone but your boyfriend - don't fall for that!

The high profile celebrity abuse in the hip-hop world is a real conundrum. The lyrics of so many songs demean women to the point of ridicule. Calling them bitches and telling women what sexual favors to perform on their man objectifies them and reduces them to something less than a person. It should not surprise anyone that hitting women would seem to be ok to listeners. That Chris Brown shows no contrition also is no surprise. He sees his world as a place where he has license to do this to a woman.

DV is about power. A culture that says women are subservient bitches that should do whatever their man says is a culture that says women have no power. DV becomes another way for men to dominate women. Let's be clear though. Hitting is NEVER ok. Women should not abuse their boyfriends and husbands verbally, emotionally, or physically - trickery and games are abuse. Men should not abuse their girlfriends and wives. Even if you believe that men are superior to women, abuse is NEVER ok. Violence in the urban core is an everyday occurence and has become a way to exert power. Pulling a gun is a common response to street power squabbles. Pulling a fist becomes an easy response to home power squabbles.

DV happens in every economic class, every race and culture, and every religion in the USA. No one is exempt and no one group is more or less likely to engage in this. But circumstances may make it easier to go to abuse, easier to accept abuse, and easier to believe that it is deserved.

Let's reverse this thinking. Save your mom, your sister, your daughter. Save a woman. Save yourself. Respect yourself - you deserve it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lift Every Voice and Sing

I went to an elementary school program for Black History Month to watch my little sis perform. It was a great show with lots of parents and students and proud teachers and staff. The student chorus began the program with Lift Every Voice and Sing, for which everyone was asked to stand. I quietly sang along, as did others, and enjoyed the performance. I had never even known that this song existed until I went to a BHM event at my last University. People sang it with gusto and the song leader rallied the group for another round of the chorus. It was quite moving. I learned the history of the song and why it is so important and now happily share in its singing. Though the tune still throws me a bit as it changes keys and octaves.

I suspect most white people and others who are not African-American have no idea this song exists or what it means to a community of people. I thought it would have been a great choice for the inaugural. But for the most part, this seems to be a cultural element that is kept within the black community. I will leave others to explain its symbolism and meaning and its use.

A friend sent me this link to a Canadian site about race relations. The topic of this particular posting is about White privilege and whether it exists or not. The comments are very insightful, ignorant, passionate, and thought provoking. Just as it should be on this topic. What struck me was the commenter who said anyone bringing up the topic was suffering from brainwashing. Apparently he does not believe it exists and in fact, turned it on its head and called it White Guilt and took to task the now famous piece "Unpacking the Knapsack" linked in that blog and on this site, and poo-pooing the likes of Tim Wise, whose work is linked on this site.

I put these two experiences together and have these thoughts.
1. this country is far from being a post-race society. Electing Obama was great, but doesn't mean the population is at all educated about race issues. I am not sure we can be post-race without having learned those things.
2. the black national anthem or black national hymn flies under the mainstream white radar. Why? Maybe it is celebrated in schools today. I grew up before BHM was created. But I am betting most white people are clueless and if informed, would see it as a evidence of "separatist" sentiments - not unlike one of the commenters on that blog post.
3. the existence of white privilege is why 1 and 2 are sad, but true. WP is not hogwash, it is not guilt, it is the way that whites have constructed society. And we did so quite brutally on the backs of people enslaved to do our labor. We continued it as we kept our white children separate from the presence of black children and deigned to provide only the most meager of educations to them. We foist our WP on everyone every day by classifying people as minorities - never to be part of the majority (except the math is not working as well now) and creating hoops for them to jump through. As if, as if, as if - anyone of colored skin or other race should have to prove their worth.

Lift every voice and sing...let us march on till victory is won.