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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.


Anonymous said...

I think your argument is better off at domestic violence is an equal opportunity abuser. It may be that in the African American communities this is an issue that needs to be discussed more because too many generations have grown up quiet about DV.

I think it is dangerous to send a message that any group of women can suffer more or be more venerable to DV. Domestic abuse leaves all people in an equally intolerable position.

I was sexually abused for ten years as a child and every time I told someone I was accused of lying and my mother would say "what would turning him in accomplish but embarrassment for more people." It is no wonder I married early and my husband abused me. And because I am strong he escalated to knives and other sorts of weapons quickly.

I think you miss one important point. The power and control, and the impact it has on self esteem, leaves all people without recourse. Abusers cut off your relationships, your family. They get in the way of your ability to work. I found myself alone, penniless, with huge medical bills and homeless. It did not matter that I had grown up with privilege or was white.

I understand that with your blog you are dismantling the social, political and cultural structures put in place by America's institutionalized racism. And I think you are doing something very powerful.

Do you see me? said...

Thanks much for your informed insights. It is always important to have real dialogue about difficult issues. I just try to start it and I am glad someone such as yourself is willing to keep it going.

Keonna09 said...

I believe that no one should be allowed to put their hands on anyone. I also believe that if someone put their hands on you first, you have the permission to place your hands on the other. I understand two wrongs dosen't make a right but that's life. I'm not saying that a male has the right to put his hands on a female but if she provokes hm to do so, they will take the oppurtunity. Just like men, women does the same things. Personally, I believe that no one should be the abuser, instead of dealing with the problem using violence, they should try talking it over with eachther.

Shakeyah09 said...

I think that nobody should be abusing anybody. Abuse is wrong period, nobody has the right to put their hands on you.