domestic violence sexism
Why #BlackPowerisforBlackMen: Exploring Intragroup Domestic Violence9/17/2013
This article was originally published on The Filthy Freedom Project . Having witnessed the indec...
Having witnessed the indecencies of our justice system and the insidious nature of power and patriarchy, I am part of the 74% of Americans who know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. I was about five or six years old the first time I witnessed intimate partner violence (IPV); my mother, at twenty-one, was gasping for air by the hands of a young man, likely no older than I am today. It is unfortunate, yet telling, that often times it is violence and power that give us our element of humanity. And although it is my first vivid memory, it was surely not the last. A number of broken bones and ribs, collapsed lungs and swollen features later, I found myself face to face in a number of hospital rooms with a resilient yet lost soul; a woman who had not yet found the resolve to transition from victim to survivor.
The last episode occurred my junior year of college, when I drove my mother 10 hours back to campus so she’d have a safe space to reside after a domestic dispute that left her physically and emotionally scarred. I inevitably began to carry those scars. I carried them in the form of resentment and anger, impatience and aggression. I have carried them into the classroom and the workplace; I carry them in the form of feminism and motivation, empowerment and fear. I am not alone; an estimated 3.3 - 10 million children in the U.S. witness some form of domestic violence each year.
While studies suggest domestic abuse does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or income, women aged 20-24 are shown to be at the greatest risk for nonfatal IPV. The statistics, however, only capture a portion of the depth and breadth of the issue; many domestic incidents are never reported. Survivors cite a variety of reasons for non-reporting, including the belief IPV is a private matter, fear of retribution, the desire to protect the offender and/or lack of confidence in law enforcement. For black women in particular, who find themselves in abusive relationships with black men, an additional layer of intragroup consideration further prohibits relief and incites silence.
As I’ve previously explored, black men occupy a unique space in American history, often stereotyped, policed and then wrongfully convicted. And so, it becomes dangerous and almost counterintuitive for a member of the black community to serve up another black man to a corrupt and unjust system - even if they have been physically or mentally abusive, coercing you into sex, or knowingly raping your daughter, niece, cousin or aunt. The highly valued concept of loyalty and the ever-present patriarchy pervasive in black communities lend to a strong rape culture cultivated by secrecy and solidarity. Many black women find themselves victim to both man and conscience. When saving yourself means betraying your “brother”, black power is for black men; when you must choose between your safety and your racial allegiance, black power is for black men; when you are forced to silence by other black men (and women) who refuse to acknowledge the role of misogyny, sexism and patriarchy in the perpetuation of domestic and sexual abuse in the black community, black power is for black men. When you expect unadulterated allegiance to a movement that refuses to accept the unique plight of black women as a central impediment to a more perfect union, black power is for black men.
To move toward the eradication of systematic oppression, we must, as Michelle Alexander has eloquently stated, move outside of our lanes; it is imperative that black men unpack their privilege and begin to accept these truisms not as betrayal, personal attacks or attempts at emasculation, but as acts of self-love, as steps toward a more equal and peaceful reality. Men, you must realize that your marginalization as black does not preclude you from becoming perpetrators of institutional oppression. By silencing and further marginalizing black woman's struggle, you sustain the very system responsible for your own subjugation. We all, at some point, fall victim to entitlement and ignorance. But, as we are all products of our environments, socialization is no good excuse for abuse of power. Likewise, racial affiliation is no reason to stay silent, to turn your heads, to mind your business. IPV and sexual abuse are not trivial or private matters; they are pervasive public health concerns with serious, long-term and detrimental consequences. Your blind eyes will not set us free.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” - Dr. MLK, Jr.
My women, you are more than a statistic and you are much more than a racial category; do not betray yourself with silence. The role of martyr is an illusion to perpetuate inequality; secrecy will not set us free. It is your voice, indeed, that will serve as your greatest weapon. We must all step out and speak up, before it is too late. We must all hold the appropriate institutions accountable for seeing justice for those survivors brave enough to come forward. We must all seek to eliminate victim blaming by the very structures meant to protect and serve. We must, above all, learn to love ourselves fully - that will, in fact, set us free.
If you or someone you know is a victim of IPV and/or sexual abuse and seeking resources, please contact Safe Horizon or The Hotline.
Bea Hinton is an intersectional activist, law student and founder of The Filthy Freedom Project, an online community dedicated to promoting open dialogue around issues of sex, sexuality and body image, where she blogs about sex(uality), intersectionality and invisibility. You can tweet with her at @filthyfreedom.