On Ray Rice and Why We Must Acknowledge Intimate Partner Violence in Our Communities

By Rev. Dominique C. Atchison

I grew up hearing stories about the generational domestic violence that seemed to be ever-present in my mother’s family. As witness to that violence, my mother would always say, “I hate the way that the word ‘domestic’ gets put in front of the word ‘violence’. As if somehow it’s nicer because it’s domestic.” I never quite understood what she meant when I was child. But as I came into adulthood, I began to see what she is talking about. There is an assumption in our culture that if you are assaulted by someone with whom you share intimacy, it is somehow different or less problematic than if you were assaulted by someone you didn’t know.

If a random man walks up on a random woman on the street knocks her unconscious we all know that the man in the scenario is likely to be subject to immediate arrest and prosecution. And there will be very few people who will be shocked or mad if that man is punished for his actions. There are very few who would stand in defense of that random man, and say, “They’re just trying to take down another black man.”

Yet if the same thing happens but in this case the woman happens to be sharing an intimate connection with the man who violates her, for some reason the same people will began to see the scenario very differently. We don’t realize it but there is a real double standard. And that double standard is creating a problematic paradigm which says that if a man is sexually, romantically, legally or spiritually bound to that woman, the wellness and safety of that woman’s body becomes less of a priority.

I did not watch the video released by TMZ showing Ray Rice hitting his then fiancée and knocking her unconscious. I refuse to watch that and all other forms of violence against black women’s bodies being pushed as entertainment. I have read a description of what happened. And I would hope that if I sat and watched a woman, human-being, a child of God being knocked unconscious that my first reaction would not be, “what did she do to deserve that?” Or “you know she did slap him.” Or “you know how black women are, always running off at the mouth.”

I would hope that my reaction would be more visceral and compassionate. I would hope that I would see that her slap did not match up to his punch. I hope that I would see that there is a problem when physical violence is the only answer we think we have when it comes to disagreements with our partners. I would hope that I would ask, why is violent misogyny so commonplace in our culture? Why are black men so angry at black women and vice versa? What wrong messages did we learn about intimacy from our enslaved and oppressed ancestors? And what wrong messages are we teaching our children? How can we stop this from ever happening again?

Yet because it wasn’t a random man hitting a random woman, because it wasn’t a white cop or a half white, half Mexican man shooting a black boy, we get lost in these silly conversations. And we lose yet another opportunity to ask the questions and explore the answers. We miss another opportunity to brake the cycles of violence.

Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Rev. Dominique Chantell Atchison is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. @purplerevd

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