I have been meaning to get some posts out (or even better, manage to get some posts from someone at the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion or another group) for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Here is the first, a reference to a troubling article over at Model Minority on domestic violence and black women.
It first addresses some of the disturbing statistics on rates of domestic violence, according to The Domestic Violence Institute and a Tufts University survey. I’ll just mention the ones brought up in the Model Minority article, but I hope you can take the time to look at the other information:
“Black women comprise 8% of the U.S. population but in 2005 accounted for 22% of the intimate partner homicide victims and 42% of all female victims of intimate partner homicide. African Americans account for a disproportionate number of intimate partner homicides. In 2005, African Americans accounted for almost 1/3 of the intimate partner homicides in this country.” (Domestic Violence Institute)
“Approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18. The number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. In a study of African-American sexual assault survivors, only 17% reported the assault to police.” (Tufts survey)
And this all in addition to the statistics I don’t have on hand for gender and racial pay disparity, AIDS epidemic, and other community afflictions we (those with the privilege not to think about it every day) tend to consign in our minds to the third world.
But the real message of the article was a question, phrased in response to some of 50 Cent’s comments that were picked up by the celebrity news cycle, in which he described the effect the pictures of a brutally beaten Rihanna had on him. The question of the article was basically, what is it going to take to make the mainstream of this nation take domestic violence in communities of color seriously? The author brought in the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, wondering what would happen if one of them was older, and a clear survivor of domestic partner abuse. How would we react then? Would it be sufficient to wake us up?
I’ve thought about the symbolism of the Obama family before, specifically with regards to the garden in their (White House) lawn, and my only input is that I hope Michelle Obama and Barack can both use their extremely positive images to respectfully raise awareness at this issue, in a way that I’m not sure a white male like me (and every preceding president) ever could. I don’t mean they ought to condemn anyone for their lack of responsibility, go in guns-a-blazing (not that I imagine them doing that anyway) to assign blame and deal with this as is our visceral reaction, with anger and vengeance. I hope that they can open a conversation that tragically, has not yet gone far beyond the activist agenda on the national stage, and it needs to be more widely addressed. I also hope that they can address, from their vantage point as black role models, both the broader issue of domestic violence and the specific issue of unacceptable levels of domestic violence towards women of color. I’ve got to pause right now and explicitly address my privilege as a white male, and acknowledge that I can not hope to truly understand the pain, anger, and desire for justice on the part of survivors adequately. I also can not hope to do justice to the complicated conversations that go on in people of color communities. I can empathize surely, but I speak from a comparatively distant voice, as one who has recognized violence towards people I know, but never been directly assaulted. That being said, my guess is that ending domestic violence will involve a huge array of strategies, including rehabilitation (not necessarily institutionally) of survivors and aggressors, education, and most importantly, honest conversation. It will also likely involve an honest assessment of the unfortunate realities on the ground on what the numbers suggest are disturbing trends.
Michelle Obama is an incredibly powerful symbol, as is Barack Obama, and I know they are both sensitive to the need to address this issue. I think their joint facilitation of this national conversation could take this out of the realm of a ‘women’s issue,’ and hopefully engage the very people that continue, in my estimation, to perpetuate this problem: scared, angry, hopeless, confused, problematic men of all races. I also hope they can take a holistic and sensitive approach toward addressing the root causes of domestic violence in communities of color specifically. I can’t state enough that I don’t mean to excuse domestic violence behavior, but I hope we can look at the problems with men and impoverished communities that bring this conflict to bear.
As with the previous post, I recognize this is a hugely sensitive issue, and I hope readers who disagree with me feel free to address my points however they feel necessary.
Peace, and take care of yourselves.