There is an epidemic in the African-American community that extends into our homes, relationships and throughout our religious institutions. That illness is the apathy towards abuse against our women and children by grown men who assert their physical power to physically and psychologically assault them.
This illness, in high definition in the recent case of Pastor Creflo A. Dollar, ranges from Stage 1, which is blind tolerance, all the way to the aggressive Stage 4, which is conscious support. What becomes evident upon close examination is that many of us have taken three things from the Antebellum South and Civil Rights eras: The word “nigga,” Jesus, and the acceptance of physical abuse as a way of corrective punishment.
Let’s be clear: This is not an attack on the church at-large. To make such a narrow indictment would do the topic of ingrained abuse a grave injustice. This goes deeper even than patriarchy. Because though that ugly word lies at the root of domestic violence around the globe and pre-dates this nation by hundreds of years, what we’re talking about is the fatal cocktail of gender, race and class that leaves black women disproportionately curled up into self-defensive balls in dark corners, and as Creflo’s 15-year-old stated in the 911 call, “scared” and not knowing “what to do.”
Why? Because we don’t listen to them.
When R. Kelly “allegedly” had sex with and “allegedly” urinated on a minor girl in a video, people — specifically and most horrifically some black women who “love them some R-ruh” – swarmed to his defense. It wasn’t because they don’t believe he did it; but rather, because he makes music they love and “little girls these days are just so fast.” “She knew what she was doing,” they cried, and her parents, who were obviously “out to make a buck,” knew as well. As the public judges and jurors cast stones at the little girl, Kelly retained a female fan base that, to this day, has never stopped supporting him.
Then we have Chris Brown. He’s young, arguably attractive and wealthy — and the ladies love him. So when he viciously battered then-girlfriend Rihanna to the point that her face was barely recognizable, some black women turned cartwheels in his defense. “She must have done something,” they accused, “why else would he get so upset?” “Clearly they just have that type of relationship,” others argued, “he hits her, she hits him; it’s just young love.”
And in the Dollar case, the teenage girl obviously did something to warrant being slapped, choked and tackled to the ground, right? If not, no upstanding man of God would dare do something so unChrist-like.
Never once did it occur to these women that maybe the men in these cases were at fault. It didn’t seem to dawn on their automatic supporter that maybe it’s not acceptable for men to use their body mass and historical and societal positions of authority to control women. Because of this undeniable psycho-social phenomenon, just maybe, it’s time that we delved into the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome that are evident in the words of women who can, with a straight face, excuse domestic abuse and sexual assault.
What we’re tackling here is kyriarchy. In a country that has historically emasculated black men in the collective sense, through disproportionate sentencing, profiling, and lack of education and occupational opportunities, some black men feel the need to assert their authority against the only people that they feel they can – their women and children.
It’s their way of asking, “Ain’t I a man?” “Do I have the right to control anything or anyone?” “In this nation of white privilege, if my woman or child ‘disrespects’ me, don’t I have permission to physically show them who’s the boss?”
The answer is a resounding no.
Everyone, male, female and child, deserves the right to autonomy over their bodies and there is never any justification for physical abuse.
In a study titled African American Women and Violence: Gender, Race, and Class in the News, Marian Meyers gathers powerful data that proves silence and deflection in our community over issues of domestic violence are nothing new, writing:
A number of Black feminists have criticized the tendency within their communities to silence female victims of male violence while rallying around the men who abused them (hooks, 1981; Lorde, 1992; Richie, 1985; Smith, 1992). Lorde (1992) notes that the need for racial unity has made Black women ‘particularly vulnerable to the false accusation that anti-sexist is anti-Black’ (p. 500).
Study upon study upon study has shown that women of color are disproportionately affected by abuse; yet some women still automatically deflect blame away from the male abuser directly to the female victim. Why? Because it empowers them to blame the victim and they have accepted that abusive men – and the system that allows them to flourish — will never change.
It is a proven fact that the first love of many young girls’ lives is their fathers and that if they witness their mothers being abused – or they themselves are abused – by his hands, they are more likely to enter into toxic relationships that mimic the “love” they’ve grown up experiencing. If we don’t speak up, there will be scores of women silently taking vicious blows for fear that society will not believe them – or much worse, that society will shame them. And if that be the case, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the inevitable multi-generational damage that is bound to continue.
Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.