WASHINGTON, September 16, 2014 —Ray Rice recently made the news for punching his now-wife so hard that he knocked her out in an elevator. Tears raced to my face and I couldn’t watch the footage consistently.
As a trans child in a family of strong willed women who also have a history of being abused by their husbands, images of this abuse triggered a reaction. I myself suffered physical abuse from a man in my family who should have been my protector.
These experiences explain my personal reasons for speaking out against domestic violence and, in general, violence against women.
When the news broke about Ray Rice allegedly punching out Janay, social media became flooded with both men and women championing the need for our community, our government and our world to once again listen to how systems, indoctrinated into nearly every aspect of our existence, work toward the disempowering of our young girls; Social media also became abuzz with men and women who blamed the victim for, as they said, “provoking him.”
Just a month before, black women stood in solidarity with black men against the murdering of our young black boys by police.
Around the seventies, Mother Abbey Lincoln, an accomplished singer, and civil rights activist wrote a scathing piece in which she spoke out against what was seen as black men’s verbal decrying of black women. She deals beautifully in that article with the intersections of oppression that women, and in particular black women, must face.
Some men exclaimed how they hated The Color Purple, saying that it demonized black men. We still have articles and interviews by black men proclaiming that they do not date black women because, as one co-host of a famous talk show said “women must learn not to provoke men”.
Making excuses for people like Ray Rice is an act of not only misogyny, but an expression of internalized racial shame, and racism.
I do not pretend that the age before black people were stolen from Africa and brought to America to work as slaves for white Americans was a Utopia. However, I do understand that the act of colonization and slavery created a visible divide between black women and black men.
I know that black wives, mothers, sisters and daughters had to stand by and watch their men beaten, raped and murdered. I understand that black women in turn had to stare into the eyes of their black husbands, brothers, and sons while they themselves, were beaten, raped and murdered.
I understand that black people had to live in a world that called them cattle. I understand that black mothers feared their sons would be taken away and would hold them tightly and pacify them, because they understood the world was soon going to make every attempt to beat the dignity out of them.
I understand that black mothers in turn had to shame their daughters into staying as childlike as possible because the minute they were seen as women by slave masters, they would be raped, sold and forced into breeding more black babies to be utilized as slaves for white masters (some of which were the children of said slave masters).
I understand that colonization told black men they were nothing. In turn, some black men now feeling disempowered and must scramble for ways to feel powerful. I understand that black women, holding deep compassion not only for black men but for men in general, starting from the time black women suckled not only their own children at their breast but white children who would soon become slave owners, continue to stand in solidarity with our husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers.
I also understand that there are exceptions to all of these instances but I know black division is a creation and a systemic copping mechanism given to black people by colonization.
We cannot discuss domestic violence without discussing the systems of oppression put into place by colonization, patriarchy and male privilege. We cannot discuss domestic abuse without looking at the ways in which women, even in America, are still undeserved by nearly every system sanctioned by the government, including our education system.
We cannot look at domestic violence without looking at the history of race relations in this country.
We cannot look at domestic violence without examining very real and true cases of women who are behind bars because they have defended themselves against their abusive spouses.
My point is this: To whom much is given much is required. If a man like Ray Rice with his upper body strength has the power to knock out his wife, he does not hit her unless she literally is going to kill him. There are ways to restrain someone without knocking them out.
People will sit and say ‘women have to learn,’ but I do not see these same people also speaking out against dismantling systems of oppression that continue to serve only/primarily men.
I do not see these same people speaking out about women learning how to love themselves enough not to tolerate a man hitting them.
I do not see these same people saying that black women in particular have a history of being victims of domestic violence because of collective trauma, systematic oppression and male privilege.
I do not see these same people empowering women.
Instead, I see them making excuses for people like Ray Rice who is empowered not only because he is a man, and a very wealthy man, but also by the strength in his upper arms.
We cannot discuss domestic violence without also discussing that this country is more interested in shaming our young girls than empowering them.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of violence for most of my childhood by someone who was bigger and psychically stronger than me, I cannot express my sorrow when I hear that men – and particularly black me – do not stand in solidarity against domestic violence and violence against women.
Some of these men, who in fact claim to champion blackness, refuse to understand the ways in which co-signing on violence against black women is not just an act of misogyny but also an act of racism.
I say to my black men: Refuse to be the slave master’s whip; stop doing the work of colonist. Me and my sisters will march for you, we will fight for you, we will love you with an undying loyalty found in the secret script of our DNA but we refuse to be your punching bags, whipping post, and scapegoats.
We refuse to allow the victimizing of our spirits, bodies and minds to be the ways in which you coop with your personal and collective trauma.