Black Women Deserve the Right to be Free from Violence
By Alicia Nichols, LSW and Christina Jones, Esq.
“No man will ever hit me. You just can’t hit a Black woman. We won’t stand for that.”
As a twenty-something domestic violence advocate, these words stunned me. I was facilitating an exercise for a group of professionals to shed light on how women experience domestic violence when that statement was said by an older Black woman who I worked with for years.
I could not correct her because doing so would require that I disclose my personal relationship with trauma and abuse. The image I had of myself as a strong Black woman began to crack. If I had become a victim of violence, if I had let someone physically and sexually harm me, maybe I was not the strong Black woman I had thought I was.
But I was not alone. Black women and girls experience disproportionate rates of violence. In 2020, every day in the United States, four Black women and girls were murdered by their husband, boyfriend, father, or another man they knew. In 2019, Black women accounted for 14 percent of the female population in the United States, while 28 percent of the females killed by males in single victim/single offender incidents where the race of the victim was known were Black. Firearms were the weapon most commonly used by males to murder Black women in 2019.
The systemic racism that permeates the criminal justice system is a barrier that prevents Black women from reporting incidents of violence. Dr. Beth Richie has termed this “the trap of loyalty.” We do not want our men and boys and LGBTQ+ loved ones to be subjected to possible state violence. Black women do this at the expense of our own lives. And if our partners are of another race or ethnicity, it is the constant fear of being minimized due to our Blackness.
Black women deserve the right to be free from violence and harm.
Black women also deserve the right to be vulnerable. Too often we take pride in our resilience neglecting the beauty in being transparent. To say we are too strong to be victims creates the perception that only weak people experience domestic violence. That sentiment is completely false and can stop survivors from disclosing violence out of fear of not being “strong enough.”
Black women deserve specific concrete solutions that can contribute to the decrease in incidents of gender-based violence. Below we discuss five actions we would like to see come to fruition.
First, we need more funding to go into research around firearm violence and Black women in order to understand what the strategies and solutions are. This research can also shed light on the root causes of violence to focus prevention work.
Second, we need to address the stigma in the Black community around mental health services and make them more accessible to Black people. Also, we know that not everyone can afford proper mental health treatment. The Black community has a long, storied relationship with the faith community. Pastors, Priests and Imams are often the first people Black people can turn to in crisis. We need to train the faith community about the impact of domestic violence and specifically the danger around domestic violence and firearms.
Third, we need to recruit, hire and train more Black advocates for gender-based violence work. We know that the field consists of mainly white women. The culturally specific response was tailored to the needs of white women. Therefore, the services that are provided leave Black women at risk of intimate partner violence because our needs are different. By hiring Black advocates and by partnering with culturally specific domestic violence organizations, we can make sure that Black women’s experiences inform the work of the advocates.
Fourth, we need to stop stereotyping that only low-income Black women need domestic violence advocacy. The Black community consist of women from all socioeconomic status. If your advocacy only assumes that Black women are low-income, you are neglecting the needs of middle- and upper-class Black women who also experience gender-based violence.
Fifth, we need to engage Black men and boys in efforts to interrupt and prevent domestic violence because it is not a “women’s issue.” Domestic violence impacts all of us. Black men and boys can be a part of the solution by helping change social norms and attitudes that support perpetrating violence against Black women and girls. Engaging Black men and boys in dialogue about domestic violence is also an opportunity to break down stereotypes that Black men and boys are more violent than men of other races.
These actions are not an exhaustive list but can be a start in decreasing gender-based violence in the Black community. The Battered Women’s Justice Project recently released a podcast about Black women and firearms that is a great resource for insights into what Black advocates are seeing in communities. We need to remind Black women that it is safe to disclose when we are being harmed. The myth of the strong Black woman has done enough damage in causing us to hide what is happening to us. Let us end these harmful stereotypes and support each other in the journey to end gender-based violence in the Black community.
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