Saturday, March 14, 2009
A few years ago, I wrote a series on domestic violence in the African-American community. After the second story in the series was published, a young woman came to the newspaper office and asked my editor, who wasn't thrilled about the subject, if she chould talk to me. She told me a story of being stalked and threatened by her ex-husband and that she feared her life was in danger. Althought she worked in the legal profession, she knew there was little that could protect her, including the restraining order she'd take out against her ex. Well, she became the fourth and final installment in my series. However, her husband convinced my editor to publish his side of the story, which seemed to justify his mistreatment of his ex-wife and give a lot of excuses for his behavior. Unfortunately, that's how the series ended and it received almost no response from readers except for the estranged couples who did the unthinkable and aired their dirty laundry in the pages of a newspaper. Domestic violence has always been one of those subjects people don't want to talk about, but that there's plenty of gossip about; for example, it's well known that a local public official beats his wife and the police are frequently called out to his house by the battered woman, yet there has been no 'expose' in our local daily which has the distinction of uncovering the whole Tome Noe scandal. In the African-American, a now deceased Baptist minister regularly beat his wife and everyone knew it. But, although it was talked about in hushed tones during during church services and gossiped about in beauty shops, nothing was ever done to help the minister's poor wife. Many people believe women who remain in relationships where they're abused "must like it." However, it's very complicated for women who are often dependent on a husband or partner for economic support, especially when they have children. I used to have an office at the local YWCA where there is a battered women's shelter. Women who come to shelters like the one at the Y have to summon up all of their courage to do so. I once witnessed a woman being dragged across a street from my office window and later found out they were both police officers and she'd come to the shelter to get away from her abusive husband. When he found out where she was, he came to get her. This African-American couple is so typical of those who live (and sometimes die, either the husband killing the wife eventually or the wife killing the husband in self-defense) with this horrible secret. I've heard that police officers are often guilty of domestic violence, which may explain the cover up that's going on in my city that prevents anyone form doing anything about the public official who regularly beats his wife. He's not the only one: his predecessor once beat his ex-wife when she came to his office when he headed a local agency and she had to be carried out on a stretcher; the employees at the office were told not to talk about the incident. Why do men beat women and why do women continue to remain in relationships where they are battered? And why do women like Rihanna go back to a man who's abused them? Is there a culture of violence that breeds this kind of abuse and the acceptance of it? In the case of Chris Brown, I believe that he is not only a product of having seen his own mother suffer abuse from a batterer, but also of the hiphop culture that objectifies women and supports the "gangsta" image of young African-American men. I'd hoped that having a black President with a self-assured wife would have a positive effect on African-American couples. But that's like saying "The Cosby Show" should have resulted in more African-Americans getting married and staying married and having happy families. One's peer culture has a much stronger influence on one than does any iconic image, no matter how positive. Now that a celebrity couple are embroiled in domestic violence, perhaps more attention will be paid to this issue and more will be done about trying to find solutions to a problem that often results in the deaths of one or more of the people affected. I sure hope so.