The Intersection of Racism and Domestic Violence
By: Meghan Mausteller
Shortly after the November election, Madison Amelia, a 25 year-old woman from Rhode Island, captured a video of her then-boyfriend’s abusive, racist and pro-Trump tirade.
The nearly two-minute video (this link leads to the video and can be triggering) was published by the Brown Girl Squad FaceBook page and has since gone viral.
In the video, the boyfriend uses highly inflammatory, racist language as he insists Trump should send black people to various African nations.
He states, “F–k your black a–. Get the f–k out. Get out of my country. You’re causing the f—–g problem. Bye.”
When Amelia points out the racism in his statements, her boyfriend says, “Then don’t be a dumb f—–g n—-r.”
He ends his rant with, “I’ll sound like a racist all I f—–g want. I’m right.”
In their post, Brown Girl Squad revealed that Amelia’s relationship was both physically and emotionally abusive.
The content of this video brings up the greater issue of racism and how it affects black victims of domestic violence. According to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community (IDVAAC), on average, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; for black women, this statistic is closer to one in three. Black people also make up 22 percent of intimate partner homicides in the United States, despite being Black women being only 8 percent of the population.
While there is little to no research on the statistics of abuse in interracial relationships, racism plays a systematic and institutional role in how black women are forced to deal with domestic violence.
One reason for this increased statistic is the role of poverty in domestic violence, which affects 25.8 percent of black people in the U.S., a percentage drastically higher than the 13.5 percent poverty rate of white people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Across all races, the chances of abuse occurring goes up as one’s income decreases. Often times, men who prescribe to traditional gender roles feel that it is part of their “job” as a man to financially provide for their household. Sometimes this can be a driving factor in a man’s abusive personality; he feels emasculated and instead of properly dealing with it, he uses abuse to feel “like a man.”
According to IDVAAC, domestic violence occurs more frequently in black households “among couples with low incomes, those in which the male partner is underemployed or unemployed, particularly when he is not seeking work, and among couples residing in very poor neighborhoods, regardless of the couple’s income.”
Living in low-income communities also means that there are fewer community resources available for victims of domestic violence.
Negative stereotypes about black women can play a strong role in preventing them from seeking help from an abusive relationship.
According to the Women of Color Network, the “strong black woman” stereotype that paints black women as “domineering figures that require control” can make them vulnerable to abuse by discouraging them from seeking help both from their family and friends and social service programs or the police.
This stereotype, combined with the construction of many black communities, also paints black women as a protective, religious figure.
“Some women may feel because of their religious beliefs they must impart forgiveness for their abusers’ behavior and endure the abuse due to religious obligations under Christian doctrine,” according to the Women of Color Network.
Her role as this strong, forgiving mother also causes women to feel that, despite the abuse, it is still her role to protect her partner.
The tight-knit communities also cause women who report abuse to be looked down on by their friends for making their personal problems a public issue.
On the other hand, according to Lynda Marie Jordan in her article Domestic Violence in the African American Community, women who do report abuse are often painted by the criminal justice system and their local communities as “loose” women who asked for the abuse.
Criminal Justice System
Black women often face a reluctance to report their abuse because it could mean involving law enforcement and the criminal justice system. According to the Women of Color Network, the current and historic presence of racism within the criminal justice system means that women reporting abuse often fear they will be placing their partner at risk of police brutality and negative stereotyping.
According to Feminista Jones, a mental health social worker, activist and feminist writer, in an opinion article she wrote for TIME, black women also fear that police will not respond properly to the situation and will, instead, harm them instead of giving them the help they require.
This Black History Month, it is important to remember both black figures of the past and reflect on the ongoing struggles of the black community today. Domestic violence is an issue that affects people regardless of gender, sexuality or race; however, our intersectionality causes us to experience domestic violence differently based on these characteristics. Amelia’s video has helped give voice to a silenced group of domestic violence victims and will hopefully help us understand how race plays into the additional oppression of black women.
In the words of Brown Girl Squad, “No matter who you date, it’s critical that your partner doesn’t have values that directly oppose your existence.”