Domestic Violence: Swimming in Ignorance

Domestic Violence: Swimming in Ignorance


While talk of the 2010 BET Awards will surely grace the plastic coatings of many water coolers for weeks to come, there is easy doubt that pop culture dialogue will lead into any constructive policy discourse.  And should it?  It is Black Entertainment Television – placing italicized emphasis on “Entertainment” should grimly remind folks of the embattled network’s struggle to introduce serious news programming.  Some will argue that it’s a deliberate aversion, particularly since founders Bob Johnson and ex-wife Sheila Johnson sold the asset to media conglomerate Viacom in 2000 for $3 billion.  Viacom’s just not that interested in the public affairs angle.  An April Daily Beast interview with Sheila Johnson was fairly blunt in that assessment:

“Don’t even get me started,” says the 60-year-old Johnson, who has since divorced and remarried (charmingly enough, to the Virginia circuit court judge who presided over her divorce). “I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids [a twentysomething daughter and a college-age son] that they don’t watch it… I’m ashamed of it, if you want to know the truth.”

“When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television,” Johnson tells me. “We had public affairs programming. We had news… I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up… And then something started happening, and I didn’t like it at all.

Hence, there was little surprise when the controversial network decided to use convicted batterer Chris Brown as the central attraction for the show’s Michael Jackson Tribute.  Not enough Jackson’s legacy – albeit still larger than pop – was already stained by the circumstances surrounding his death and child molestation allegations in earlier years.  BET appears too pressed, and much of the popular Black entertainment world with it, to push the “Chris Brown Redemption Tour” narrative.  Why is that?

The only explanation is the fan base – or an audience both willing to purchase Brown’s albums and eager to indulge in tabloid chatter.  Plus, with the beating of ex-girlfriend and star songstress Rihanna still fresh in the minds of many, we’ve entered a bizarre realm where it’s socially acceptable and the center of comic relief to savagely pummel a woman’s face.

The point here really has nothing to do with Brown’s transgressions or his personal story, although that obviously plays deeply into the inner demons plaguing him for life.  And it really has nothing to do with whether or not he’s forgiven or if we’re witnessing sincere regret. It’s a real sense that many did not get it while trapped in the hype of forgiveness – blinded by our understandably natural instinct to distrust and resent mainstream media distortions of Black men.  But, in this particular instance, larger themes were missed, a tragic event relegated to an isolated TMZ moment.  It’s a disturbing reflection of the larger community’s lack of compassion for domestic violence victims and a failure to consider just how serious the problem is for many Black women.

The Institute for Domestic Violence in the African American Community presents very sobering and alarming figures on the amount of violence inflicted on our sisters, mothers, wives and daughters:

African American women experience intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than their White counterparts and 2.5 times the rate of men and other races. African Americans account for a disproportionate number of intimate partner homicides. In 2005, African Americans accounted for almost 1/3 of the intimate partner homicides in this country. Domestic violence affects all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. However, this threat has disproportionately dire consequences for African American women.

It is, sadly, repeated on the broken bones, bruises and ruined lives of thousands of women who, unlike celebrities with near unlimited resources, are faced with few options while chased by abusive men. Adding insult to injury is the insensitivity of a court system bent on hustling cases through an overloaded docket rather than assessing each one in a manner consistent with law, civility and human rights. The national silence on this issue is deafening despite the fact that one in every three women can expect physical abuse from a male partner.

As deafening is the lack of Black political and public policy response when we consider the impact of domestic violence in the African American community. Femicide, most times perpetrated by intimate male partners, is the leading cause of premature death among Black women between the ages of 15 and 44 with near fatal femicide contributing to long term injuries and conditions. Brown’s performance is celebrated as talented comeback with little to no focus on the prevalence of abuse in Black homes and how both police and courts routinely succumb to institutional racism, chauvinistic tradition, batterer manipulation and outright incompetence.

The selection and subsequent celebration of Brown for that moment presents a tremendous setback for victims.  Watching the abuser adulated by adoring fans offers batterers a symbolic victory to continue their violence with little remorse and abundant tolerance from the larger community (“If fam can get away with it and get cheered on a national stage, what’s stopping me?”).  And it sends a message to our youth that the consequences, if any, are mild. No wonder elected officials possess little courage to address it.  The public, in essence, appears to endorse it.  With this issue, many seem to delightfully revel in their ignorance of it – as was the case on Sunday night.


  1. You've really missed the mark with this article. No one dismisses Chris Brown's abuse of Rihanna. No one thinks it is socially acceptable. One would have to first believe the premise that Chris being allowed to heal and recover is supporting abuse. Or that it means he got away with it. And I do not. Why must a one-time offender of a heinous act be the face of domestic violence? I don't see the CBS audience being taken to task for supporting Charlie Sheen the way you talking heads are making it seem as if this is only a problem with the black community. I really think your line of thinking needs some context.

    • Truly appreciate the feedback and handle, nope. However, quite a bit of context was provided, although not within the flawed mark you've set. Perhaps you either conveniently dismissed the sobering figures outlined toward the end of the piece or failed to read any further beyond the BET assessment.

      No one is asserting any collective dismissal of Brown's abuse of Rihanna. That's clear. Yet, speaking of context – of which plenty was offered above – we've miserably failed in using the incident as an opportunity to speak to larger issues. Certainly, domestic violence is not an issue confined to African Americans – but, since this particular debate is taking place within the pages of a Black publication focused on issues pertaining to the Black community, it's only appropriate that we discuss the disproportionate impact of the problem on Black women.

      We have every right to condemn media for its application of cultural double standard and stereotype when it relates to Black people, especially Black men. But, 400 years of oppression doesn't make us saints, either; we're human beings, too, and to suggest that members of our community can be absolved of certain crimes is a bit absurd. Sure, many Black men are wrongfully accused and incarcerated for a number of reasons; but, there are cases – such as Brown's – where racist institutions or White men (including Sheen) have little to do with his choice to fall off that cliff. While your point about Charlie Sheen is solid, it also supports the point made earlier that there is, unfortunately, a strain of social tolerance for batterers. If there was not, neither Brown or Sheen would be as celebrated as they are.

      No: domestic violence is not primarily a Black problem. But, it is particularly problematic for Black women as we can see, among a broad array of social, economic and political problems which continue to plague us as Black people. As far as the context you seek, it becomes quite a Black problem when the high rate of domestic violence exacerbates the host of ills we deal with. Our general lack of response to the problem is a bit chilling – it's very similar to yours. It's like other epidemics, such as the amount of time it took for Black communities, and the Black church in particular, to finally come around on the impact of HIV/AIDS in the community. When we did, it was too late.

      It is as if it is acceptable and can, simply, go away with legal slaps on the wrist or is of no consequence to those who are not victims. "It's not my problem," claims the nosy neighbor peeking across the street. There is total ignorance of the folks who struggle to secure legal relief from equally uncaring court systems or find little relief while standing bloody before indifferent police. Or, ignorance of the children who are placed in the custody of proven batterers who can access resources their victims can't.

      That's a level of callous ignorance I'd prefer not to swim in.

  2. I think the real argument lies within the content of the media. Yes, domestic vilolence is a serious aversion to all women and a heart felt reality for me. However the public must understand that Chris Brown and Rhianna are celebrities, there everday lives are the subject of gossip tabloids. The public cannnot follow media hype and come to their own conclusion. That being said, I'm not condoning the senseless actions of Chris Brown, nor deing that rhianna was badly beaten .

    Lately, I've been observing the media bad press towards black males. The unethical punishment of Micheal Vick, the insignificant news coverage of Tiger Woods' extra marital affairs and the scrutinizing of our president. It seems as though the media is on a quest to destroy the image of black men.

    As the media tells me, all entertainers can be forgiven. My question is why not black celebrities? Reportadly, Charlie Sheen assulted his wife with a butchers Knife,yet his lime light illuminates. Star of the television series Gossip girl Chase Crawford, was found with the possesion of marijuana and no bad press of Chris Brown's proportion.

    I also hold a colossal sized of anger at BET, a channel that have'nt done much for the black folk except buy into corporate America's false ethics of what entertains black people. The network could have shed a positive light on a gloomy situation and educated misinformed black youth on the dangers of violence in relationships. Sadly, that gave many young black viewers booty shakin and senseless ranting of rappers.

    Applauding Brown's performance at the BET awards does not mean that the public ignores abuse. But rather love a comback story.

    Can Chris Brown be forgiven in a country that suppresse young black males?

    I love a this post and a great debate. please follow my blog or read &comment