Apr 09, 2018 By Amanda Kippert Domesticshelters.org
When someone decides to threaten, stalk, harass or abuse his or her partner, what might that victim do? The answer seems obvious to many of us: Tell someone. Tell a family member, a good friend, a domestic violence advocate or police—someone who can help you.
Except, not everyone feels that way. Some contend that Black women specifically are more reluctant to disclose domestic violence than other ethnicities for several different reasons, one of which is entrenched in Black culture.
The ‘Strong Black Woman’ Stereotype
Domestic violence has been shown to affect the Black community disproportionally—Black women experience domestic violence at rates 30 to 50 percent higher than White women. Several things could be blamed for this—studies show domestic violence is more prevalent among those living with financial insecurity, and twice as many Black men are unemployed as White men. It could also have something to do with a response to cultural taboos.
“Women of all races and ethnicities who have endured domestic violence have to make the choice at some point to stay or leave their abusers. For Black women, the first response is often to not report, not tell anyone. We want to protect our men. It’s not easy to turn them over to the police, the courts and other institutions that have been historically racist and brutal to them,” says Zoë Flowers, an advocate has spent 17 years in the field of domestic violence. She is the program manager at Women of Color Network and the author of From Ashes to Angel Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood, a book of candid interviews with women who have survived violence.
In a TIME opinion piece, Feminista Jones argues Black Americans are “more likely to rely on religious guidance and faith-based practices when working through relationship issues,” and that religious beliefs discourage divorce and encourage forgiveness.
“In many cases, we don’t ask for help because we have internalized this idea that we need to be strong,” says Flowers. “This idea of strong Black women is rewarded and is something that can even be a source of resilience. But, it can also leave us feeling like we have no one to turn to.”
Flowers says internalized stereotypes about the appropriate response to violence can also result in Black women feeling like they have to fight back against an abuser, something that doesn’t often bode well when Black survivors then seek help from shelters, law enforcement and the courts.
“When we do stand up for ourselves, we are labeled an ‘angry Black woman.’ I know of several African American women who fought back and were punished professionally and personally because they were not seen as good victims. The constant labeling and invisiblizing, often at the same time, impacts our safety-seeking and our ability to obtain justice.”
Such was the case for Marissa Alexander, a Black survivor of abuse who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting a bullet into the wall next to where her abuser stood, moments after he tried to strangle her to death.