Monday, February 23, 2009

What the Black Community Can Learn From A Tragic and Senseless Death



I am still in shock about the death of a former student, Tiana Notice. Only 25, Tiana was a bright, talented, articulate, and highly motivated student who was making a difference in the world.

Tiana had done a lot in her short time with us. She earned a bachelor’s degree in politics and government in 2007, and was pursuing a master’s degree in the School of Communication. While pursing her bachelor’s degree, she almost singlehandedly founded the University of Hartford chapter of the Roosevelt Institution, a national network of student think-tanks that conduct policy research on pressing issues.

Tiana was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, James Carter II.

Tiana did what was expected of victims of intimate partner violence (IPV); she got a restraining order. However, that did not stop her ex-boyfriend from stalking and harassing her and finally on Valentine’s Day, stabbing her to death.

When I first heard about her death, I wondered how someone with the smarts and abilities of Tiana could end up in an abusive relationship that would eventually lead to her death. Her passing has made me think and read a lot about the problem of domestic violence.

Domestic violence in black communities, I found, is far worse than I ever imagined.

(While all that I write below may not apply to Tiana’s specific situation, my hope is that the analysis I provide will move my readers to try to do more about the problem of domestic violence.)

Although intimate partner homicides among blacks have declined sharply in the last 30 years, according to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community (IDVAAC) at the University of Minnesota, homicide by domestic partners is the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 15 and 45.

The data on domestic violence in the black community should be more widely known. Blacks are disproportionately represented among perpetrators and victims of domestic violence. An IDVAAC factsheet presents some very disturbing trends on domestic violence, especially intimate partner violence:

  • In a nationally representative survey conducted in 1996, 29% of black women and 12% of black men reported at least one instance of violence from an intimate partner.
  • Blacks account for a disproportionate number of intimate partner homicides. In 2005, blacks accounted for almost 1/3 of the intimate partner homicides in this country.
  • Black women comprise 8% of the U.S. population but in 2005 accounted for 22% of the intimate partner homicide victims and 42% of all female victims of intimate partner homicide.
  • Black women experience intimate partner violence at rates 35% higher than their white counterparts and 2.5 times the rate of men and other races.

Addressing these problems writes the editors of a special issue on domestic violence in the black community in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma (Vol. 16(3) #49, 2008), will require “efforts that seek to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural and situational context in which domestic violence occurs among African Americans.”

Domestic violence among blacks is strongly associated with such factors as concentrated poverty and high levels of unemployment. Specifically, intimate partner violence occurs more frequently in families with very low incomes, those in which the male partner is unemployed and not looking for work, and among couples that live in neighborhoods in which a majority of the residents are poor, regardless of the couple’s income.

Further complicating the situation is the problem of patriarchy. In the United States, the use of violence as a legitimate way to dominate and control is a part of patriarchal manhood.

What is the connection between domestic violence in the black community, assertions of patriarchal masculinity, and social and economic context?

The shift from a manufacturing to a technological and service-based society has left many black men behind, at great risk of becoming marginalized and obsolete. In this context, oppressive structures, practices, and conditions are creating stresses and pressures that lead to frustrations and ultimately patriarchal violence as a way to adopt to this frustration.

Social and cultural critic, bell hooks, succinctly captures this point in her book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity: “If black males are socialized from birth to embrace the notion that their manhood will be determined by whether or not they can dominate and control others and yet the political system they live within (imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy) prevents most of them from having access to socially acceptable positions of power and dominance, then they will claim their patriarchal manhood, through socially unacceptable channels.”

None of this, of course, should be interpreted as an excuse for black men who batter and/or murder their partners. Pointing out the connections between domestic violence and social and economic disadvantages does not excuse the abuser. There are plenty of black men living in impoverished communities who do not become abusers.

Without a doubt, James Carter II should go to jail for this horrible and senseless crime.

And, men, particularly black men, must accept responsibility for their own actions.

At the same time, there needs to be a holistic approach to combat the problem of domestic violence in the black community. In addition to personal agency on the part of black men, there must be initiatives (designed by churches and other indigenous institutions) in the black community designed to help black men resist patriarchal violence. Also, we must all do more to speak out against domestic violence. And last, to break the cycle of violence, more must be done to break up concentrated poverty, create sustainable employment, and guarantee access to high quality education.

5 comments:

Sky said...

Wow, another great post. I am extremely respectful of your ability to navigate the rocky terrain where personal responsibility intersects with social responsibility.

The inability of many liberals to see the social context to issues such as these (issues that aren't very palatable such as abuse and drug dealing) is one of their main faults. Luckily we have someone such as yourself that can carefully and respectfully point out the facts and make sure that America doesn't get off the hook for its culpability in all of this.

My friend (a UHart grad) was good friends with this woman and her murder is truly a tragedy. This cowardly act won't earn the aggressor any respect in prison and he may actually become targeted himself. Once I find out where he's going I'll contact my friends inside and find out his status.

Steve Salerno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Salerno said...

Bilal, I'd like to open up a dialog here. I guess the best way to do so is to point you towards my blog, www.shamblog.com, and to ask you--if you're so inclined and have the time--to simply look up my posts on race and racism.

To distill this to a topic sentence (that undoubtedly will strike you as being written from a Euro-centric perspective), I don't understand why we need race. (For one thing, it does not appear to be a biological fact. It's a social construct. I have relatives who are darker than is Barack, and we are, technically, white.) And I don't understand how people who continue to argue for the relevance of race fail to see that they're actually working at cross purposes with Dr. King's vision of a time when people are judged "by the content of their character, not the color of their skin." From my point of view, you don't reach that "promised land" by continually harping on skin color. But anyway, before I wind up writing an essay in its own right, I would simply ask you to look me up, again, if you're so inclined. Some of what you read may, on its surface, infuriate you. However, I hope you will give me credit--if for nothing else--for sincerity. As I've said several times on my own blog, my dad (who faced persecution in his own life) tried to bring me up to be a "proud Italian." It occurred to me very early on that if I wanted to self-identify as Italian, it not only meant taking the credit for the likes of Da Vinci and Dimaggio, but also taking the blame for Capone and Gotti. I decided I'd rather just be me. One individual with no heritage.

Anyway, see what you think.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. If you do choose to read my thoughts on race, please start with the earlier posts first. In later posts, I gave in to the "more pragmatic" inclinations of my audience, who refuse to view the world through a non-racial/post-racial lens. Funny how hard we'll fight to preserve what makes us unhappy.

SK said...

Steve Salerno’s request is totally bogus. While it does not infuriate me it does strike me as very unoriginal. White liberals, and white people in general, have been telling the ‘minorities’ to look past race for how many generations?! So how does Salerno differ from all of those in the past who have told us that discussing race is foolish, old, a dead issue? He doesn’t. He raises the same dead arguments from their graves and attempts to parade them around as his own original ideas.

Salerno tells us that by continuing to argue about the relevance of race we are working against Brother Martin’s dreams!! Maybe Salerno needs to go back and study Brother Martin a little more. Would Brother Martin really be mad at us for continuing to discuss race when statistics barrage us everyday that show how minorities are incarcerated at vastly higher rates than whites? That unemployment is vastly higher for minorities? That the average wealth of minorities is much lower? I don’t want to venture too far, but I would be willing to bet Salerno doesn’t have any friends rotting away inside prison dungeons like I do. He doesn’t want to face the reality of what’s going on, when 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated with disproportionate numbers of minorities.

Salerno doesn’t want to hear about about it, he’d rather tell us that we are the fools, who are working against our own cause by continuing to talk about race! But although I am a Marxist who believes the class struggle is the preeminent struggle to fight, I would never discount the importance of race because race and class are so tightly intertwined in America.

While Steve could CHOOSE to turn his back on his Italian roots and just be a human being, minorities who are dark-skinned can never do that. Whether Steve chooses to like Da Vinci and Gotti or not, he won’t be pulled over by police because of the color of his skin. The very fact that he can choose to give up his ethnic background shows how far different his life experience is from that of minorities. Italians and Irish people were happy to turn their back on other immigrants and blacks as soon as they became assimilated in American society and became accepted, and that is what Salerno is doing now. We’re happy for you Steve, that you could become assimilated and blend in, sadly we cannot and we will continue to fight this righteous struggle.

After all, how can we fight racism if we don’t talk about race?!?! Or maybe Salerno believes racism doesn’t exist because his enlightened mind sees nothing but human beings? Well while he’s in cloud nine we’re here in the streets where racism is rampant (please just visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website if you don’t believe me) and we will continue to discuss race and fight racism as long as it’s necessary. If Salerno wants his theories to be taken seriously he needs to show how they will benefit us in the struggle against racism. If he can prove they are more effective at fighting racism than our current method of openly discussing race and exposing racism, then we will gladly give his ideas more merit. Until then, they will be judged for what they are: useless advice which - intentionally or not - would disarm us in the ongoing struggle against racism.