BHM: Domestic Violence and Black Women’s Powerful Literary Telling

Today’s post highlights the black female poets of the past and present who have provide a voice to the domestic and sexual violence within black communities not as an example of how “black men are more misogynist” or “black women can’t control their men” but as a powerful statement against gender based violence and toward the strength of black women.

exodus  by Pat Parker

I will serve you no more

in the name of wifely love

i’ll not masturbate your pride

in the name of loyalty

There has been a lot of talk about the Rhianna and Chris Brown situation on the internet lately. Gossip started almost immediately after the Grammy’s concluded without either performer participating in their scheduled appearances. And while the world lit up first with questions about Rhianna being the victim of Brown’s attack and then with salacious reports about the extent of her injuries based on TMZ gossip, very few people thought about what all of this gossip was doing to potentially re-victimize Rhianna.

Trust me no more

our bed is unsafe

hidden within folds of cloth

a desperate slave

While the high visibility of the Chris Brown case has the opportunity to open up discussion about domestic and sexual violence, particularly within the black community, the way it has been handled across the internet also has the negative effect of reinforcing the very reasons why women, and black women in particular, do not come forward.  These reasons include:

  • Fear of victim blaming – regardless of identity, women are often blamed for their abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, by police, the court, their friends and family, even the media. For women of color, poor women, immigrants, and rural women this blame is even more entrenched as their racial, economic, or social backgrounds are vilified as “more violent,” and/or “more accepting of violence.”  The dual or triple forms of oppression that these women have to face in reporting is one of largest stumbling blocks to reporting DSV within these communities and continues to be a huge stumbling block for women in general.
  • Fear of reprisal – abusers are more likely to be violent and/or lethal when a woman leaves or after an arrest incident. This is further exacerbated by living within a marginalized or religiously conservative community which may act collectively against the victim of abuse for exposing violence in their communities or daring to believe they have a right to a life safe from violence while others have suffered in silence
  • For the children – many women believe that abusers who do not physically or sexually assault their children are “good fathers” and should therefore not be “deprived of their children” or their children “deprived of their fathers or a father figure.”  The reality is that witnessing violence has a lasting effect on children’s psycho-social development as well as being a primary indicator of whether or not a child will grow up to be abusive or to be abused in their intimate relationships. Children living in DSV homes are more  likely to have learning problems, emotional problems, be physically or sexuall abused, to engage in abusive behavior toward themselves or others, etc. Witnessing abuse is emotionally abusive to a child meaning whether they are hit or not, they are still being abused. For black and immigrant women of color who still labor under the stigma of being unwed mothers, over-producing, welfare queens, and from pathological communities exemplified by absentee fathers, the motivation to stay with an abusive partner b/c of children is that much higher.
  • Shame – despite the fact that 90-98% of abusers are men who physically, emotionally, and sexually assault women for nothing more than daring to love them, women carry the shame of DSV in our society. This shame stems partially from the victim blaming that I mention above and partially because we are taught as women that if we were better lovers, caregivers, and partners and if we prettier, thinner, smarter or dumber, that somehow that would stop a man (or in some cases our lesbian lovers) from beating us senseless b/c it is Tuesday at 3 pm or the second Friday, or the sun came out or . . . For black women this shame is exacerbated by the “strong black woman” complex that shames us in both homosocial and mixed gender groups for not somehow “keeping it all together.” It is a similar shame that successful women, women in the movement, or lesbian women feel because somehow our politics, our race, our business acutrement, or our sexuality is supposed to elevate us above those who would harm us for being female.

These are only a few of the issues that impact ALL women and have particular ramifications for BLACK women and Women of color.

You dare dismiss my anger

call it woman’s logic

you dare claim my body

One way that we can all turn the tide, including in this Rhianna case, is to provide correct and supportive information that encourages women to know:

  • their rights
  • their worth as beautiful, strong, women
  • that they are loved and supported

Trust me no more

Your bed is unsafe

rising from the folds of cloth –

Despite the ongoing silence around intraracial (same race) gender based violence in the black community, black women artists, poets, singers, and authors have all weighed in on abuse against black women and tried to map a better way. here are some of their words:

With No Immediate Cause

– Ntazoke Shange

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a little girl is molested
yet I rode the subway today
I sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his daughter
but I sat there
cuz the men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow
I might not shut my door fast
enough push hard enough

. . .

I sat in a restaurant with my
paper looking for the announcement
a young man served me coffee
I wondered did he pour the boiling
coffee on the woman because she was stupid
did he put the infant girl in
the coffee pot because she cried too much
what exactly did he do with hot coffee
I looked for the announcement
the discover of the dismembered
woman’s body
victims have not all been
identified today they are
naked and dead/some refuse to
testify girl out of 10 is not
coherent/ I took the coffee
and spit it up I found an
announcement/ not the woman’s
bloated body in the river floating
not the child bleeding in the
59th street corridor/ not the baby
broken on the floor/
“there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands and lovers with no
immediate cause”

Woman – Nikki Giovanni

she wanted to be a blade
of grass amid the fields
but he wouldn’t agree
to be the dandelion

she wanted to be a robin singing
through the leaves
but he refused to be
her tree

she spun herself into a web
and looking for a place to rest
turned to him
but he stood straight
declining to be her corner

she tried to be a book
but he wouldn’t read

she turned herself into a bulb
but he wouldn’t let her grow

she decided to become
a woman
and though he still refused
to be a man
she decided it was all

© Nikki Giovanni

What a Woman Must Do – Ursula Rucker

Children of a Lesser God – Deb Young

ShapeShifter Stanza 4 – Lucille Clifton

the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

Brother – Pat Parker


I don’t want to hear


how my real enemy

is the system.

i’m no genius,

but i do know

that system

you hit me with

is called

a fist

Tangoing with Tornados a Choreoplay

Renee Mitchell

And in the midst of all these poems for the brokenness abusers leave in their wake, still black women’s words of triumph from abuse linked oppressions and declared themselves too powerful to be suppressed:

Miss Maya Angelou – Still I Rise

Poem About My Rights June Jordan

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
suppose it was not here in the city but down on the beach/
or far into the woods and I wanted to go
there by myself thinking about God/or thinking
about children or thinking about the world/all of it
disclosed by the stars and the silence:
I could not go and I could not think and I could not
stay there
as I need to be
alone because I can’t do what I want to do with my own
body and
who in the hell set things up
like this
and in France they say if the guy penetrates
but does not ejaculate then he did not rape me
and if after stabbing him if after screams if
after begging the bastard and if even after smashing
a hammer to his head if even after that if he
and his buddies fuck me after that
then I consented and there was
no rape because finally you understand finally
they fucked me over because I was wrong I was
wrong again to be me being me where I was/wrong
to be who I am
which is exactly like South Africa
penetrating into Namibia penetrating into
Angola and does that mean I mean how do you know if
Pretoria ejaculates what will the evidence look like the
proof of the monster jackboot ejaculation on Blackland
and if
after Namibia and if after Angola and if after Zimbabwe
and if after all of my kinsmen and women resist even to
self-immolation of the villages and if after that
we lose nevertheless what will the big boys say will they
claim my consent:
Do You Follow Me: We are the wrong people of
the wrong skin on the wrong continent and what
in the hell is everybody being reasonable about
and according to the Times this week
back in 1966 the C.I.A. decided that they had this problem
and the problem was a man named Nkrumah so they
killed him and before that it was Patrice Lumumba
and before that it was my father on the campus
of my Ivy League school and my father afraid
to walk into the cafeteria because he said he
was wrong the wrong age the wrong skin the wrong
gender identity and he was paying my tuition and
before that
it was my father saying I was wrong saying that
I should have been a boy because he wanted one/a
boy and that I should have been lighter skinned and
that I should have had straighter hair and that
I should not be so boy crazy but instead I should
just be one/a boy and before that
it was my mother pleading plastic surgery for
my nose and braces for my teeth and telling me
to let the books loose to let them loose in other
I am very familiar with the problems of the C.I.A.
and the problems of South Africa and the problems
of Exxon Corporation and the problems of white
America in general and the problems of the teachers
and the preachers and the F.B.I. and the social
workers and my particular Mom and Dad/I am very
familiar with the problems because the problems
turn out to be
I am the history of rape
I am the history of the rejection of who I am
I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of
I am the history of battery assault and limitless
armies against whatever I want to do with my mind
and my body and my soul and
whether it’s about walking out at night
or whether it’s about the love that I feel or
whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or
the sanctity of my national boundaries
or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity
of each and every desire
that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic
and indisputably single and singular heart
I have been raped
cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age
the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the
wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic
the wrong sartorial I
I have been the meaning of rape
I have been the problem everyone seeks to
eliminate by forced
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/
but let this be unmistakable this poem
is not consent I do not consent
to my mother to my father to the teachers to
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life

And suddenly, the words that had been ignored and pushed away and used to further de-nig-rate us, burst forth from our collective souls, declaring freedom on the page and the stage

Alice Walker’s the Color Purple

Instead of picking over Rhianna’s bones in these moments, let’s come together with the chorus of our shared herstories and support her and each other, b/c this is what we powerful black feminists do:

somebody/ anybody

sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

. . .

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

. . .

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly

– for colored girls by ntozake shange

4 thoughts on “BHM: Domestic Violence and Black Women’s Powerful Literary Telling

  1. I couldn’t read everything written on this page, because it touched my heart to the core. I am a black woman married to a soilder. He rejoined the military after a decade to help with our finances. I had an opportunity to walk away, but I thought it best to support him in this endeavor. But, everyday, I realize how wrong I was to start this again. And, sadly, I can’t wait until he deploys so I don’t have to deal with him anymore. I thought this time around I was in control. I don’t get beaten, but I do get shaken up, pulled and tossed around and yelled at, a lot. I talked about to others, but since all I did was talk about it and never did anything about I feel embarassed at this point and do say anything. I keep getting the ‘you’re enabling him’ to hurt you routine. So, I pretty much keep to myself. It’s scary what is written here, it’s rings true for me. This helps alot. Thank you. God bless.

    • welcome to the blog Delores. It is never too late to join a support group or decide you have had enough and leave. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about it or how often you go and come back, it’s your life and you have a right to choose what you think is best and safest for you. You also have a right to safety from mental, physical, sexual, etc. abuse whether that is being shoved or beaten. Look into the crisis line in your area as a resource and ask them if they have out-of-shelter support groups. They will likely have this for military wives as well but my experience is that these are less effective in helping you get clarity, feel safe, and choose life. best of luck to you.

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