“Once upon a time, a Princess was born. One day, her Prince came along, and they lived happily ever after.” Those words variably fed my childhood dreams, as well as fueled my adult nightmares.
My life was no fairy tale, my experience included verbal and emotional abuse that I have chronicled in an upcoming memoir. During that period of time, one of my greatest fears was that I might suffer what happened to Janay Rice in that elevator.
I got lucky. I never got punched, but I can identify.
In the video- gone- viral, Ray Rice, a professional football player, hit Janay, then his fiancé, so hard that she lost consciousness. That Ray is a rich, sports celebrity, and that Janay later became his wife, has added to a discussion that is rich in conflict and controversy.
Adding insult to injury, the film next shows Janay’s limp body being dragged out to a hallway where Ray Rice kicks her.
Why the kick? Perhaps Ray was testing the safety of the situation. You know- much like you’d imagine the reaction to an injured animal rising up in retaliation after thinking you had brought it down.
It was a disgusting act of uncontrolled barbarity: animalistic and atavistic.
Here is a small reminder: America is a violent place. Incidents of crimes against women at the hands of men take place every few minutes throughout this country. Police calls about couples’ fighting are among the most dangerous for officers who respond. Hospital emergency rooms are rife with ‘domestic’ violence cases.
Actually, I’d say, they’re rather ‘undomesticated’. In many instances, our household pets-dogs and cats- get along better than our people.
Who is getting beaten, and why?
One set of theories is that girls and women think lowly of themselves.
Where do these messages come from that they are unworthy of respect; or, that a love interest could beat them with impunity, and not even have criminal charges brought?
There is one camp that blames much of our deviant behavior on the legacy of slavery, e.g., since we were beaten by the slave master, we don’t know how to love one another without a beating.
Not. We have moved far from that set of experiences.
In fact, some of the best stories of love connections are about slave unions that endured despite abject dehumanizing conditions. I recently wrote in this column about Leonard Pitts’ novel, Freeman, in which one man walked a thousand miles to find his wife after their emancipation.
Another popular theory holds that the hip hop culture denigrates women, and that the images portrayed in the media reinforce and legitimize the misogyny found in the lyrics.
That, too falls short of a full explanation.
Here’s another: There are too few black men in our communities who express real love and tenderness toward their daughters, sisters, moms, wives, etc.
I’ll give that some credence.
We understand that women are only equal under the law of this country and that we suffer as second-class citizens across too many sectors of society, and while not debatable, that’s still not enough to explain the festering and open sore that is growing in the NFL and across all sectors.
The current upset sparked by the Rice case has raised many old questions and offered a variety of opinions about why and how it happened (he is a disciplined, professional athlete), and why she stayed and married her attacker (it is widely speculated that the elevator event was not Janay’s first experience at the end of Ray’s fists).
I can’t help but wonder about their respective states of mind in that elevator.
My first thought goes to the prevalent and casual use of the invective “bitch.”
The black community’s all-too common usage and acceptance of the reference to females as “bitches” has manifested into the victim(s) we have been talking about these past few weeks, and not just the one we saw in the elevator, but the popular television ‘housewives’; the ‘baby mommas’ dramas, etc.
The common vernacular has expanded to define the ‘bitch’ as a woman who can’t take care of herself; she needs someone to support her, i.e., either a man or the system (“She better stay, he got paper.”).
A “bitch” can’t be trusted by other women (“If I was her, I’d……”). She is devoid of self-respect and therefore not worthy of others’ respect. (“That bitch must have done something to deserve that hit.”) A “bitch” is to be pitied; not understood, nor shown compassion. (“I wouldn’t let a man hit me like that.”) A “bitch” can only be held in disdain (“She had it coming.”)
What do these comments say about us as a society?
Was Ray thinking of Janay as a “bitch” before he hit her? Did she think that of herself?
Have you used it? When? Do we excuse ourselves by accepting that everyone else says it? Or have we simply become really small-minded and/or lack vocabulary?
If you’re a woman reading this, how many times have you quietly called yourself that, or accepted it as another form of address? Do you recall who may have first called you that? Your dad? Your brother? Your boyfriend? The man inside the radio?
Is this how you talk to yourself? To your girl friends? To all women? Be honest.
Consider this actual comment I overheard in Publix one day:
A plump pretty black girl to a thinner pretty black girl: “I’m a big bitch, so I need to eat more food than you.”
I heard that and cried.
What we need is a through cleansing.
I think that just as has been done with the ‘N’ word, we need to inaugurate a national campaign to eliminate the ‘B’ word.
Maybe, once successful, we would see the eventual reduction and elimination of the hidden “elevator” cases.
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org