In his book Night, Elie Weisel wrote: “He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.” And that reminds me that the greatest critical thinkers will keep asking questions, so when I decided to mumble to myself about Ray Rice this morning, in response to all the things I had read and heard yesterday… I found that I had too many answers. When you respond with answers you will always end up where you started. When you ask questions, they who ask and they who answer are forever changed.
So, to those who have come up with a variety of observations and determinations about not just Janay Palmer Rice, but all survivors, I have a series of questions for you…
What behaviors, provocations, degree of violence, attitude, body language, and or type of woman would cause you to strike her and render her unconscious?
I don’t want an answer analyzing anything Janay Palmer Rice should, could, or may have done. I want you to identify a woman in your life, not for the purposes of humanizing her, but simply to establish proximity. Name someone in your life, and then provide me with a list of things she could say or do that would make you, come across her face hard enough to knock her out… unconscious. That will help me to determine how to stay safe and far away from you should I say, be on a “sassy” streak.
Why are you upset with the NFL/Baltimore Ravens?
Are you upset because they messed up your fantasy football team? Are you upset that they are hitting Ray Rice with “double jeopardy?” Are you aware that double jeopardy is not just an Ashley Judd movie? That double jeopardy is a LEGAL defense that states that you can’t be tried for the same crime you have already been convicted or acquitted of? That double jeopardy applies to criminal cases….not civil or administrative, and certainly not employment disputes. Shouldn’t you be more upset that the NFL and Ravens saw fit to hold a press conference with the survivor, that after having access to a police report stating very clearly that he struck Janay Palmer Rice unconscious, they didn’t see a need to suspend him more than two games, and the team went so far as to declare that they would support and guide these individuals. Because, football teams are licensed therapists. Because, if we just respond to intimate partner violence with good will and prayers, everything will be alright.
If this video was not enough to get Ray Rice to serve time, what hope is there for the rest of us whose partners know enough to assault us at home and not leave bruises?
A prosecutor saw this video, heard the witness statements, and determined that the solution would be counseling, because he’s never gotten caught before. Not that he’s never done it before, just never gotten caught. And he would be serving jail time if he gets in trouble again. While I don’t know Ray Rice, I know he is in the same relationship that got him in trouble the first time. I do believe in the capacity of people to change, but I also believe that Ray Rice was surrounded by enablers and has now been abandoned by those same enablers. Here is what else I know… the other day I went to YouTube to learn how to make a tutu. I went to the video of one of my go-to DIY sewers, MeeshaDIY. The first comment on the video had a link to an article that stated that in May, Meesha was murdered by her ex-boyfriend after he snuck into her house and shot her at close range while her three children were in the home. They had been in a “rocky” relationship for 10 years, and Meesha’s ex-boyfriend had 5 reported instances of domestic violence and a restraining order against him at the time of the murder. I know that Meesha is not Janay Palmer Rice. And I also know that while we are all ourselves, we are also all each other. So while the institution of marriage, and the covenant is meaningless to me if it is unhealthy, I hope that there is not a next time, I hope that Janay survives, and I hope that more victims of intimate partner violence are provided with enough protection and support to make it out alive.
Is losing your job the worst that could happen?
There is so much concern for Ray Rice, so much pity… so much sadness and lamenting about how unfair it is that he has lost his job after already “suffering” a two game suspension. And I have to wonder… is a job, especially a lucrative one, worth more than say, someone else’s life? Is it not pitiful that Janay Palmer Rice has lost her privacy, that the entire country has seen her knocked unconscious by her husband and the father of her child? That she will undoubtedly relive this incident over and over again? That, if she already felt that she somehow contributed to this violence, she may now feel that she is at fault for him losing is job, and quite possibly his livelihood? Is it THAT bad, that someone who makes 3 million dollars a year got fired? Is the idea that ‘at first she just got hit by her fiance, but now she has an angry, unemployed husband to deal with’ not troubling to you? If anyone is deserving of a second chance, an opportunity to bounce back… why isn’t it Janay? How is Ray Rice more entitled to make millions of dollars than Janay is to safety? Why has money, and a job, and public relations become more worthy of consideration than the health and safety of a Black woman?
Why did HE stay?
There was this wonderful twitter campaign, of survivors using the hashtag #whydidIstay to describe the tempest of conditions that led them to stay with their abusers. It was in response to the litany of questions in response to the video that asked, if the abuse was so bad, why did she marry him? Why did she stay? And while I don’t know the answer to that, my question then becomes, why hasn’t anyone asked… why did HE? Ray Rice, with a net worth of 14 million dollars and a network worth much more, with the power, status, and ability to date many many women in at LEAST 32 cities across the United States… a man with so much to lose! Why did he stay with this “provocateur” as you might have it? If she cheated, if she cussed him out, if she burnt his biscuits, if she has hit him before…. why did he stay? He can afford the lawyers, he can afford child support, he can even afford a publicist to spin the story however he wanted to when he left. Why then, did he stay?
But as Toni has told us many times, since why is difficult to handle– let’s take refuge in how.
How are black women murdered by men at a rate more than 2.5 times higher than white women? How are 94% of those women murdered by someone they knew? How are at least half of those murdered, murdered as the result of intimate partner violence? How is it, that when we talk about gun violence and Black men and Chicago/NewYork/LA/etc, we are not also talking about intimate partner violence, when 51% of the Black women killed by a male were shot by a gun? How are Black women victimized more than women of any other race, and least likely to report it or seek out support services? How is it that culturally, religious convictions and a fear of shame or rejection from the church, concern about Black men’s experiences with police brutality and racism, and myths that Black women are “domineering figures that require control” or “exceptionally strong under stress and are resilient,” contribute to the likelihood that Black women will be victimized and not report that violence? How is it that Black trans women face a higher rate of homicide and sexual violence than any other LGBT group, but there is little research on intimate partner violence and trans women of color? How is that not examined when trans women of color accounted for 70% of the murders of trans people internationally? How is it that, in the face of statistics stating that a third of women (compared to a tenth of men) have been victims of intimate partner violence (including rape, sexual assault, stalking, and physical abuse), we want to talk about Solange? How do we accept that intimate partner violence against anyone is tragic, while also accepting that women are disproportionately affected by it? How do we take refuge when shit goes down and there is $5 on the elevator?
And if you are wondering, in the spirit of asking questions, #whydidIstay, is a question I will continue asking myself for the rest of my life, especially on days when I reminisce about going back.
In memory of Tamisha “Meesha” Evette Ridge and all of my sisters who have faced and are facing threats of violence everywhere. Our lives matter.