By Dr. Herukhuti
When I was child, my mother told me that my father, a Vietnam veteran and black belt in karate, kicked her in her stomach while she was pregnant and the kick led to a miscarriage of her unborn daughter, my sister. My father had left when I was an infant so this was only one of a few tangible things my young mind could hold onto in thinking about a father who I did not remember. I would remember that story.
I remembered that story when my next-door neighbors, a brother and two sisters, and I got into an argument that escalated into a fight. Restrained by the story, I fought the three of them without the kind of commitment that could have lessened or prevented the numerous scratches that ran across the flesh of my face-bleeding and pulsating. I remembered that story when in junior high school I was surrounded by a cheering crowd of fellow students calling for me to fight a female student who had decided to escalate her taunting of me into a full-on schoolyard fight. After taking a couple of blows from her, I found a way through the crowd and walked away.
I remembered that story when I finally stopped my mother’s episodes. Those episodes would come as explosions of anger and violence. My mother picking up whatever was near like a shoe or her fists and hitting me over and over again until her anger or strength passed. I remembered that story each time my mother would tell me I was just like my father.
I remembered that story when I was in my first adult long-term relationship with a woman. I remembered it when in an argument she attempted to strike me and I, using my martial arts training, restrained her, got close to her ear and whispered, “If you hit me, I’m going to hit you back” before releasing her to deal with a new perspective on the possible outcomes of the existence of violence in our relationship. Several years later, I remembered that story when during another argument I got so angry I started to walk out the house. She stopped me from leaving and demanded that I stay to continue the argument. I told her, “I can either stay and beat your ass or I can leave now.” She replied, “Then stay and beat my ass.” Her words deflated me, took me to some place I had not been before–some place where that story had been living. My anger left me and awe replaced it. I was awed at what we as human beings were capable of saying and doing to each other, to ourselves, in our love relationships.
I remembered the story when years later, for the first time in my life, my mother, my father and I sat down together at a table to eat a meal. Throughout the whole meal, that story rolled around in my head with the question of how and why these two human beings could have this beautifully social and cordial meal together without having to confront and resolve the things that took place between the two of them forty years prior.
The high-profile relationship of Raymell Rice and Janay Rice–the love, violence, pain and struggle of that relationship–are the subject of significant debate at this moment. I’ve only seen the last video aired by the media of Raymell punching Janay. I didn’t seek out the video and had managed not to see the previous videos: Raymell carrying Janay’s unconscious body out of the elevate, Raymell and Janay participating in a press conference. I don’t care to participate in the public’s consumption of people’s pain. I don’t share our nation’s blood lust for the spectacle of human tragedy.
I have appreciated the voices of women of color, particularly Black women, in the discussion of Raymell hitting Janay and the larger social context in which the violence took place. For the most part, I can tell that these are people who love Black people (women and men) and are concerned about them beyond this one incident and the topic of intimate partner violence. They demonstrate their knowledge of the many forms of violence that Black women endure e.g., intimate partner violence, sexual assault, structural violence, white supremacy, economic exploitation, body policing, police brutality, prison industrial complex, miseducation, etc.
I have also appreciated the voices of Black men who have articulated a critique of Black male socialization that has rendered so many of us emotionally incompetent and illiterate–unable to successfully understand and navigate our feelings in communities that require that we be able to love our loved ones and challenge white supremacy without getting choked or shot to death by incompetent, racist police officers or other Black men with the same experiences of trauma and violence. They bring to fore the reality that it is wealthy men of European descent (i.e., some white dudes) in the NFL who have decided whether the Rice family will have an income and in the media who have decided the world, including any future children Raymell and Janay have, needed to see Raymell punch Janay unconscious.
I really don’t want to hear from white folks on this issue. I think it can be productive for them to support the voices of Black people in speaking for ourselves. But there are quite enough white people in positions of power (i.e., NFL staff and owners, agents, managers, media executives, reporters and pundits) over the future of this family to warrant the rest of white America to take a knee on this one. This is particularly important because it, white America, is not really interested in the structural questions underlying this incident for which they do play a significant role.
They are not interested in addressing the racial politics and ethics of the college and professional football system–a system in which wealthy people of European descent amass enormous wealth from selling to working class and middle class people of European descent orgies of violence between $40 million gladiator slaves–many of whom have no other marketable skills or intelligences. Remember this is the same NFL that remains committed to the racist name used by one of its member teams and has fumbled the ball on destroying the myth that all football players have been or are heterosexual.
There is, however, enough responsibility to go around if only we would take it. Few of us want to extend the employment morality clause enacted to remove Raymell Rice from the NFL to all of our workplaces and expand it to include violence against our children, family members, loved ones, neighbors, etc. If employers were able to terminate employees for violence with similar amounts of evidence but without any criminal conviction, our unemployment numbers would soar beyond their current heights. But adopting those policies would require us to admit that we are all responsible for and participate in the culture of violence in this society.
Parents and guardians beat their children. Spouses and intimate partners beat their spouses and partners. We, members of the United States, allowed an ally whose military we fund, Israel, to kill thousands of civilians this summer. We have been basking in the peace that has come with the lack of terrorist attacks within our borders while our government performs drone strikes that kill civilian, non-combatants as collateral damage. But it is easy to paint Raymell as the embodiment of evil and Janay as a foolish enabler. It is comforting to judge them and leave ourselves blameless, pathologize them and feel confident in our healthy sanity.
But if real change, revolutionary change is to happen, we must not be satisfied with scapegoating, easy answers to complex problems, or responses to injustice that are market driven, public relations tactics. We must have fundamental change of this society.