By Mary Sanchez
The Kansas City Star
If you think the NFL's domestic violence problem has been talked to death, there's one interested party that begs to differ.
The leaders of several national black women's organizations have written a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking for a meeting. In the national conversation about domestic violence that was kindled by the beatings of African-American women and children by NFL players, these African-American leaders are determined not to be sidelined.
Race is a material factor here, no matter how reluctant some might be to steer the discussion in that direction. Not to acknowledge the disproportionate danger that domestic violence poses to the lives of black women is to show sexism and racial bias in one fell swoop. That's what prompted the Black Women's Roundtable to write a letter to Goodell.
In the public relations nightmare for the NFL that followed the release of security video showing Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice flattening his then-fiancee in an elevator, the league established a women's advisory group to help the league formulate policy on domestic violence. The problem is, according to the roundtable, it doesn't include any African-American women. (The NFL has responded that it has two other personnel, both black women, who will also have input.)
The Black Women's Roundtable's recent report, "Black Women in the United States, 2014," lays out some sobering statistics. Black women are a mere 8 percent of the population, yet they account for 29 percent of domestic abuse victims. They are 22 percent of domestic violence homicide victims, and domestic violence is the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 15 to 35. They are two-and-a-half times more likely to be murdered by domestic violence than white women.
Black men, the roundtable pointed out to Goodell, comprise 66 percent of the NFL's players. If the league wishes to address the issue in "a culturally competent way," black women need a seat at the table.
Welcome to the complexities of race relations circa 2014, Commissioner Goodell.
To a certain extent, society has been lulled into overlooking the statistical disparities for black women by endless public awareness campaigns that portray about domestic violence as an equal-opportunity crime. We're taught that women of all economic spheres, all races and ethnicities and all religions can be affected. And that's true.
However, like any social issue, it is impossible to disentangle the impacts of racism (past and present), class, economic security and cultural differences. All these factors need more study, but experts do acknowledge them as well.
It's important not to racialize the issue, as it already has been by the usual trolls on Internet comment threads. African-American men are no more inherently hard-wired to commit domestic violence than men of any other race. They may, however, have been more susceptible to conditions and influences during childhood that correlate with increased cases of domestic violence.
Victims of different races, too, are often subject to different conditions and cultural influences that affect if, when and how the women seek help.
Consider the effect of one common economic condition, unemployment. Higher rates of unemployment tend to correlate with higher rates of domestic violence. This is true for men of all races when they are the abusers. Feelings of inadequacy linked to traditional perceptions of masculinity, coupled with a lack of coping and other skills to handle anger appropriately, can lead a man to abuse a spouse, girlfriend or child.
It's not an excuse; it's an explanatory factor. It's a clue to how we can prevent domestic violence.
But the fact that black men are unemployed at much higher rates than other men is a factor to be better understood. An NFL star might have the multi-million paycheck now, but he could have been raised and influenced by a community where that is far from the norm.
The class of a victimized woman is also a factor. Social connectedness, independent means of support, and financial resources available from extended family can influence whether and when a victim seeks help.
Finally, race as a unifier between victim and abuser is believed to be significant. For a black woman to accuse an abuser risks playing into old mythologies that painted black men as overly aggressive.
A hint of the complicated and sensitive nature of this issue can be found in the statement of one of the roundtable's members, Marcia Dyson, CEO of Women's Global Initiative: "We don't want anyone to believe that Black men are the poster boys for domestic violence. These young men are our sons and brothers. Many of them went through school as star athletes and came out without the proper boundaries."
Indeed. Roger Goodell has an extraordinarily complex problem on his hands. Luckily, he's got some well-placed observers offering to help him solve it — if he'll only listen.
Reach Mary Sanchez at email@example.com.