African Americans and Domestic Violence: The Real Cost to Our Community

Domestic violence in the African–American community must stop. It seems like an easy enough thing to say, but doing it seems like something else all together. We live in a society marked by violence. This country was founded on violent acts, many of which were against women, particularly Black women who were slaves. It would seem that having suffered such violence at the hands of former male and female slave owners, our cultural practices would demand that we respect and protect Black women from harm. It is truly sad, when the one thing that we can count on statistically speaking, is harm in the form of physical and emotional abuse from our intimate partners.

According to the study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2006 Homicide Data,” released by The Violence Policy Center, a national non-profit organization that conducts research on violence in the United States, 551 African American women were murdered by males in 2006. The study stated that there were 1,818 race-identified females murdered by males. While white women accounted for the largest total of those killed (1,208), African American women were killed at a rate nearly three times higher. How did most of the murders occur? Guns killed 305 of those women.

Intimate partners are literally blowing Black women away for a variety of reasons that include stress, mental illness, control, narcissism and pathology. Mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins are leaving this earth with wounded bodies and spirits and sadly enough the numbers are increasing, not decreasing. What does this mean for the black community?

It means that we have to do something to break the cycle of abuse and violence in our homes. If the majority of Black households are headed by women, what happens when those women are killed or injured? Talking about domestic violence hasn’t helped. High profile cases like those involving Chris Brown and Rihanna, Bebe Winans, Big Pun, Don Cornelius, Jennifer Hudson’s sister and Tyrese Gibson haven’t helped. Women offering testimony in church and on YouTube hasn’t helped. Men and women creating awareness campaigns during the month of October hasn’t helped.

If you turn on the television or read a newspaper, there is a very high likelihood that a woman murdered by an intimate partner is somewhere in the content.

We know that domestic violence breaks up families. We know that children suffer emotionally, financially and spiritually with the sudden loss of a parent. We know that it leaves irreparable mental and emotional scars on women and men. But do we know the economic costs of domestic violence to the black community? Let me break it down for you.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in the United States, the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, with $4.1 billion going towards direct medical and mental health services.

Victims of intimate partner violence lost 8 million days of paid work because of violence committed against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends or dates. That equals 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity.

According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the average cost of a funeral in the U.S. is $7,323 thousand each year. In 2006, Black families spent over $4 million burying African American victims of domestic violence.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of domestic violence in the United States amounts to 3.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). (read more)

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared on, where Nsenga serves as managing editor.


October Ends but Domestic Violence Continues

As I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now, the beauty of an “Awareness Month” is that important issues, like domestic violence, are highlighted and discussed in ways that do not necessarily happen during other times of the year. It is an opportunity to go all out to bring pressing issues to the forefront.

The danger of an Awareness Month, however, is that important issues, like domestic violence, get relegated to one month out of the year — when it is something that we should be working to end 365 days each year. Unfortunately, unless a major pop star gets beaten up by another pop star or celebrity (a la Chris Brown and Rihanna, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson Lee), then conversations and activism appear to reside in the margins of society as opposed to front and center, which is what it will take to end domestic violence.

Having said that, each time that Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I endeavor to learn something about the issue that I did not previously know. Those of you who follow this column know that I am committed to exploring and exposing gender issues. Over the last year, I have written tirelessly about victims of domestic violence, mostly women. Although I never feel that I am writing in vain, I do wonder why it is so hard to get people to do the right thing.

Although most of the programming and resources about domestic violence are geared toward women, because we are the main victims and survivors of this community disease, men are also victims of domestic violence. How many little boys witness domestic violence incidents against their mothers? How many men have been on the receiving end of an intimate partner’s physical or mental abuse? According to Battered Men, an organization that helps male victims/survivors of domestic violence, intimate partners batter 835,000 men each year.

This is clearly an issue that affects us all, so why do we only confront it as a nation once a year? According to the domestic violence prevention group SOAR, intimate partners in the United States physically assault 1.5 million women annually. Since many women experience multiple victimizations every year, an estimated 5.9 million physical assaults are perpetrated against U.S. women annually. More than 1,500 women are killed by intimate-partner violence each year. That means that each day, more than three women are killed by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence has become so normalized that we rarely flinch when we hear about such stories on the news. These stories are reported every day of the year, multiple times, yet and still, the number of incidents increase each year.

One-third of all 911 calls are related to domestic violence incidents. According to EHS Today, domestic violence costs businesses $7 billion per year in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, non-productivity and direct medical care costs. (more)

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

Love Obama…but a Nobel Peace Prize?

Love Obama, but…
President Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize. For what exactly? He’s only been in office for a mere 9 months and is talking about sending more troops to Afghanistan. Did I hit my head on something? Talk about a set-up. This is worse than being nominated for an Oscar for your first film or performance. Marlee Mattlin or John Singleton, anyone? Things can only go downhill when there is no opportunity for one to grow. Some will see this as a victory. I see it as a farce in a world where people assign greatness in areas where people have yet to even tap their true potential.

Blackface Performances are No Laughing Matter

A video is making its way across the blogosphere of a group called the Jackson Jive, that performed a Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 tribute on an Australian variety show called Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday.  American jazz musician Harry Connick, Jr. was a guest judge on the show and spoke out against the performance, giving them a “0” and then telling them why. In his explanation he communicated how hard America has worked to eliminate images that make Black Americans look like buffoons, and in his country, this show would be off the air.

Kudos to Harry Connick, Jr. for saying what needs to be said and communicating in a very accessible way, why these images are wrong. Later in the show, the host stated that this same group had done the same performance on the show 20 years ago, which is the saddest part of this incident.

I do not understand why people cannot seem to figure out why Blackface performances, also known as minstrelsy are offensive.  Let me be really clear about it.  It is the humiliation of Black peformers like Bert Williams who were capable of much more, but reduced to being the butt of the joke, literally and figuratively for the pleasure of whites, most of whom at that time believed that Blacks were less than human.  Blackface performance is an assault on the dignity of the collective consciousness of America in general and on the Black community specifically.

Having visited Australia, I am not surprised that this type of show exists. They trot out their Aborigines (native populations) on the docks of Sydney and allow tourists to take photos with them as if they are chattel.  In a city where you are hard pressed to find Aborigines within the city limits (Sydney is sprawling), the only representations of the original inhabitants are for entertainment  and moneymaking purposes. No, I’m not surprised that this would happen in Australia or any other place where there has never been a civil rights movement. That includes Europe for all of you that are dying to go there, but that’s another post.

Having said that, Harry Connick, Jr. stepped up and said what needs to be said, like many before him.  Unfortunately, his words cut deeply because there is a generation of young people and some old (Flavor Flav anyone), who act like modern day minstrels (Kanye West, anyone?).  Yes, I said it and I mean it.  Spike Lee hit the nail on the head with his film Bamboozled, which many Black folks failed to see.  What really makes me mad is that their isn’t some white overseer standing over them making them dance.  We are doing it to ourselves in various forms including reality television, some hip-hop culture comedy, and dare say it, network television (BET anyone?).

Can we really be mad at the Jackson Jive who are still comfortable performing the same heinous act 20 years later, when so many of us willingly perpetuate denigrating images of Blacks – Tyler Perry, anyone? Yes, I said that too.

As Fannie Lou Hamer said, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same old thing. White folks need to commit to memory that Blackface is not funny. Black folks need to get a memory and a conscious to remember why we should be careful about how we represent ourselves. There are people that thrive off of our continued subjugation in fantasy and reality and there are consequences to every misguided action that you make. The Jackson Jive is one of them.

Harry Connick, Jr., a white man, said that if he had known that this was going to be a part of the show, he would have declined to participate. What are you willing to give up to eliminate damaging images of Blacks in the media?

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of She serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @ntellectual.