I kept telling myself that I was not going to join the discussion. I was not going to further blow this issue out of proportion. I mean, this isn’t new information. This “new” infamous elevator showdown happened in February. Ray Rice was arrested. He was charged with aggravated assault. Newsflash people, Ray Rice did not play on Sunday not because he was injured, not because he was holding out for a new contract, he didn’t play because he was SUSPENDED. Suspended for this exact event that we can’t stop talking about. The only thing new is that everyone has seen the full tape: The alleged two spits, the knockout punch, the unconscious body dragged out of the elevator.
So why is everyone’s reaction so different now? Why is everyone so surprised, so dumbfounded? Why all of a sudden is Ray Rice cut from the Ravens, suspended by the NFL indefinitely, and severed from contracts with various sponsors like NIKE? Why didn’t all of this happen initially? I’ll tell you why. Because Janay, the Ravens, the NFL, and everyone else were trying to protect him.
Now, I know you’re probably confused, so let me explain by steering you into a very different narrative—one dealing not with domestic violence exclusively, but instead, dealing with black women and the role they play in the lives of black men.
“Domestic violence can take on a different meaning in black relationships. Black men live in a patriarchal society, surrounded by images of Western male power that still teach them that masculinity should come with power over somebody. The lesson is that to be a man they must dominate.”
—Sheri Parks from Fierce Angels
While I was in college, as part of my Diverse Literature and Culture Studies minor, I took a Women’s and Gender Studies course on African American women. One of our required texts was Sheri Parks’ Fierce Angels. Now, it’s been a few years since I read this book, but there is one chapter that sticks with me . . . almost haunts me . . . every time I see stories similar to that of Ray and Janay Rice, and that chapter is entitled “Becoming Coretta: A Cautionary Tale.”
In this chapter, Parks suggest that as black women, it is our job to protect our man’s masculinity. In the “dominant white male society” that we live in, black men are constantly emasculated. In order to counteract that, and make them feel like men, we are assigned to take the docile role. No bragging about your accomplishments; don’t come home telling him about your new promotion, reminding him again who is truly the head of the household. If your man is struggling to run a business, be his backbone, or his “mule,” as Zora Neale Hurston put it. Work behind the scenes to aid him, so far behind the scenes that no one knows, or even believes, that you are involved. And if he hits you, take it and move on because that is what you are supposed to do.
“Black women are expected to protect black men from exposure to the justice system . . . Black women are expected to move past wrongs that have been done to them . . . They are supposed to either overlook it or get over it. Black women are assumed to do to themselves what the culture has done to them, to dismiss their pain and go on . . . Black women are supposed to be so resilient that they are like the old Timex watch commercials: They take a licking and keep on ticking. It is a strange respect—because often it does not come with better treatment. If black men consider black women to be able to take anything, does that create an invitation to do anything to them?”
The answer is yes. Now let me iterate that I by no means am saying that all black men beat their wives, and who knows, the elevator punch might have been an isolated incident in their relationship. What I’m saying is that as a black woman, according to Parks, Janay was supposed to take it. She should have expected to get knocked out because that was what came with the territory.
Parks provides a lot of examples to back her claim, but the most chilling example was her personal experience. She tells the story of her high school boyfriend, whom she refers to as X. He was a star football and baseball player. People called him the next Martin Luther King, Jr. Everyone in town, including white businessmen, had their eyes on him. He had an interview coming up for the Morehead scholarship and he was heavily distracted. Why? Because his girlfriend had just broken up with him. Of course the break-up had a huge effect on him, and everyone, including the white school principal and the black female guidance counselor tried to convince her to get back with him so that he could continue to be the school’s prized possession. They wanted her to get back with him for “the betterment of her people.” Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that he spent the night over her house, came into her room, and raped her. Then when she still refused to take him back, he tried to kill her. Of course, no one believed her story, and advised her not to “ruin his life” by pressing charges, although he had ruined hers. In the end, he lost the scholarship, and instead of blaming him for his actions, everyone in the town blamed her.
I wonder if this is what happened to Janay Rice. I wonder if NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell or Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, or maybe even Ray’s agent, called Janay into the office, and told her that she had to protect Ray from the media, from the justice system, etc. I wonder if they told her to take the blame for what happened in that elevator, admit her fault. A lot of people on social media have said things like: “If you hit someone, expect to get hit back,” or “Well, she still married him,” as if that makes his actions OK. I challenge them to take this cultural indoctrination of black women to essentially become mothers and punching bags at the same time to their boyfriends/husbands into consideration. I also want them to ask themselves this: Why is this video just now coming out when we knew about it for months? I mean, the Jay-Z/Solange showdown was leaked at least within the month, but this altercation between Ray Rice and his then fiancée happened in February. Why did TMZ wait so long to release it? Was there an ulterior motive? Maybe this is what Janay was trying to protect him from.
My purpose for writing this blog post is not to further insult Ray Rice, or Janay Rice, or the NFL; everyone else has done that enough. I’m simply introducing a new topic of discussion, something that might affect us—though not necessarily physically—and our relationships more than we even realize.