Black Women and Domestic Violence: What you don’t See

When made aware, will you stop to care?

In a Billboard cover story released on Thursday, September 27th, rapper J. Cole shared some of his thoughts on domestic violence as it pertains to women in America. The rapper’s thoughts on the subject came after he was asked about the late artist XXXTentacion and rapper Nas, both of whom have been accused of abusing women in the past.

Regarding XXXTentacion, his ex-girlfriend Geneva Ayala testified that he assaulted her multiple times in 2016. This led to him being arrested and charged last October for domestic battery by strangulation, aggravated battery of a pregnant woman (i.e. Ayala), false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. When he was alive, XXXTentacion denied the charges against his ex-girlfriend. Despite the artist’s denial, however, Ayala exhibited physical scars that seemingly supported her accusations. Following his murder, this domestic violence case was closed.

Nas was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, R&B singer Kelis, in April of this year. The two were married in 2005 but divorced four years later. According to Kelis, her marriage to Nas was filled with frequent fighting. She claimed the rapper would also become violent with her after heavily drinking. In response to this, Nas penned a seven-part open letter on Instagram denying Kelis’ accusations.

The Blame Game

Though both XXXTentacion and Nas refuted allegations made against them regarding domestic violence it is imperative that the accounts of both women be taken seriously, especially since Kelis is Black and Ayala is notably a woman of color. In his interview with Billboard Cole touched on this, stating the following:

“We’re talking about black women. If it was a white woman involved with these allegations, then sadly — I’m realizing as I’m talking to you — maybe people wouldn’t cancel them just as quick, but labels would be forced to cancel, because white outrage is way more powerful than black outrage, unfortunately. When white people start getting outraged about this type of shit, then maybe something will happen.”

That “something” Cole was referring to is widespread empathy and support for Black female victims of domestic violence. According to Blackmon et al. (2017), compared with women of other groups, “35% more African American women report experiencing domestic violence” (p. 231). Despite this, however, Black women have historically been silenced and made invisible in public discourse. Moreover, Christensen, Gill, and Pérez (2016) purported that violence against Black women has been considered acceptable and an expected aspect of their lives, therefore not needing attention.

Black women are rarely cast as total innocents and seldom viewed as proper victims when it comes to domestic violence. Two high-profile examples that seemingly back this assertion include former NFL running back Ray Rice’s attack on his then fiancé Janay Palmer and singer Chris Brown’s assault on singer, actress, and businesswoman Rihanna. When analyzing newspaper depictions of the Ray Rice Domestic Violence Case, Christensen et al. (2016) found a lack of public discourse highlighting Janay Palmer and her experience with domestic violence. Regarding Brown and Rihanna, Snapchat featured an ad earlier this year from a third-party website which made light of their infamous domestic dispute from 2009. The ad, coming from a mobile game called “Would You Rather?” read “would you rather slap Rihanna” or “punch Chris Brown?”

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

While media may play a role in publicizing Black female experiences of domestic violence, those who are victimized also find themselves in a complex situation, which may, in turn, lead to the underreporting of these incidents. Black women must navigate between two identities, race and sex. According to Jones (2014), this group often puts racial issues ahead of sex-based issues. Much of this has to do with the history of racial oppression and discrimination faced by Blacks in the US. While on the whole women in America often suffer from sexism, Black women must deal with the intersections of both sexism and perceived racism, or gendered racism (Lewis et al., 2017).

Furthermore, this group might feel the need to protect Black male perpetrators of domestic violence due to the unique position Black males occupy in American society. For example, young Black males are associated with danger, poverty, and distrust, which has oftentimes led to discriminatory and dangerous outcomes. Black women might also forego contacting the authorities for fear of police brutality or the possible death of their perpetrators. For example, Hope Coleman’s son Terrence was killed in April of this year by the Boston Police after she called 911 for help with getting him to a hospital. Blackmon et al. (2017) ultimately stated that Black women can develop a sense of racial loyalty, which causes them to sacrifice themselves or tolerate abuse for the “good” of the larger community.


Al’Uqdah, Maxwell, and Hill (2016) highlighted several risk factors for domestic violence, specifically intimate partner violence — which refers to physical, psychological, or sexual harm by a spouse or current or former partner. Risk factors included sexist or misogynistic cultural attitudes, poverty, high levels of unemployment, inadequate education, exposure to both community and family violence, and internalized and institutional racism. While addressing all these issues is beyond the scope of this discussion, some key takeaways remain.

First, there must be a concerted effort to educate youth about social interactions. According to Peskin et al. (2014), studies indicate that dating violence begins in middle school. Given this understanding, providing the proper educational services to predominantly Black communities and beyond, addressing appropriate interactions with peers, whether male or female, can help create positive change. Moreover, mentor services for Black youth that exhibit reciprocal love — concern for and deeply rooted interest in community that encompasses both personal well-being and communal sustenance — in a caring environment might also prove beneficial (Jackson, Sealey-Ruiz, & Watson, 2014). Lastly, it is important that Black youth, especially Black males, be taught anger management strategies.

Regarding Black adults, Jones (2014) suggested that funding be set aside for advocacy programs and supportive services aimed at helping victims of domestic violence. To better support those Black women afraid of outing their abusive partners, Al’Uqdah et al. (2016) stressed that trained therapists could learn culturally congruent therapy approaches to treating the issue.

All in all, it is important to consider Cole’s words from earlier in this discussion, highlighting Black outrage and mainstream media’s involvement in publicizing stories that express a deep concern for Black women who are victims of domestic violence. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzing 18 years of data from 2003 to 2014, compiled by the National Violent Death Reporting System, found that Black women are disproportionately affected by homicide when compared with other groups. Domestic violence was determined to be a large contributor. With this understanding, the time has now come for outrage on all fronts.


Al’Uqdah, S. N., Maxwell, C., & Hill, N. (2016). Intimate partner violence in the african american community: Risk, theory, and interventions. Journal of family violence, 31(7), 877–884.

Blackmon, S. K. M., Owens, A., Geiss, M. L., Laskowsky, V., Donahue, S., & Ingram, C. (2017). Am i my sister’s keeper? Linking domestic violence attitudes to black racial identity. Journal of Black psychology, 43(3), 230–258.

Christensen, M. C., Gill, E., & Pérez, A. (2016). The ray rice domestic violence case: Constructing black masculinity through newspaper reports. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 40(5), 363–386.

Jackson, I., Sealey-Ruiz, Y., & Watson, W. (2014). Reciprocal love: Mentoring black and latino males through an ethos of care. Urban Education, 49(4), 394–417.

Jones, F. (2014). Why black women struggle more with domestic violence. Time.

Lewis, J. A., Williams, M. G., Peppers, E. J., & Gadson, C. A. (2017). Applying intersectionality to explore the relations between gendered racism and health among black women. Journal of counseling psychology, 64(5), 475.

Peskin, M. F., Markham, C. M., Shegog, R., Baumler, E. R., Addy, R. C., & Tortolero, S. R. (2014). Effects of the it’s your game… Keep it real program on dating violence in ethnic-minority middle school youths: A group randomized trial. American journal of public health, 104(8), 1471–1477.

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