This month Vibe Magazine featured an open letter from Karrine Steffans telling of her struggle to leave an abusive relationship. What Karrine Steffans is known for is her truth-telling first about the gender and sexual violence of being a “video vixen”in the rap industry and now she is known for her truth telling about her struggle to end her domestically violent relationship with her ex-husband. Of course, both forms of truth telling provoked great backlash from both men and women who believe that “a real woman keeps her mouth shut.” However, Ms. Karrine continues to speak her truth irrespective of how people interpret it.
After reading Ms. Steffans’ open letter to Vibe Magazine, my heart grieved for her and the countless women who struggle for various reasons to leave their abusive relationships. Overall, Ms. Steffans’ plea illumines the visceral complexities of domestic violence, love, trauma, and escape. Her letter reminded me of my mother and grandmother’s story of spousal abuse. In particular, how my mother continued to love a man who would beat her and other women senselessly. Yes, the open letter made my heart weep, but it was the depredating comments about Ms. Karrine Steffans on various websites that really pissed me off made me angry. So, in solidarity with Ms. Karrine Steffans, I have decided to write an open letter to all the people who responded negatively about her struggle to leave an abusive relationship.
Dear Negative Comment Writers,
I am utterly appalled and disgusted by your lack of empathy regarding Ms. Steffans’ struggle to leave her abuser. I know many of you believe that Ms. Steffans’ sexual past and egregious violation of the black man code—Bitch keep your mouth closed unless it is filled with my third arm—is reason enough to laugh and to sneer at her current struggle to escape domestic violence. I know many of you believe that her truth-telling like the truth-telling of Kat Stacks or the truth-telling of Ntozake Shange or the truth-telling of Alice Walker deserve a quick and decisive back full hand slap.
But, I tell you today that you are wrong. I mean dead wrong. And, not only are you dead wrong, but you a part of the problem. Your lack of empathy and lack of understanding helps to shape why so many women find it difficult to leave abusive relationships. Because if they are not virginal in either the physical or metaphorical sense than they must have done something to provoke their spouse to blacken their eye. And given Ms. Steffans’ public sexual history and her speaking out against the Good-Ole-Boys Black Male Rap Club, she like all women who speak out when men tell them not too is automatically guilty and must be stoned to death or at least smacked publicly when sitting at a bar like Kat Stacks simply because she refused to play by the man’s rules—“Bitch, suck my dick and be quiet.”
And, you know something; I also realize that part of the problem is that we as a western culture love heroic and gallant narratives. We love when a man rises above the obstacles and conquers the beast. We love to see people “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” and conquer. This idea of conquering against all odds is part of our imperialistic his-story. Therefore, when a black woman writes an open letter saying how she is struggling to leave her abusive relationship parts of our collective psyches cringe because we have been taught to believe that simply believing and working hard one can overcome any challenge including leaving a physical, emotional, and spiritually abusive relationship. But, that is a manufactured lie to keep people from thinking that structures like patriarchy and capitalism exist and that we in ourselves have all the power to change our destinies. And of course, you have to add race to this discussion where we believe that black woman can endure and overcome all types of physical and psyche violence because they are strong. That’s another lie.
Therefore, the narrative of someone like Ms. Steffans who literally is “limping” forward and always looking back like Lot’s wife waiting to become salt is a story we recoil from because it shows that we are not as heroic and as strong as we have been told we are. Furthermore, it shows that domestic violence is not simply a door to walk out of that it is about power, love, male privilege, finances, joblessness, past trauma, patriarchy, love, love, and biology. Fundamentally, it is about loving a man and finding it hard to leave because you believe he will change. Yes, it is difficult to leave. And so we do not want to see Ms. Steffans’ as a victim. We do not want her to acknowledge her pain and her struggle to leave because it makes us look at ourselves.
You see, we get something from believing that women like Ms. Steffans are not victims. It makes us as women feel secure that if you play by the rules that men create we will be safe. That’s a lie. It makes men feel “okay” about hitting a woman because she is not obeying him. That’s another lie. Honestly, we do not like to see women as victims of male violence. Sure, they can be victims in need of saving by a Prince Charming because that is equivalent to silencing a woman, but they cannot be seen as victims of male violence. We do not want women to say to men, “Your love is killing me.”
All this is deeply troubling. All the comments about Ms. Steffans are deeply wounding because for every story of triumph, there are countless stories of defeat and countless stories of women who are victims of domestic homicide. We choose not to see and to blame the woman for her victimization because to acknowledge her pain and struggle would be to acknowledge a culture that seeks to crush women and girls both good girls and bad girls. We are not a self-reflecting culture because self-reflection requires seeing the most defile and the most debased and looking it in the eye and figuring out how to address it.
And, herein lies that the crux of the matter, to acknowledge Karrine Steffans truth-telling we have to acknowledge our complicity and denial. And, based on the comments about her, we are woefully in denial about violence against women and girls.
So, I know this was supposed to be a letter instead of an essay, but I thought I would do my own brand of truth-telling.
Now comment on this.