09/19/2014 11:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

#WhyIStayed: I Wanted to Be a Hero to My Child?


In the days following the release of footage of Ray Rice knocking his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an elevator, there was a single million dollar question on everyone's mind. Why did she stay? Why would a woman who experienced such a horrific episode of domestic violence remain with and marry the man who abused her? Some people called her a gold-digger who lacked self-respect, while others rallied under the hash tags #whyistayed and #whyileft in order to inform the world that domestic violence is complicated, and that women who stay with abusive men often experience a gamut of emotions toward their abusers, including love, concern, emotional dependency, as well as the fear that the abusers might harm or kill them if they try to leave. But what I was shocked to read, was the following excerpt of Dr. Boyce Watkins's open letter to Janay Rice in which he calls women who stay with their abusers in order to keep their families intact "heroes."

For every woman who made the mistake of staying in a relationship with a perpetually abusive man, there is another woman who is glad she made the choice to keep her family together. Some will call these women stupid or the product of male manipulation; I call them heroes, ultimate mothers, and powerful people. At the very least, women deserve to have a say in what happens to their families without paternalistic eavesdroppers forcing them to do something they don't want to do.

With black families being torn apart left and right by the pitfalls of extreme feminism, we should appreciate situations where someone isn't seeking to throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroying their family at the drop of a hat...

I admire your strength and the fact that you believe in your man.  Black men are so accustomed to the world giving up on us at the drop of a hat that I was personally inspired to see you scream to the world and demand that they give you a voice. -- Dr. Boyce Watkins in "An Open Letter to Janay Rice from Dr. Boyce Watkins"

Although I appreciate and even commend Dr. Watkins's love of family unity and his insistence that all human beings, including domestic abusers, are capable of rehabilitation and redemption, I am deeply disturbed by the idea that someone with Dr. Watkins's education and professed interest in black women's well-being would implicitly encourage black women to be "heroes" by staying in abusive relationships for the sake of their children. Staying in an abusive relationship to keep a family intact does not make someone a hero.

I am deeply hurt that Dr. Watkins would also implicitly guilt-trip black women into staying with abusive men by stating that "black men are so accustomed to the world giving up" on them that he admires Janay Rice's reluctance to give up on her black man, even in this situation of abuse. The existence of global racism against black men should never be any semblance of a reason why black women should stay in situations of abuse with black men.

I am deeply apalled that Dr. Watkins would discuss the supposed "pitfalls of extreme feminism" as the reason for the demise of many black families when feminism, by definition, is the belief that women and men should have equal opportunities. I am unclear how black women's ability to access equal opportunities destroys families. Rockefeller drug laws, the mass incarceration of black men and institutional racism with respect to employment and educational opportunities are more apt culprits. Black women academics such as Michelle Alexander and Isabelle Wilkerson are working to diligently to expose these issues.

I pray that any woman who finds herself in a situation of abuse will not try to stay simply in order to keep her family intact. A man with abusive tendencies should be personally interested in engaging in extensive counseling and rehabilitation in order to prove himself worthy of an additional chance and in order to keep his family intact. I wish that Dr. Boyce Watkins would have written an open letter to that effect to Ray Rice.

Although certainly not ideal, single parenting should be a viable option for any woman who finds herself with an abusive man. I decided to speak to Dr. Angela Moses, a highly accomplished therapist, minister and the author of The Joy of Single Parenting, about finding the will to leave a situation of domestic violence in order to embrace safety and single-parenting.2014-09-18-AMosesPhoto.jpg
Dr. Angela Moses. Courtesy of Dr. Angela Moses

Ama Yawson: What advice do you give to women who are reluctant to leave their partners who have shown abusive tendencies because they do not want to be single mothers?

Dr. Angela Moses: To answer this question, we have to determine the true reason why a woman is staying.  Some women use the child as an excuse to stay.  There are situations where women are so beset with childhood issues that they become comfortable with abuse. My advice to all women is that God did not create you to be trampled like a worm.  Abuse is not of God; if you allow anyone to abuse you, YOU ARE TAKING PART IN THE SIN. Many married couples need professional counseling and yet they see counseling as taboo. I have saved many marriages through counseling; it really works if done correctly. 

Ama Yawson: Can there be any joy in single parenting?

Dr. Angela Moses: There is one thing worse than being alone; it is being stuck with the wrong person, especially when raising children.  There are numerous studies on the pros of single parenting.  The key is that the single parent must be mentally and emotionally healthy.  My book talks about crisis healing.  If you are coming from an abusive or dysfunctional relationship that debilitated your ability to be a whole person, you will need to heal yourself fast in order to be an effective parent.   There can be benefits to single parenting when that one parent is effective. Single parents provide the first and the last word in the home (no room for manipulation with the other parent), children of single parents learn responsibility early in life; they also demonstrate their appreciation to the parent that stayed with them.  Children of single parents are involved in the day to day hustle of life, and therefore look out for each other. These children tend to form closer bonds with their parent, mainly due to the amount of alone time together. Additionally, single parents can build a network of people to assist them, "the village". Single parenting is not a death sentence for women or children. Again, it is better to be a single-parent than to be with an abusive partner.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.