This post originally appeared at clutchmagonline.com
So this is what it feels like to be invisible. Even when the world is watching. Even when an institution worth billions is rocked to its core. Even when it's our face, plastered all over television screens, and stuck in endless loops of shocking, brutal violence. Even with all that, when it comes to crafting an effective solution to a problem that most assuredly sits squarely within our lived reality, as Black women, we somehow find ourselves still pushed aside and overtly confined to a narrow space of irrelevancy. Even when it's our voices that remain necessary to make it right.
I watched NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's press conference last week and saw before me a clearly minimized man. Contrite. Apologetic. He had no choice but to do what I'm sure must have been exceedingly uncomfortable for him, if for no other reason than pure lack of experience. Humbling oneself is never easy. But I imagine it's especially challenging for those who have lived a lifetime of entitlement and unquestioned authority. Still, I have to give it to him. He put on a good show--at least for a while. Appearing deeply remorseful, he wore the mask of regret well. Lamenting over and over again, the sting of disappointment, first, to himself, then, to the NFL and finally, to the fans. But when it came to the prospect of disappointing Black women, he showed no such concern, no empathetic musings, and no admissions of wrong-doings of the past. For us, it seems, he is more than willing to stand in the on-going catastrophe of what has proven to be the complete inadequacy of his own disastrous decision-making. For us, he remains unmoved.
A week before, as a member of the Black Women's Roundtable, I was one of those who signed an open letter to Roger Goodell seeking a meeting to discuss the conspicuous absence of Black women from his newly announced Domestic Violence Advisory Panel. Given the massive over-representation of Black women among the nation's domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and because the League itself is over two-thirds Black, we were right to point out that an all-white Advisory Panel would not provide the cultural competency that is indeed necessary to effectively turn the tide in the NFL's war against abusive behavior.
Our concerns were echoed again last week when the lone Black female journalist in the room, after several attempts, finally captured the Commissioner's full attention. She put the question to him directly, and this time, on live TV.She wondered, as had we, how Goodell could justify the glaring omission of Black women as part of the team of external advisers he had amassed to help him craft a plan to deal with domestic violence and sexual assault within the NFL. No sooner had the words escaped her mouth, did his cloak of contrition fall, to be replaced by the arrogance and entitlement that seemingly suited him in a much more comfortable manner.
"Well that's not true!" he shot back. Dodging the question completely he referenced NFL staff, one of whom is an African American woman, and according to Goodell, has "great experience in this area."
I remain unconvinced.
Any of us who have ever worked, went to school, or merely breathed in overwhelmingly white spaces knows the feeling of being expected to be the expert in all things Black just by mere accident of our common existence. So Goodell's insistence of this, no doubt, highly capable sister's domestic violence bona fides, I personally, find somewhat less than convincing. But even if I'm wrong, and this mystery woman truly has worked on the issue for years, her glaring omission from the Advisory Board that Goodell just announced last week, becomes even more perplexing. Why then, is the head of this newly announced Board a completely different NFL executive? What made her more qualified for this position, than the Black woman whom he now claims has been doing this work for years? Playing the sistah-card and trotting her out now as merely one of countless NFL employees to weigh in on the matter, is insufficient to meet our demand for the inclusion of external Black women experts with a track record of demonstrated expertise in the development and implementation of culturally specific services, policies, and programs designed precisely to address domestic violence and sexual assault within the Black community. Admittedly, it's good to see that Goodell does indeed employ at least one Black body that isn't placed at risk of career-ending injury on a weekly basis, but her mere existence is far from enough.
What's critical to understand here is that this is more than a call for diversity for diversity's sake. No one is asking Goodell to check off some invisible box of inclusion, only to get a Black face in a space where none now exists. We know, all too well, that Blackness for Blackness sake is woefully inadequate for true representation and effectiveness (cue Clarence Thomas). Instead, what we're calling for here is the key missing ingredient that is absolutely necessary to finally, devise an approach to addressing abusive behavior in the NFL in a way that actually matches the context in which it overwhelmingly exists. In essence, what we're asking for is what the commissioner has already pledged to attempt to do. What we demand, Mr. Commissioner, is that you finally "get it right."
Now, we of course, know that the problem of domestic violence can be found far beyond the realm of the NFL, and in fact touches every community, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. But the sad reality is that with the lone and tragic exception of Native American women, no other woman in America today is more likely to be beaten at the hands of someone she loves and trusts than a Black woman. Still, precisely because we've had a front row seat to the danger that awaits Black men throughout every level of society, and particularly within the space of the criminal justice system, we are especially likely to slip into the role of protector, and privilege the needs of our abuser, even if that means putting our own lives in danger again, and again, and again.
I know this, because I've lived it.
I am that one out of nearly every three Black women in America who has survived an abusive relationship. I understand all too well the deadly mix of isolation, fear, and racial solidarity that makes exposing the pain of abuse paralyzing for some and a complete non-starter for others. I've been that woman who's had the police show up at my door only to send them away in the desire to defend the indefensible and to protect the person I still, inexplicably, loved.
You see, unlike the catchy tune of an abusive entertainer or the foolish parroting of a popular pastor, the fact of the matter is, Black women are loyal. Too loyal. And our loyalty is killing us. Today we are nearly three times as likely to die at the hands of a spouse, boyfriend, or significant other than White women in the same situation. And because of this along with a wide range of other nuanced factors that are distinct to the African American experience, it is critical that any advisory team Goodell amasses specifically include Black women domestic violence experts who can provide a specialized, external perspective on the problem in order to ensure the cultural competency this complex issue needs and deserves actually takes place.
Join us in sounding the alarm. We are the solution that thus far has been so evasive for the NFL to grasp. Sign the petition here, and tell Roger Goddell, it's time to get it right.
Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever is the President and CEO of Incite Unlimited and serves in the role of Sr. Public Policy Advisor to the Black Women's Roundtable.