My brother is texting me from back in the Bronx. I am in Poughkeepsie, which is a two-hour train ride that shrinks into the two seconds it takes him to text me back. He and our father are having their weekly outing together, and sometimes my brother texts me during their outings. “Sometimes I wonder what abuse does to the children who grow up watching it.” One of us texts this to the other, and we spend an hour discussing it. My brother and I are close, close enough that I felt obligated to tell him I was writing this column.
It’s fair to say that in writing this article, I am still protecting the people who have been victims of domestic violence and their abusers for reasons that I will elaborate upon later. I will be honest and say I do not think we have gotten to a place where victims can present their stories without criticism. Whenever people ask me why I began doing anti-violence work as a freshman, I say it is because I saw some things growing up that I hoped no one would ever go through or ever see someone go through. I have always been hesitant to reveal how deep the wounds left by domestic violence run in my life. For those purposes, I’ve chosen to focus on how my brother and I in particular have been affected.
My parents separated nine years ago, when I was old enough to understand power and abuse and my brother was young enough to be shielded from it. Sometimes my brother and I butt heads over how we both have dealt our respective interactions with our parents throughout the last nine years. He goes on bike rides the day after. I write and write weeks after, especially when something on the news or on my news feed prompts me to write and reflect. This week is one of those weeks.
This past weekend, the Internet was buzzing with news of the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Quite a few articles touched on Mayweather’s past as an abusive partner. I am hesitant to refer to the history as his past—more often than not, abuser’s pasts are also their present realities, because it is uncommon that perpetrators of domestic violence have one partner. We also don’t talk about other people affected by domestic violence, and in Mayweather’s case, those affected are his and his partner’s children.
Despite multiple incidents of battery, the city of Las Vegas has managed to minimize Mayweather’s punishments. One instance of abuse in 2010 included a written testimony from Mayweather’s then-10 year old son, who witnessed his mother, Josie Harris, be physically assaulted by Mayweather. Mayweather received a 90-day jail sentence, which was delayed until after his Cinco de Mayo fight. Even then, he did not serve the entire 90 days, instead getting out a month early for good behavior.
After Mayweather came out on top this weekend, I scrolled down my social media feeds to read my friends’ commentary. Most were overjoyed, even dismissing any commentary about Mayweather’s history abusing women for “lack of proof.” “There are no pictures proving that he did anything” is a common statement, which points to the assumption that domestic violence is a purely physical act.
Victims of domestic violence suffer from different forms of violence, including emotional, psychological, financial, and, yes, physical burdens. We do not see many of those wounds, but they are still there. Denial from larger institutions like the city of Las Vegas, or on an interpersonal level like a comment on social media, further reduce the value we place on people coming forward with their stories of abuse, whether first-hand or second-hand. We again refer to domestic violence as a private matter, only to be talked about in hushed whispers.
Here is where I should acknowledge some of the structures that have made talking about all interpersonal violence difficult for society. Mayweather is a black man, and there is a pressure to protect men of color from the violence of white supremacy. There is something scary about naming your perpetrator, in letting the world know who hurt you, especially when you still care for them. This is not to say that men of color are any less guilty of being violent towards their partners, but neither are white men. We do not hear often about Sean Penn’s abuse towards Madonna. We do not blink twice when Eminem raps figuratively about killing his ex-wife in “Kill You”. These silences reinforce the idea that men of color are savages and reaffirm that the lives of women, particularly women of color, do not matter. Even though the example of Mayweather is a larger-than-life example, domestic violence does happen. Many people implicated, whether as producers of harm or receivers.
Abused partners seek some sort of witness, and sometimes that witness becomes the children involved. Years later, Koraun Mayweather, the son who wrote the testimony against his father, would stand by his mother and call his father a coward on television. Years later, Floyd Mayweather would step into the ring and win another match, media keeping hush about any “mess” earlier in his life.
This is where my heart aches for Josie Harris and Koraun Mayweather. Needless to say, interpersonal violence affects everyone, and shouldn’t only be delegated to the private sphere. By victim blaming and gas-lighting – which is essentially telling a victim what they experienced did not actually occur – we are again reaffirming that we shouldn’t talk about harm because it is “none of our business.”
How can we be honest with ourselves and with each other about the ways in which we hurt each other? How do we broaden our definitions of harm to recognize the ways in which we fail each other as a community? In doing so, we can come closer to finding a solution that holds survivors’ truths as valid and work to repair broken communities.
—Susie Martinez ’15 is an urban studies major.