Photo Credit: Salon/Sharisse Tracey

Photo Credit: Salon/Sharisse Tracey


Sharisse T. Smith recently penned a brutally honest, heartfelt essay about being raped at the young age of 13. The details of the piece were heart breaking. Not only was her father the rapist, but after Smith disclosed that detail to her mother, the couple still remained married and he continued to live in their home. This story is more than deeply hurtful and angering. It is a reminder of the many ways the Black community leaves its youngest girls vulnerable to predatory behavior and fails to provide the help so many need. That failure often begins in the home and ripples out into the community. It is also the direct result of patriarchy which often absolves black men of responsibility for their wrong doing under the guise of fighting the ramifications of society’s racism. And for the sake of Black little girls and women, it must end.

The domestic abuse statistics speak for themselves: Black women face the highest rates of victimization and are nearly three times more likely to be murdered by a partner compared to White women. Statistically, we experience sexual assault and domestic violence at disproportionate rates and we are also less likely to report such heinous crimes or seek help when we are victimized. In the case of Sharisse Smith’s personal story, she was not among those girls who did not seek help. After disclosing the details of the rape to her mother, the family sought therapy. This is the “help” that therapist, a Black male friend who also happened to be a family friend, received:

“A black psychiatrist who worked with my father recommended that we stay together as a family. He said it was important because we were one of the few remaining African-American families in our neighborhood, one of the few families where the father remained in the home. Our communities were in jeopardy, many of the black men in jail or in rehab. Some local men of color were around but they were struggling with unemployment, which left them feeling inadequate and open to public scrutiny. If my father were to leave, the damage to our family could be irreversible, according to this therapist.”

I often write about the precarious nature of the black female existence. We shoulder the burden of being saddled by society’s racism and misogyny. We are the constant targets of White and Black male contempt. No, Black women are not some protected class less impacted by racism than their male counterparts. And often times, there is no where for Black women to turn. No wonder we seldom seek help. White hate criminalizes, discriminates against and terrorizes all Black people. In turn, Black men sometimes terrorize their own families. And that terrorism is oftentimes passively condoned and even outright enabled (like in this case) by both the men and women in the Black community.

After all, it is not only the men in this story who failed Sharisse. Her mother, who also came from a past riddled with emotional and physical abuse, remained in the relationship with a partner who was sexually abusing his daughter and even became the household’s sole provider because he suffered from Sickle Cell Anemia. Smith explained, “I felt betrayed by my mother’s choice to protect my father at my expense.”

This sentence speaks to a bigger trend in the Black community that must constantly be underscored. We cannot continue to propagate a male-centric agenda at the expense of little girls and women. Examples of this are far too widespread and prevalent. Black churches preach adherence to dogmas of male dominance. Much of the Black community cannot honestly address rape allegations against Bill Cosby, to protect his “legacy” from being tarnished. Black men diminished the abusive behavior of Ray Rice to protect his career. Planned Parenthood is under attack by many factions of the Black male community, which reproduces propaganda in attempts to dismantle the organization, despite the reality that most WOC can’t afford healthcare anywhere else.

These attacks on girlhood and womanhood are rampant. Addressing them means cutting to the core of patriarchy that reinforces the notion that men and boys are more valuable than their female counterparts. That means ending the pervasive culture of slut shaming that gives men a pass for disgraceful behavior while blaming victims of sexual harassment and abuse. It means addressing misogyny in hip-hop/rap culture. It also means acknowledging and ending the prevalence of domestic and sexual abuse in the Black community.

In short, it means valuing the well-being of women and girls just as much as men.

We cannot dismiss stories like Sharisse’s as a singular example of abuse in one family. The abuse and how both her family and the community at large treated, it represents something difficult but necessary to admit about the Black community: We must begin to address and eradicate patriarchy and misogyny. It is the only way to ensure the safety of Black women and girls. And the only way to hold men accountable for threatening that safety.

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  • _a_

    Obviously her father is more at fault, but her mothers actions cannot be condoned. If I were her Id put the woman in a nursing home and never look back.

    • noirluv45

      No, her mother’s actions most certainly can’t be condoned. It happens more often than not, and, to be honest, _a_, I think the mothers should, in many cases, be held accountable for allowing such things to happen under their noses. I know many mothers are afraid because they, more than likely, are physically, verbally or mentally abused as well, so our society must do whatever it can to help these women and children who suffer through such horrors.

  • This is an excellent article. It is true that misogyny and the system of patriarchy must end unequivocally. Patriarchy is wrong and evil, because it preaches the lie that men by nature must rule all women by birthright. Patriarchy is wrong since it preaches the lie that inferiority is based on gender and that women must be treated as second class citizens. The truth is that human value of black men and black women are the same. The truth is that all human beings are created equal regardless of gender. Therefore, the father should have been arrested and jailed ASAP. Also, the mother is totally wrong to still support a rapist husband. The “father” (since he isn’t a real man) should be jailed, imprisoned, and punished. The “father” ought to be in prison for the rest of his life. We must confront this epidemic of violence, abuse, and rape of black women and black girls.

    Sharisse was 13 when she was raped and the evil of rape must be condemned totally. No woman and no girl should be called out of her name. We are in a fight for justice. Part of justice is about black people (regardless of gender, nationality, and creed) being treated with respect, being respected of our human autonomy, and us expressing self-determination. We must always stand up and speak up for the human rights of black women and black girls. Enough is enough. I not only blame white supremacists for racism, discrimination, misogyny, and other evils. I also blame people like Sotomayor, Tariq Nasheed (who was refuted magnificently by Sister Kirsten West Savali), Sgt. Pete, Jesse Lee Peterson, King Noble, and others who traffic and spew misogynistic garbage. Not only should black people have liberation. Black people should be treated as human beings fully too.

    • noirluv45

      It’s so very common in our communities, and like the article said, it spills out into the world around us where some of us sisters can’t walk down the street without being eyeballed, verbally harassed, or being told to smile as if we are obligated to walk down the street like if we don’t have a worry in the world. Many of us have non-verbal acceptance of these practices, especially when the mantra in many of our families is, “What goes on in this family, stays in this family.” Yes, enough is enough, Truth. Those “men” you mentioned must be blamed because while they “spew misogynistic garbage,” they also don’t hold men who look like them accountable for their wrongdoings.

      Brother, keep spreading the word!

    • Exactly Sister.

      It is a shame when women can’t even walk the street without experiencing overt street harassment. Society must change. Young boys have to be taught constantly early on that they must respect girls and women. It is never your responsibility for you to raise a man. A man should have the sense enough to express self control and respect the human autonomy of a woman. The males listed refuse to expose the total truth since they want to enhance their male privilege. We all give credit to the Brothers and the Sisters making a real difference in the lives of our community. Yes, any rape victim is our business and we stand up for all victims of abuse and rape.

      Sister, keep on spreading the word as well.

    • noirluv45

      Let the church say, “Amen.”

      Thank you, brother.

    • You’re Welcome Sister.

      We will keep on going forward in this struggle for justice.