Violence and Aggression against African American Women and Children
by Cece Alexandra Noel (2017)
I believe the theory of evolutionary aggression and violence can be seen in the homes of African American families. People require more than food and shelter to survive, so this aggression is also societal.
Social learning theory (Anderson & Bushman, 2002) caused by institutional racism – either directly experienced or observed – conceptualises the anger, hatred and frustrations of African American men, which are then being displaced onto their partners, lovers and children.
Anderson & Bushman’s General aggression model (GAM), a holistic framework then looks at the multiple theories of aggression, however scholarship has emphasised the male experience as opposed to the female.
Hill Collins categorises violence into three dimensions – the second of which concerns the relationship between actions and speech. We can hypothesise that this quantifies as aggression and violence, designed to belittle, humiliate, and strip victims of their sense of worth, while the powerful individual inflicting the violence has no idea that they – in fact – are reproducing the subverted climate of fear seen outside of their homes. To return to the theory of evolutionary aggression – which would typically come from perpetrators of racism and therefore is designed to belittle and humiliate the minorities, Hill Collins’ theory correctly establishes the ethnography of abuse for African-American women and children: silence will yield better treatment; victims know that their homes will provide better refuge in a world that preys upon the weak (Hill Collins, p.925).
Unfortunately, the man knows his power over his household, as do his victims, therefore he must be playing a role of self-efficacy (Anderson & Bushman, 2002, p.36), for his specific aggressive acts have been chosen with the belief that those he has victimised will remain in fear, just like the generations of Black people before him. Anderson and Bushman also suggest that the anger-aggression linkage is one that humans are evolutionarily prepared to learn, particularly in relationships.
My next hypothesis therefore, considers environmental factors, which have stripped these men of their self-esteem, but which Anderson and Bushman’s GAM does fail to consider. Their frustration stems from relative depravation (Myers, 2013), because the American Dream has failed them, and they are taking their learnt aggression out on their families, which they perceive to be the only property of worth to them. With low levels of serotonin and high levels of testosterone, it is generally accepted that the expression of aggression is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors (Laureate, 2017).
Anderson and Bushman suggest Multisystemic therapy, which is not only family focused intervention; it is also a biosocial intervention framework, built around the individual, as well as the family, to understand the cues of aggression and violence, with the goal of reducing it.
But what if you can’t escape the aggression cues such as racism, racial inequalities or societal humiliation? How much will the person really change?
A study on Domestic Violence in the African American Community by Hampton, Oliver and Magarian (2003) found that not only providing employment for Black men was the solution to, but simultaneously re-educating them on their perceptions of Black women, by confronting sexist stereotypes and enhanced male-female relationships, was a solution to helping to reduce violence within families. This was also intrinsic to reforming the Black community.
However, social psychology contributes to the problem because these methodologies do not protect women and children. I challenge psychologists to create interventions with an emphasis on building a biosocial intervention frameworks for women and children within the African American community, to feel safe enough to come forward and break the pattern of evolutionary violence within families.
The repetitive vicious cycle of violence is also a major issue within the African American ethnographic; children are either forced to resolve conflicts or become imitators. The biopsychosocial model explains how children who directly experience violence or observe others’ aggressive behaviour, then replicate the same negative responses outside.
R.E. Davis (1997) raised the key point that providers do not offer intervention to allow this ethnographic the space to elicit information about early traumatic life events (Hampton, Magarian & Oliver, 2003), therefore the psychosocial needs for children are not being met, allowing the cycle to continue into the next generation.
Black women are perceived to be the property of their partners – particularly if they are unemployed, and even if they contribute to the community, because in the eyes of the perpetrator this is not a contribution to the household. The feminist activities during the Black Panther Movement, were and still are significant downplayed and women were appallingly treated by their male counterparts. This was also all witnessed by their children.
Naples’ Activist Mothering, is just one example of how African American women in modern memory, continue community work, which not only involves nurturing work for those outside one’s kinship group, but also encompasses a broad definition of actual “mothering practices” (Naples, p.448). As well as adapting their environment, women also opened their homes to young women with children, challenged “traditional notions of gender and mothering” (Naples, p.454) and bequeathed a new legacy to their children.
However, there were consequences such as overlapping demands. Within the community itself this was taken care of with “othermothers” (Troester, 1984) to assist with childcare, but some of the women reported problems within their personal relationships, which I hypothesise is causal to an escalation of domestic violence due to emasculation and jealousy. Some of the women also chose to obtain professional credentials (three African-Americans and seven Latinos), which may further cause provocation of violence at home. Other than the “othermothers”, no other intervention was provided for these women and their children to safeguard them.
African Americans live a bicultural reality (Collins, 1998), where the social process of violence is “hidden in plain sight” of children (Collins, 1998, p.925); Women are accused of betraying their race, should they report their partners and flee a perpetrator. Religion plays a huge part; Women especially, turn to their faith. Spirituality and the Black Church are anchors within the Black community (Billingsley, 1992). Yet, religious ideology undermines Black women and doctrine sanctions women for breaking marriages, while teaching their children that their fathers are the physical and spiritual author of the household (Bell & Mathis, 2000).
Research suggests that children who live in female-headed households do not do as well on several social indicators; for example, there is a higher school dropout rate among these children, and that daughters are at higher risk of becoming teen parents (Allison & Belgrave, 2006, p.64-65) However, this is not a reason to encourage victims to stay in abusive homes. Breaking the cycle of aggression and violence with divorce / separation has a higher psychosocial impact, than keeping children within the conflict.
What these women and particularly their children need, are early intervention. African American children are forced into an early adulthood: there is less warmth at home (Hofferth, 2003), and they are forced to take on adult roles, but outside are still expected to be children (Allison & Belgrave, 2006). What they need is an outlet and community violence intervention resources, which will prevent them from engaging in violence and early sexual intimacy (Allison & Belgrave, 2006).
Allison. K.W., & Belgrave. F.Z. (2006). African American Psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc. Section II, Social Systems & Structures, Chapter Three: Kinship & Family, “Consequences of Family Structure on Children’s Outcomes”, (p.64). Section III, Individual & Developmental Processes, Chapter Ten: “Lifespan Development”, (pp.242-244).
Anderson, C.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2002). Human Aggression, Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1)27-51.
Hampton, R., Oliver, W., & Magarian, L. (2003). Domestic Violence in the African American Community: An Analysis of Social and Structural Factors, Violence Against Women, Vol. 9 No. 5, 533-557. DOI: 10.1177/1077801201150450.
Hill Collins, P. (1998). The tie that binds: race, gender and US violence, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21(1)5, 917-938, DOI: 10.1080/01498798329720.
Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2013). Social psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw–Hill. Chapter 10, “Aggression: Hurting Others” (pp. 352–391).
Naples, N. (1992). Activist Mothering: Cross-Generational Continuity in the Community Work of Women from Low-Income Urban Neighbourhoods, Gender and Society, Vol. 6, No. 3. Race, Class & Gender, pp. 441-463. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org.stable/189996
Laureate Online, (2017) Week 7 Weekly Notes: Aggression and Violence [Social Psychology]. Retrieved from https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/bbcswebdav/institution/UKL1/201820OCT/MS_LPSY/LPSY_311/readings/LPSY_311_Week07_weeklyNotes.pdf