Fighting Violence Against Black Women Is a Womanist Battle


Black women face domestic violence at alarming rates. 

Forty-five percent of Black women in the U.S. have experienced physical violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking from an intimate partner in their lifetimes. And 51.3% of Black woman murders are related to intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

However, discourse about this violence doesn’t always adequately prioritize the particular systems and structures that both make this violence against Black women possible and even encourage it. That’s why York College associate professor Selena Rodgers looks at the matter through a womanist lens in new research published in the Encyclopedia of Social Work

The article draws on womanism — an encompassing framework that prioritizes Black women where feminism misses the mark —  to bring “into focus pervasive acts of violence perpetrated against black women, their racial loyalty to protect black men, and the limitations of existing domestic violence models and interventions.”

It’s important to not think of violence against Black women as simply a modern phenomenon, but as the legacy of slavery, Rodgers writes.

“Violence against black women has been sanctioned by law and policies and even encouraged,” she writes. “ Concomitantly, there is a need for scholarly literature to catch up and legitimately document the inordinate burden that began with enslavement, instruments for forced reproductive breeding, medical sterilization, surgical experimentation, killings, rapes, and harassment.” 

Proponents of slavery promoted the myth that Black women were physically stronger and more resilient than white women, Rodgers notes. Today, this racist trope leads authority figures (like police) to perceive Black women as angry and abnormally strong in the context of domestic violence. Thus, they are more likely to face arrest and punishment when they try to defend themselves against abusers. 

Rodgers holds that when a womanist framework is used to focus on domestic violence, Black women are centered in the discussion. The author recommends social workers learn about the ways in which culture and social diversity impacts domestic violence against Black women.

“It is important to understand barriers to seeking services for black women, their full experience with violence, and racial loyalty,” she concludes.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Womanism and Domestic Violence
Encyclopedia of Social Work, 2020

Work By

Selena Rodgers (Associate Professor, Social Work) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

York College