Women of Color, Domestic Violence and “That” Picture of Rihanna

By Julianne Hing Feb 20, 2009

Rihanna’s back in the news again after a photo of her taken the night she was allegedly beat by Chris Brown was leaked online. You probably saw it, even if you weren’t looking for it. Today, the LAPD is launching an internal investigation into who released the photo. More heartbreaking than the photo itself though has been the way the conversation immediately following the incident, fueled almost entirely by speculation and conjecture, has been happening in a way that has minimized the incident by blaming Rihanna. The comments on blogs, YouTube video pages, Chris Brown’s own MySpace page have ranged from, "She deserved it," to, "You have to watch it with them crazy island women." Afrobella says it best:

Take a gander at any of the popular gossip blogs right now, and read those comments if you want to feel your blood pressure rise. I’m not about to link to any of the posts that REALLY got my goat, but I need to get this off my chest. As a proud Trinidadian woman, a West Indian woman, a woman from the islands… I do NOT appreciate the stereotypes that are being thrown around by commenters seeking to condone or explain this act of violence. I’m seeing all kinds of nonsense. And I quote: “He better watch himself, those island women are crazy.” “Who didn’t tell chris that island women were nutso?” “Caribbean women are crazy, she probably cut him.” “That island b***h probably put some roots on him.” “Chris Brown laying the SMACKDOWN on Carribean joints. [frank lucas voice]. My ni**a!”

The public discourse has been troubling, particularly because for many women of color, domestic violence is more than some celebrity scandal. According to the Women of Color Network, 23.4% of Latinas report being the victims of intimate partner violence, and the numbers jump to 29.1% for Black women, 37.5% for Native American women and 44% for Asian and Pacific Islander women. Domestic violence is across the board, but especially in communities of color, severely under reported and under prosecuted. The shaming of Rihanna only discourages women from speaking out and drives the experiences of women further underground. The longer it takes us to face it, the longer it’ll take us to fix it. J-Smooth tackled this when the news first broke broke in his video interview with Elizabeth Mendez Berry, whose 2005 piece for Vibe, "Love Hurts," is a must-read: Turns out today is Rihanna’s 21st birthday. Happy birthday girl.