I was watching the actress Kerry Washington’s PSA on domestic violence. I’d been seeing her around carrying a purple purse for some time, but never had time to really stop. There she sat in a pristine room, dressed like an angel, with the prettiest purple makeup you ever did see. It looked more like a promo for a movie called “Purple Princess.” She was saying that she’s working with the Allstate Foundation to bring awareness to domestic violence and financial abuse, which affects 98 percent of the women who are in abusive relationships. Purple is the color for domestic violence and the purse signifies the heart of a woman’s finances. By talking about this issue she hopes to bring it out of the shadows.
Honestly, I just couldn’t buy her as a domestic violence spokesperson. It was all too perfect, too neat. Domestic violence is ugly. Where was her black eye? Why was she even there? Not once did she mention what brought her personally to want to advocate for this issue. Was she or someone she knows ever a victim? It just didn’t seem connected to anything and left me wondering if she’s the latest celebrity jumping on a cause.
Is it even helpful to throw a celebrity out there to just start talking about an issue with seemingly no connection?
Ironically, the next day, I was walking home from school with my two daughters. My neighbor stopped me and asked if I had heard what happened in our building. “No,” I said, wondering what I had missed.
A woman on the first floor was getting beaten so badly by her boyfriend that my neighbor, who lives three houses down, called the cops. The police came and took the guy to jail.
Not in our building. Clutch my pearls. I asked him what the woman looked like and he said he never saw her face.
Whoa. Who is she? Does she live in the building? How did she end up in such a situation? I hurried my girls along. My neighbor is chatty and could have stood there talking about it all day.
Later, I found that I was still thinking about that woman. Maybe I could help her. But then again, if her man was crazy enough to beat her in broad daylight, what would he try to do to me? I’m smart enough to know that I can’t get involved. Even if she was my best friend I’d have to think twice, three times about how I could help. Better to mind my own business. But still, if I’m my sister’s keeper wouldn’t it make sense to try and do something?
I decided to speak to the family advocate at my daughter’s pre-school. I remembered they sometimes do talks on domestic abuse. She said that the only thing to do in the case of this woman is to call the police.
“You don’t want to put her in more danger by exposing the situation because now the man feels threatened and he could take that out on her.” Okay, but he already got arrested. Is there anything else I can do for her? She had no answer. I asked her if she’d seen Kerry Washington’s public service announcement and if talking about the issue could help. “Yes. Talking about it empowers the powerless and takes the shame off,” she said. “That woman can walk out of the shadows and realize that it’s not her fault. It also puts the blame back on the abuser where it belongs.”
Back to Kerry Washington’s PSA. Does it matter if she may not have been abused? Does that mean she shouldn’t talk about it? One of my favorite writers, Cat Marnell, is a drug addict and gets a lot of flack for talking about her addiction. When Whitney Houston overdosed she wrote a powerful essay called On the Death Of Whitney Houston and Why I Won’t Ever Stop Talking About My Drug Use
Her belief is that as soon as she stops talking about it she is going to ‘slip silently into the water and disappear.’ Just like Whitney. For Cat, talking about her drug use is a matter of survival. She can’t stop, won’t stop.
It could stand to reason that if we stop talking about our sister’s issues then maybe we’ll all disappear too. Isn’t that what the recent Ebony magazine cover with “The Cosby Show” cast is all about? Let’s just talk about it. Sometimes we underestimate that power. Somebody out there is going to feel validated, and will hopefully come out of the shadows. Then maybe we won’t all disappear.
Do you believe in the power of public service announcements to bring a greater awareness about domestic violence?