Professor sparks discussion on violence in the Pan-African world

Daisha Overstreet

An African-American male is criticized constantly at his job. Barred by his own silence in the public world, he releases his stress and frustration by striking his wife. This is the scenario that Pan-African Studies Lecturer Denise Harrison started her “Violence in a Pan-African World” discussion with Tuesday night.

Harrison told the audience at the African Community Theater in Oscar Ritchie Hall that violence is more deeply rooted in the African-American community than they may think.

“It’s a stigma,” she said. “There’s the strong black woman who can handle her own without the help of anyone and the strong black man who is supposed to show no fear.”

Harrison said this stigma prevents black men and women from seeking help. Historical adversity, race-based exclusion, and inequality in education, housing, health and economic resources lead people to criminal behavior when they can’t feed their feelings, Harrison said.

Sixty-three percent of African-Americans consider depression a weakness, she said. The rest who think differently often face barriers to treatment such as denial, embarrassment, shame, refusing or not wanting to seek help, and even lack of insurance.

This stigma makes it difficult to resolve mental issues because the strong black woman is supposed to manage while the strong black man is supposed to remain unaffected. The stigma helps none, she said.

Suicide rates among African-Americans between the ages of 15-24 have increased, Harrison said. Some of these issues are caused by a sense of hyper-masculinity, adding to the stigma. The negative influences on one person can tremendously affect how he or she treats his or her partner in a relationship.

“You really have to create a pattern of behavior for the people you care about,” Harrison said.

Harrison had to create her own pattern of behavior when she went through her divorce. She sought help by talking to those who have gone through the situation before, which helped her find a way out of an abusive relationship.

“I think part of it is you find people who have already broken the cycle,” Harrison said.

Co-speaker and graduate sociology major Dawn deFoor agreed that after nine years in an unhealthy relationship, she had to evaluate her situation and do what was best for her two daughters.

“There are two generations in front of me that are experiencing the effects of me ‘taking it’ with a badge of honor. In reality it was a façade,” deFoor said. “I had to break the cycle by finding support outside of the family.”

The speech also touched on how there is a power dynamic between partners in a relationship that can have a negative effect on someone. Often, there is a struggle to find a balance of power and control in a relationship. An imbalance affects people mentally, emotionally and sexually.

“In terms of protecting your body, both males and females don’t really know how to do that,” Chairperson of Pan-African Studies Amoaba Gooden said.

She said it should be up to the schools to teach students more about the power dynamics in relationships and even pleasure. Schools should be able to teach more about the signs of a negatively escalating relationship.

Contact Daisha Overstreet at [email protected].