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Writer Janelle Harris on why Ray and Janay Rice's domestic violence situation goes beyond them.

Janelle Harris
Sep, 09, 2014

The recorded attack on Janay Rice is stomach-turning and, because it came from the hands of the man she believes loves her, it’s also soulless and cruel. The footage that captured it was short and silent for the most part, but it didn’t need volume or length to convey atrocity. It was a visual assault on the viewer. It did not look like love.

Not when her man punched her. Not when she crumpled to the floor. Not when he failed to muster even a glimmer of shock or remorse at his own savagery. Not when he was picking her up like a sack of heavy garbage, showing zero tenderness. Not when he couldn’t even be bothered to keep the elevator doors from closing on her limp, unconscious body. It was hard to watch.

Their inner turmoil outwardly exposed in all of its post-traumatic ugliness, Janay now wants the media and the public at large to stay out of an incident she apparently regards as ancient personal history. She said as much in a statement posted earlier today on Instagram. 

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s [sic] reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options [sic] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrific [sic]. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific,” she wrote.

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Lots of “we” and “us” in there. Plenty of references to him. She very unfortunately and pretty basically silences herself, which isn’t uncharacteristic of women in relationships that have a violent norm. It’s no less saddening. I don't presume to know what Janay is thinking. Maybe watching the video of the incident we’re just now seeing and reacting to is too painful because she lived the experience. I have, too. Many of us have. There’s terror in being attacked randomly by a stranger but there’s ongoing horror when you’re physically blindsided by the person who has your heart.

I don’t know her reasons for staying and I don’t blame her for doing so, not because I think it’s the right thing to do, but because I know that some women love themselves enough to leave at the first swing, the first slap, the first punch, the first shove, the first flare-up of an unchecked temper. And others have to let that self-love accumulate into a decision to make the next swing, the next slap, the next punch, the next shove, the next flare-up the last one they’ll tolerate. Some women have emotional baggage and psychological throwbacks—ranging from low self-worth to cultural indoctrination to witnessing abuse in the households they grew up in—that keep them from immediately doing what we think they should do. 

The most frustrating component of the story for me, though, is the response of women to a brutal attack of another woman. On a radio show yesterday afternoon, I listened to a series of ladies call in with comments that basically reduced Rice going upside his then-fiancee’s head as the price for being involved with a man in a position of power, that it was the tax she paid for the entitlement and privilege she surely enjoyed as being partnered with a pro athlete. Even then, the majority of them said, he shouldn’t have lost his job.

“I don’t know how what he does in an elevator with his girlfriend has to do with what he does on the field,” one caller lamented. “The Ravens did the wrong thing.”

My heart ached at the easiness in which she barked her opinion. She’s certainly rooting for the team harder than the sisterhood. When women can’t empathize with other women, it hurts my soul. It really does.

Ray Rice isn’t beyond redemption. Very few of us are beyond redemption. But the decision to cut him from his beloved team was justified because, as late as it was handed down, it sends a message of intolerance for violence against women, no matter what the politics behind it. If the average Jane and John Doe can be fired for what’s posted on their social media pages, if Michael Vick was roundly demonized for what he did to dogs, a pro football player who landed a blow on his girl in an elevator should be subjected to justice too.

This is bigger than Janay Rice. It should touch a special place in all of us who have experienced the euphoria of love and infatuation, and endured the complexities of relationships. There’s a hashtag circulating stories about #WhyIStayed. If you’re having a hard time letting this story touch you, maybe you should check that out. No shade.

Freelance writer Janelle Harris is a creative spirit in a transitional moment, excited to see what God gon’ do next. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.