California Conference Addresses Domestic Abuse A two-day conference on domestic abuse in African-American homes is under way in Long Beach, Calif. Organizer Oliver Williams, director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, talks about the conference and its goals.
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California Conference Addresses Domestic Abuse

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California Conference Addresses Domestic Abuse

California Conference Addresses Domestic Abuse

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TONY COX, host:

Joining Edwards at today's conference is its organizer, Oliver Williams, director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community. According to Williams, spousal abuse comes in many forms. Words are the weapon of choice for many abusers.

NPR's Farai Chideya recently sat down with Williams and asked him to explain how a man or a woman can abuse a partner without lifting a finger.

Mr. OLIVER WILLIAMS (Director, Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community): He will turn it around and start to talk about how he's not getting his needs met. What's in it for him? I mean, you hear different women's stories, women in family court years ago talks about the fact that women would deal with the issues of the kids. They talked about how he needs to provide for the kids. And he told her, he said look, if you come back and you live with me, I'll take care of you and the kids, there'll be no problem. But if you don't, you're cut off.

So the woman said, I'm not coming back. So she was homeless for a while, her and the kids, his kids lived in a car for a period of time.

FARAI CHIDEYA: Do you think that institutional racism and the slings and arrows are a huge part of that anger?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Carl Bell, a noted psychiatrist out of Chicago, talks about micro-insults that African-Americans experience. But black women experience them, too. And men are disproportionately violent towards women. It's a way that you learn how to be able to address it. If you take it out on people in your environment, that's to me a part of internalized racism.

And the other side of it is, too, that if he's having issues in terms of institutional racism, then it's a question about, in my opinion, helping him the problem solve how to address that problem but not displace it toward someone else.

We have to have a norm in our community that sets the standards for healthy behavior. But we also have to have increased access points. There are people dealing with micro-insults and they're using that, how do your problem solve to, you know, develop skills to deal with those challenges but not harm your family?

CHIDEYA: You keep using the term micro-insults. And by that I'm assuming you mean things like people locking their car doors when you walk by or denying you the ability to compete for a job, or all those things.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Sometimes it's dealing with the issue of social context. Right? So when you know people who live in violent, social high-stress, low-income communities that deal with gang violence, that deal with situations where they see violence on a regular basis and experience violence through - experience violence from man to man. It's awful dealing with those types of issues too. A lot of young African-American boys, they talk about, you know, that they've heard shots, they've seen people get shoot, they may have gotten shot themselves. And how do you have conversations about that, and say that you have to be really peaceful and find ways to find peace within yourself so you don't take it out? Hurricane Carter talks about that.

CHIDEYA: What kind of numbers do we know about specifically the black community?

Mr. WILLIAMS: What we know is that African-Americans have higher rates, two to three times than of whites. And that they can have higher rates of domestic violence compared to any other group except for Native Americans. And we also know that the younger you are, so ages between let's say 18 to 24, 18 to 34, they have very high rates of domestic violence. Now we haveā€¦

CHIDEYA: Really?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Oh yeah. And what's been interesting is that even though the rates of domestic violence are higher among African-Americans supposedly, the rates have gone down overall around domestic violence. But there are some of us who don't believe that. People look at law enforcement approaches. Law enforcement approaches capture very small numbers relatively to the violence that exists.

We have to heal from the inside out. It has to come from the community out, from the individual out. And we haven't done as good a job in terms of trying to heal from the inside out.

CHIDEYA: How are you going to get the trust in the black community that you need to even have the conversation about whether there needs to be a change and if so what that change looks like?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I think you have to set different norms. You have to get ministers and imams to tell the truth about the Bible and the Koran and to talk about the fact that violence towards women is not something that's acceptable. Leadership is different than male dominance. Talk about Ephesians 5, you know, I wish people would read the whole chapter.

CHIDEYA: Tell us about Ephesians 5.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Ephesians 5 is a thing that often times people turn to when they say the man is the head of the household. But that's not what the whole chapter talks about. The whole chapter talks about man have a responsibility to treat their partners as they treat themselves, and only a fool would hurt themselves. I don't hear that in conversations. It doesn't talk about the idea of interdependence, you know, which I thought - I mean, for me when I read it and when I talk to other ministers about it, they talk about the notion of interdependence and sharing. That's what churches should be about. And to me that's what God - God is love.

CHIDEYA: Oliver Williams, thank you very much.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

COX: Oliver Williams is director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community at the University of Minnesota and co-editor of the new book, "Parenting By Men Who Batter: New Directions for Assessment and Intervention." He spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: Just ahead, a Guantanamo Bay detainee admits to helping sink the USS Cole, that's one of the topics on our Roundtable today. And one woman remembers how it felt to be in the presence of literary greats.

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