Author: Shavar Jeffries


The Continuing Tragedy of Domestic Violence

As I write this, a woman in this country is being killed by a jilted lover.

Violence against women is so commonplace that its occurrence stirs little in the public’s imagination.  Almost one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their life.  And well over one million women are slapped, beaten, kicked, punched or otherwise assaulted by boyfriends or husbands each year.  Conservative estimates, moreover, show about 1500 women are murdered each year by intimates.

This is an epidemic that demands broad, sustained public attention.  Yet despite the scope of this problem, our culture does not seem amenable to the sort of transformation that might end this continued open season on women’s bodies.  Many states have come a long way over the last twenty years in addressing domestic violence more seriously.  But that’s more an indictment of where states were, rather than a commendation of where they are. The hard facts of the obscene rates at which women continue to be victimized is proof of our shortcomings.

In too many instances, the handwriting is on the wall concerning the potentially deadly consequences of a victim’s assertion of self-determination. Departing the relationship; leaving the home; starting a new relationship: these acts of autonomy predictably provoke violent reactions in abusers.  It is an indictment of the law — and thus us all — that despite this probability, the law does not intervene in a meaningful way until it’s too late. We need a sustained public commitment to change that.


Social Breakthroughs and Mediocrity

Thanks to Angel and Dan for inviting me to guest blog for the month.  I look forward to an engaging dialogue with Co-Op’s readers.

I thought I’d begin with something that’s been on my mind since the election of the President, which to some signaled the beginning of a post-racial era in our country.  I find that claim to be illustrative of a broader argument that highlights the accomplishments of social pioneers as evidence of transformational breakthroughs.  Regardless of the social hurdle, many often emphasize the example of a pioneering few — like Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, for example — as evidence of broader social transformations.  Yet this is misplaced.  The true test of whether we’ve moved beyond our social prejudices isn’t our treatment of those extraordinarily talented few who accomplish pioneering feats.  Instead, we achieve social breakthrough only when each American has an equal opportunity to exploit mediocrity.  How we treat the ordinary — those who require a second chance or benefit of the doubt — reveals more about our character than how we treat the exceptional.

Don’t get me wrong.  Pioneers are important.  In many social spheres, prejudice historically was so limiting that even the exceptional had little room to maneuver.  So we should applaud the progress reflected in the accomplishments of pioneers. But we should recognize that progress for what it is — and, just as important, for what it is not.