Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

Black Families Matter

Susanne Schade

Robin D. Stone shows us the difficulties that arise from the intertwining of the categories of race and trauma in her book entitled "No Secrets, No Lies - How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse". She draws attention to a topic that poses enormous challenges to everyone involved in society but especially to those active in political, anti-racist work.

In a sensitively written way, Stone expresses what many keep silent about in order not to be further marginalized or considered racist: dealing with sexual abuse in Black families.

Basically, it must first of all be mentioned that sexual abuse occurs in all social classes, involving all genders and all cultures. An American study cited by Stone suggests that such abuse occurs primarily in underprivileged groups, i.e. among poor people (Stone, 2004: 16). Angela Davis also exposes the myth of the Black rapist as a relationship of oppression; in this case, a transition from sexism to racism, for which there exists no empirical basis (Davis, 2022).

Stone notes: „Our families are no more or less dysfunctional than those of other races or ethnicities. But we cannot overestimate the impact that slavery and systemic racism have on our family dynamics, and how the still-pervasive fear of institutional racism and its agents keeps our families from reporting abuse to authorities.” (2004: 53).

Often, in families where sexual abuse occurs either by a family member or by a relative, there is a spiral of silence that leads to the perpetrator being protected. The family system perpetuates the pathogenic dynamic and does not find ways to protect the victim and put the perpetrator in his or her place or exclude him or her from the family system. This sickening dynamic traumatizes the victim a second time or even more times than that beyond the actual assault.

In Black families, the outward desire to belong to society is as fundamental as it is for any human being. Only this desire is intertwined with experiences of racism. Belonging has to be fought for much harder than for white people who do not experience the indignity of racism or, in other words, who are not told over and over again that they should not belong. In Black families, this creates great sense of fear and shame of not living up to the expectations of an ideal family and/or offering a kind of target for an attack that would only feed racist prejudices.

There is "little trust in social institutions," a "desire to support Black men" and to keep family matters out of the public eye (Stone, 2004: 59).

Many victims are afraid to break the silence because they believe that no one in the family will believe them, that the mother will feel guilty, that they will be rejected as a child and lose the love of their parents, that the family will be hurt, that the perpetrator will kill himself or even go to prison (Stone, 2004). Many victims do not turn to social workers or institutions that could offer help because they themselves have very strong feelings of shame and guilt. They start to question themselves, trivialize the incident, deny what happened or blame themselves for the assault.

But these strategies cannot be helpful for healing and, in fact, lead to a variety of distressing experiences such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, lack and loss of sexual desire, somatization or even sadomasochism. One avenue of healing is certainly psychotherapy. Stone points out that Black people often face a therapist who has no idea of the complexity of Black people's culture, history and challenges but comes from a white middle class perspective (Stone, 2004). Therapists often do not understand the role of spiritual thinking or the emphasis on a "we" rather than an "I" in the experience of Black people (ibid.).

The elitist education system has not addressed the structural disadvantages of Black people, who have less access to psychology, medicine and therapist training, so that the number of non-white colleagues working as therapists is negligible. Therapeutic work, therefore, needs an intersectional perspective in order to work out the interconnections of the categories of difference race, gender and class more strongly and to be able to understand people better in the complexity of their own world of experience.

On a political level, the focus must be more about including the needs of Black families more in education campaigns so that the hurdle to seek help is lowered for the victims. Anti-racist work must also start where many remain silent and do not want to look because they fear being put in a corner with the right. Uncomfortable questions must be asked and violence must remain open for discussion, even if it comes from people who experience multiple forms of discrimination.

Often, people also avoid relating racism to patriarchal structures and the particular dynamics of the intertwining of race, class and gender:

“Racism is linked to patriarchy to the extent that racism denies men of color the power and privilege that dominant men enjoy” (Crenshaw, 1995: 362).

In this respect, therapeutic work can never be apolitical but, in my understanding, it is always anti-racist in its presuppositions.


Crenshaw, K. W. (1995). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity, Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. In: Crenshaw, K., Gcotanda, N., Peller, G. & Kendall, T. (Hrsg.). Critical Race Theory (S. 357-383). The New Press.

Davis, A. (2022). Rassismus, Sexismus und Klassenkampf. Unrast Verlag.

Stone, R. D. (2004). No Secrets, No Lies – How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse. Harlem Moon.

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