An Open letter to Janay Rice from Dr Boyce Watkins
Dear Janay, I’ll admit that I have no idea what inspired me to write this open letter to you. A close friend told me that, given that the situation with your husband Ray has become so political, I should avoid it altogether.
But I’m a man of spirit, and my heart is telling me to walk into the emotional volcano that has been created since Ray made that fateful mistake earlier this year.
When I see your family, I see a beautiful, yet deeply-troubling, situation. I see a young couple that may not have learned how to properly love each other. I see two twenty-somethings dealing with the stress that comes with raising a daughter in the public eye, in addition to the struggles and uncertainty that come with being black in the NFL.
In your altercation with Ray, I see the faces of women I’ve known through the years who’ve been beaten and/or killed by the men they loved. I’ve known women who chose to never give up on a man or marriage that was clearly detrimental to her health.
I’ve seen women so hopelessly in love and so willing to forgive that they were manipulated into protecting men who would eventually end their lives. That is what makes me fear for you.
On the other side, I see the strength of many of our grandmothers, who believed in their men, even when these men didn’t believe in themselves. One can’t help but admire the determination with which you’ve stood by Ray throughout this entire situation, speaking on his behalf, as the world has come down on your family like a ton of bricks.
Your family has lost millions of dollars due to this ordeal, and anyone who thinks that you’re better off without a working husband is completely out of their mind (getting angry at a branch doesn’t mean you chop down the entire tree). That’s what happens when people “protect you” by destroying your life – the fact is that they care less about you and your family than they do about their own political agenda.
But let me make this point abundantly clear: I HAVE NO IDEA if you’re making the right decision by sticking it out with Ray.
I don’t know your marriage, I don’t know your life and I don’t know you. I hope for your sake that you know what you’re doing, since a lot of victims have been hurt by going down this path. My daughters are not much younger than you, and I have a sister I love, so I am incredibly sensitive to your family’s situation.
Also, as a black man, I am readily familiar with the American media’s tendency to criminalize black men, even before they learn all the facts. For hundreds of years, our society has believed that the black man is a monster beyond redemption. When people throw away our lives in prison or shoot us dead in the street, they don’t spend one second thinking about the families we’ve left behind.
Some are attributing your loyalty to Ray to be the result of some kind of psychological impairment on your part. They’ve said that, as a battered woman, you’re incapable of making intelligent choices about the future of your family.
The honest to God fact is that this might all be true.
Millions of women defend their men, bail them out of jail, violate restraining orders and stand by their sides right up until the day they are dead. In fact, a relative of my close friend was murdered by her husband just a week ago. For your sake, I hope you aren’t lying to yourself, being coerced or ultimately being misled.
The ferocity with which Ray retaliated against you in that elevator is both scary and astonishing, and you should rightfully fear the possibility that he may do this again. For all I know, he may have done something similar in the past, behind closed doors. If that is the case, then you are in danger and you need to think about that.
Many abusers never change their behavior.
But here’s another possibility.
Maybe you deserve to have some say in all of this, instead of being drowned out by all of the people who claim to know what’s best for you. Rather than making your family’s trauma into a political football that has even led to a statement by The White House, people can respect the idea that you might actually know what’s best for your family and your child.
No one can argue that a family is better off with a husband who is out of work and publicly ostracized. That’s the ridiculous world in which we live, and I wish you could have been allowed to handle all of this in private.
For every woman who made the mistake of staying in a relationship with a perpetually abusive man, there is another woman who is glad she made the choice to keep her family together. Some will call these women stupid or the product of male manipulation; I call them heroes, ultimate mothers, and powerful people. At the very least, women deserve to have a say in what happens to their families without paternalistic eavesdroppers forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
With black families being torn apart left and right by the pitfalls of extreme feminism, we should appreciate situations where someone isn’t seeking to throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroying their family at the drop of a hat. I especially admire the fact that you’ve admitted that both you AND Ray made a huge mistake that night, although Ray’s mistake was much greater.
In these silly public debates, we have to at least try to make room for the truth. Here’s the bottom line for you, my daughters and any young person reading this article: Violence has no place whatsoever in any relationship. You don’t show love by hitting, spitting or even cussing each other out.
If you care about yourself and love your child, you’ll force Ray to get extensive counseling so that he learns to resolve his disputes without the use of physical force. If your relationship doesn’t last, you may end up saving the life of another woman. You may even need to separate from Ray just long enough for him to appreciate the importance of his family and to realize that the power of fatherhood/manhood/husbandhood does not come with the right to abuse those he is supposed to protect.
He should be hitting men on the football field, not hitting his wife….EVER.
The other ugly truth – which some people will never admit- is that if you did indeed spit in Ray’s face (as the elevator video seems to show), you also need counseling. Spitting on your partner, hitting him or physically assaulting him in any way is entirely unacceptable. It’s childish, hurtful and ultimately harmful to your daughter.
A gentleman will never hit you under any circumstances, but to demand that he behave like a gentleman, it is also mandated that you conduct yourself like a lady. Love is not produced from creating the conditions that lead to war. Ray is accountable for the way he responded to your emotional triggers and physical aggression, but you are accountable for your choices as well.
One option you may want to consider is a temporary separation with the condition that Ray gets the help that he needs. Given his powerful physical stature and the disproportionate nature with which he attacked you, he clearly bears the greatest burden in all of this. He’s also a public figure and should have realized that he risked losing everything by doing what he did.
As you both express your legitimate concern that the media and critics have destroyed your family’s livelihood, you must also accept the fact that Ray brought this on himself when he chose to behave like a boy instead of a man in the elevator that night. I admire your strength and the fact that you believe in your man.
Black men are so accustomed to the world giving up on us at the drop of a hat that I was personally inspired to see you scream to the world and demand that they give you a voice. I also respect the idea that you understand that by strengthening your husband, you are also strengthening your family. A queen never benefits when her king has been destroyed.
Assuming that Ray can mature in his ability to resolve disputes peacefully, your daughter will one day thank you for not bowing to the pressure to throw her daddy out with the trash. Children love their daddies, even when they are not perfect. As the head of your household, I advocate for you to speak up, be strong and let the world know you are in charge.
I also vote for your husband’s opportunity for redemption with the understanding that he is now walking a very thin line where even his best friends will abandon him out of fear of being alienated themselves. But again, this life was of his own choosing, he can’t blame anyone but himself.
Finally, I encourage you to remember the voices of abuse victims everywhere and realize that you must tread carefully as you move forward. It will be difficult to receive sympathy from anyone if this ever happens again. That’s just the honest truth. But to the extent that you know more about your relationship than any of us will ever know, I presume that you see possibilities in Ray that are worth the risk. Personally, I respect your decision, because I remind my daughters that I have a fundamental belief in a woman’s right to choose her own outcomes.
Bless you, your family and your beautiful child. I’m rooting for you.
Sincerely, Dr Boyce Watkins
Dr Boyce Watkins is a Finance PhD, advocate for black families and author of the book, “Black American Money: How black power can thrive in a capitalist society.” To get a free copy of the ebook, please click here.