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Wounds of the Spirit

Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics

Traci West

Publication Year: 1999

In Wounds of the Spirit, Traci West employs first person accounts-from slave narratives to contemporary interviews to Tina Turner's autobiography-to document a historical legacy of violence against black women in the United States. West, a black feminist Christian ethicist, situates spiritual matters within a discussion of the psycho-social impact of intimate assault against African American women.

Distinctive for its treatment of the role of the church in response to violence against African American women, the book identifies specific social mechanisms which contribute to the reproduction of intimate violence. West insists that cultural beliefs as well as institutional practices must be altered if we are to combat the reproduction of violence, and suggests methods of resistance which can be utilized by victim-survivors, those in the helping professions, and the church.

Interrogating the dynamics of black women's experiences of emotional and spiritual trauma through the diverse disciplines of psychology, sociology, and theology, this important work will be of interest and practical use to those in women's studies, African American studies, Christian ethics, feminist and womanist theology, women's health, family counseling, and pastoral care.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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p. ix

Throughout my work on this project I knew that I wanted to be in dialogue with activists, academics, domestic violence practitioners, lay and clergy church leaders, counselors, social workers, public health workers, or anyone who cares about opposing violence against black women. I have been repeatedly advised against such broad intentions. "You have to...

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p. xi

In order to write this book I have benefited from the assistance of many friends, colleagues, and women whom I did not know well, but were willing to share their stories with me. To the women who took me into their confidence and told me about the violence in their lives; and to the counselors, therapists, and shelter workers who shared their insights about their work, I express my deepest gratitude.

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pp. 1-8

At the core of Christian tradition is a call to morally engage this world by demonstrated opposition to social injustice and human suffering. As Beverly Harrison describes, this Christian calling means confronting "as Jesus did, that which thwarts the power of human personal and communal becoming, that which denies human well-being, community, and human...

Part I: Listening to Women’s Stories

1. Testimony from Nonfiction Literature

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pp. 11-29

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2. Contemporary Testimony from Interviews

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pp. 30-51

Aisha was born in 1940 in the southeast.1 Several experiences of intimate violence are interwoven throughout her life. Her story portrays the assaults of poverty and racism converging with particular incidents of intimate violence. Aisha's stepfather was a sharecropper. Her family moved on a frequent basis in response to his search for employment on farms in different parts of the southeast. Aisha had an extremely...

Part II: Paying Attention to Women's Anguish

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3. Emotional and Spiritual Consequences

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pp. 55-88

The way women feel about themselves and their environment is permanently altered by the incidence of intimate assault in their lives. Deciphering the complex nature of this trauma involves naming and analyzing the emotional and spiritual repercussions of intimate violence. Naming the effects helps to break down the perception that the male violence experienced by black women is shameful and should be kept secret.

Part III: Deciphering the Role of Society

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4. Theoretical Resources

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pp. 91-121

Male violence and the accompanying terror and agony that women victim-survivors must cope with is neither an inexplicable nor an aberrant phenomenon. It is a problem that society has helped to create and sustain. In order to both adequately account for and develop a morally nuanced response to it, we need to use an analytical method that goes beyond the isolation of specific acts and focuses on the motivations...

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5. A Sampler of Cultural Assaults

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pp. 122-147

Certain ideologies and cultural myths about black women require closer examination. They must not be comfortably regarded as remote diffuse ideas that merely float in the air, occasionally landing in particular academic treatises which discuss them (like some of the works mentioned in the previous chapter). On the contrary, these cultural messages are articulated in a variety of public settings and manifested in specific...

Part IV: Garnering Methods of Resistance

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6. Identifying Resistance

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pp. 151-180

The previous chapters have retraced some of the traumatic consequences of violence against women by amplifying their vantage point, and sorting through the social constructions that reproduce their trauma. However, this depiction of the relentless, crushing, and variegated pressures of domination on women would be highly inaccurate without attention to the quality of resistance that also occurs. In addition,...

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7. Maintaining the Momentum, Sustaining an Ethic of Resistance

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pp. 181-207

As women initiate resistance on behalf of themselves and in so doing advance the interests of a civil society, it is incumbent upon their communities to continue that momentum. We who are committed to countering the social and intimate violence against black women must overcome our reluctance to join them.We need to participate in specifying a direction for constructive communal change. Of course, the effort...


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pp. 209-232

Select Bibliography

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pp. 233-243


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pp. 245-248

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About the Author

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p. 249

Traci C. West was born and raised in Connecticut. She is an ordained United Methodist minister who has served in campus and parish ministries. She is currently an associate professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814784716
E-ISBN-10: 0814784712
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814793343
Print-ISBN-10: 0814793347

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 50724069
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Wounds of the Spirit

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Rape -- United States.
  • Wife abuse -- United States.
  • Child sexual abuse -- United States.
  • African American women -- Social conditions.
  • Racism -- United States.
  • Sex discrimination against women -- United States.
  • African American women -- Crimes against.
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