Tracy Chapman – Behind the Wall

A song dedicated to victims of domestic violence

In honour of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, recurring tomorrow, 25th November, WiB looks at Tracy Chapman’s “Behind the Wall”, a song dedicated to the victims of one of the most common forms of gender-based violence: domestic abuse.

Tracy Chapman is an American singer-songwriter, who rose to international recognition with her self-titled 1988 debut album, “Tracy Chapman”. The album featured what would become some of Chapman’s most acclaimed and popular songs, such as “Fast Car”, “Talkin’ About a Revolution”, and “Baby Can I Hold You”.

A girl finds the Ukulele

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African American family, Chapman’s passion for music was recognized early on, and, after being given a ukulele by her mother during childhood, Chapman started composing tunes.

The ukulele being Chapman’s first instrument could be easily read as an omen of what Chapman herself, later on, would represent to many people worldwide. According to the first queen and last reigning monarch of the then Kingdom of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani, the word “ukulele”, translated from Hawaiian, means “the gift that came here”.

Indeed, since Chapman has come, while the gift of her art has conveyed a somewhat otherworldly grace, a stark moral integrity, and a natural inclination towards the expression of beauty, her actions have also carried the gift of their indisputable exemplariness.

Chapman’s activism through music:

Chapman’s concern for social issues and the safeguard of human rights, while representing a noticeable theme in her lyrics, has also been the motive for her constant deeds of social activism. As Chapman stated in an interview with NPR in 2009,

“I’m approached by lots of organizations and lots of people who want me to support their various charitable efforts in some way. And I look at those requests and I basically try to do what I can. And I have a certain interest of my own, generally an interest in human rights”.

Behind the wall:

One of the songs in which that very interest is most evident is Chapman’s “Behind the Wall”. The song voices the anguish of a hypothetical neighbour, who listened, behind the wall, to the episode of domestic violence occurred next door during the night.

“Last night I heard the screaming

Loud voices behind the wall

Another sleepless night for me

It won’t do no good to call

The police always come late

If they come at all”

 One of the most treacherous aspects of being either a victim or a witness of domestic violence is its all too frequent ability to paralyze all the people involved, except the perpetrator, whose abusive actions may incapacitate the victim from reacting not only physically, but psychologically also.

The words of the song being soulfully sung entirely a cappella amplify the feeling of impotent isolation victims and witnesses of domestic violence may feel, all the more when a legitimate yet perilous distrust in law enforcement has lacerated any hope of being helped.

And when they arrive

They say they can’t interfere

With domestic affairs

Between a man and his wife

And as they walk out the door

The tears well up in her eyes

In the above verses, we find out that the kind of domestic violence occurred during the night is what has been often referred to as IPV, or “intimate partner violence”. The expression describes a pattern of either physical, psychological or sexual abuse which can occur between current or former intimate partners. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the victims abused are women.

Domestic violence worldwide:

According to the World Health Organization, “30% of every partnered woman globally have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. The rates of this violence vary between 23% and 47%  in different regions of the world. Many countries, however, have no prevalence data available, showing that this field of research is still developing”.

Not to mention, of course, all the cases that go unreported, and that, when and if a case is reported, a woman will have suffered an average of 35 assaults.

Last night I heard the screaming

Then a silence that chilled my soul

I prayed that I was dreaming

When I saw the ambulance in the road

And the policeman said

“I’m here to keep the peace

Will the crowd disperse

I think we all could use some sleep”

At this point, as does the horror-stricken neighbour, we presume the woman has been killed, joining the 38% of female murders committed worldwide by an intimate partner, while “peace” has been achieved after her death, because of her death, not during her life, because of her life.

During a woman’s life, intimate partner violence is just one of the forms of violence she is likely to encounter. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women intends to raise awareness on all kinds of violence women worldwide are subject to, including sexual assault, sexual misconduct, harassment, honour killings, genital mutilation, child marriage, human trafficking, forced prostitution. And so on.

Why an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women:

The reason the date chosen for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was the 25th November is that on this day, 57 Novembers ago, three of four Dominican sisters, namely the Mirabal sisters, as a result of their political opposition to what at the time was Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship, were brutally murdered. They soon after became “symbols of both popular and feminist resistance”.

The youngest of the Mirabal sisters, Marìa Teresa, has been quoted saying, before her murder: “Perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten us. We shall continue to fight for that which is just”.

Tracy Chapman has appeared to have also done so, along with many other women, who “hunger only for a taste of justice/ hunger only for a world of truth”.

 

 

Last night I heard the screaming

Loud voices behind the wall

Another sleepless night for me

It won’t do no good to call

The police always come late

If they come at all

And when they arrive

They say they can’t interfere

With domestic affairs

Between a man and his wife

And as they walk out the door

The tears well up in her eyes

Last night I heard the screaming

Then a silence that chilled my soul

I prayed that I was dreaming

When I saw the ambulance in the road

And the policeman said

“I’m here to keep the peace

Will the crowd disperse

I think we all could use some sleep]

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Sounds from the Bucket
Isaac K. Wilde

Isaac is an Italian soon-to-be social work student, with a targetless passion for whatever strives to bring meaning in his life and in the life of others. His previous academic studies have involved cognitive psychology and modern literature. He is currently teaching English, writing short stories, and being publicly dispossessed of his true name by an on-going feud with shyness, hence his writing on WIB with an otherwise unnecessary pseudonym such as Isaac K. Wilde.

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