American Culture, black men, black women, blacks, History, Race

The Policing of Black Female Sexuality

Another graduate school paper written in 2015

Abstract
The current paradigm concerning black female sexuality has been constructed from beliefs about black women that began as a result of white patriarchal ideologies established during slavery. These stereotypes about black female sexuality in particular have been used to shape U.S. public policy concerning social welfare and because of these stereotypes, black women have been blamed for passing down a “culture of poverty” from one generation to the next. This paper will discuss the policing of black female sexuality and pose the question: Why is black female sexuality considered dangerous to the status quo?


The Policing of Black Female Sexuality
It is a strange lot to be a Black woman in American society. She was brought to this country to be an unpaid worker, a concubine and a broodmare. Her body and her sexuality has been reviled but from the various brilliant shades of brown Black people come in, is curiously loved. This paper will examine the reasons for the policing of black female sexuality and why even in 2015, black women are not allowed to embrace their sexuality in the way white women are.


The Beginnings
The policing of Black female sexuality began during slavery. White males who were attracted to their slaves had to justify their attraction to them by labeling Black women as deviant, sexually aggressive creatures and whose sexuality had to be regulated. It also had to do with white male views on female sexuality. “Barbara Omolade asserts that the sexual stereotyping of black women’s bodies is rooted in colonialism. She argues that European male colonists read African women’s sexuality “according to their own definitions of sex, nudity, and blackness as base, foul, and bestial.” (Maurer, 2000).


This narrative fit very nicely with the “Cult of True Womanhood” in which white women were considered pure, dainty, innocent, and deserving of protection while the Back female slave was considered “primitive and incapable of chastity, purity, and moral virtue.” (Maurer, 2000). White men could then have unrestrained sex with the female slaves with no responsibility for their actions while protecting the virtue of white women.
Thus, the degrading images of black women being less than human and not worthy of respect was born. The hyper sexualized stereotype of black women as a femme fatale was used during slavery justify sexual relations between white men and black women, especially sexual unions involving masters and their female slaves. The black woman was depicted as a woman with an insatiable appetite for sex. She was not satisfied with black men and needed.”


Slave women were considered chattel and legally they had no rights so they could be raped with impunity with no repercussions. Often white male plantation owners would give their sons the “gift” of a young slave girl to be his concubines. “Nevertheless, as John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman state in Intimate Matters: A Sexual History of Sexuality in America, ‘the rape of a female slave was probably the most common form of interracial sex during that time’.” (Rhymes, 2007).


The idea that black women were more sexually immoral than white women was reinforced by slavery. “Slaves whether on the auction block or offered privately for sale, were often stripped naked and physically examined. This was done to ensure that they were healthy, able to reproduce, and, most importantly, to look for whipping scars – the presence of which implied that the slave was rebellious. In practice, the stripping and touching of slaves had a sexually exploitative, sometimes sadistic function. Nakedness, especially among women in the 18th and 19th centuries, implied a lack of civility, morality, and sexual restraint even when the nakedness was forced. Slaves, of both sexes and all ages, often wore few clothes or clothes so ragged that their legs, thighs, and chests were exposed. Conversely, whites, especially women, wore clothing over most of their bodies. The contrast between the clothing reinforced the belief that white women were civilized, modest, and sexually pure, whereas black women were crude, immodest, and sexually deviant.” (Rhymes, 2007).


The Exploitation of Black Female Sexuality in Advertising and Film
The portrayal of black women as amoral, sexual deviants had its beginnings in slavery, was used during the Jim Crow period, and was both used in modern times to entertain and sell products and advertising was a great medium to do this. Although the Mammy stereotype was used to sell everything from food to soap, the depiction of black women as sexually free whores was a common theme in selling products. “A metal nutcracker from the 1930s depicts a topless black woman. The nut is placed under her skirt, in her crotch, and crushed. Were sexually explicit items such as these made in the image of white women? Yes. However, they were never mainstreamed like the objects that caricatured Black women. The seamy novelty objects depicting white women were sold on the down-low, the QT and always hush-hush. An analysis of these racist items also reveals that black female children were sexually objectified. Black girls, with the faces of pre-teenagers, were drawn with adult sized buttocks, which were exposed. They were naked, scantily clad, or hiding seductively behind towels, blankets, trees, or other objects.” (Rhymes, 2007).


As society entered the early 1970s, another way of exploiting the sexuality of black women was the image of the supersexualized black female protagonist and heroine in film with black female characters being portrayed as prostitutes or women using sex as a means to get revenge on those who wronged them or their families. These films are now called “blaxploitation” and were a very popular genre of film during this time period amongst black people. Although these films claimed to be about the black experience of living in the ghetto, these movies were produced and directed by predominantly white males. “Daniel J. Leab (1976), the movie historian, noted, “Whites packaged, financed, and sold these films, and they received the bulk of the big money. The world depicted in blaxploitation movies included corrupt police and politicians, pimps, drug dealers, violent criminals, prostitutes, and whores. In the main, these movies were low-budget, formulaic interpretations of black life by white producers, directors, and distributors. Black actors and actresses, many unable to find work in mainstream movies, found work in blaxploitation movies. Black patrons supported these movies because they showed blacks fighting the “white establishment,” resisting police corruption, acting assertively, and having sex lives.” (Pilgrim, 2002).


Public Policy and Black Female Sexuality
Stereotypes about black women’s sexuality were also used against them during the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. “Stereotypes about black women’s hyper-fertility fueled the call for government regulation of the reproduction of non-whites” (Maurer, 2000). Public policies and public management practices at both the state and federal level supported this movement and its policies lived on after its demise (Maurer, 2000). By 1970, “20 percent of all married black women in the United States had been sterilized and accounted for 43 percent of sterilizations funded by the U.S. government” (Maurer, 2000).


During this time period, the image of welfare changed from deserving white widows to black women who had children to get a check. This change was once again by the stereotyping of black women as promiscuous breeders whose fertility must be regulated. Single mothers, in particular, black women who have children and no husbands violate the patriarchal dominant sexual norms of American culture. Although massive changes in popular culture in the last fifty years have challenged the understanding of sexuality, the sexual morality of mothers without husbands is still suspect.
When single mothers find themselves in need of financial assistance from the state, the government is in a position to dictate changes in sexual behavior in exchange for financial aid.

Contemporary welfare policy explicitly aims to convince women to marry and not produce children out of wedlock. If receiving public assistance and pregnant, a mother-to- be is spoken to about future birth control options and whether or not does she wants to undergo tubal ligation (Weedon, 1999). Social welfare programs in this country have been used, since their inception, to control the sexual behavior of program recipients. Yet, people who apply for other types of government assistance such as unemployment compensation, are not faced with marriage incentives or family caps. Control of sexual behavior through financial assistance has only been attempted through welfare, the public assistance program intended for poor single mothers (Adair, 2000).


Public policy rarely acts completely independently from public opinion. Public opinion polls confirm that Americans are less supportive of spending on welfare than on other types of assistance to the poor, such as social security benefits. Many researchers have tried to discover the source of this disdain for welfare. Race clearly plays an important role in shaping public views about welfare. Jill Quadagno’s, The Color of Welfare (1994) solidly establishes race as a driving force in the history of US welfare politics. Racial inequality in the US has created an economic system in which America’s poor are disproportionately black and Hispanic. This in turn means that racial minorities are disproportionately likely to need welfare assistance. The history of welfare provision in the US is also a history of the governmental response to racial inequality.


Welfare was designed to keep deserving (widowed or abandoned) white mothers from entering the workforce. But after federal regulations limited state discretion in the 1960s, these same regulations were attacked for allowing morally suspect black women to remain out of the workforce. Welfare has a long history of being used as a tool to reward or punish impoverished single mothers regardless of race. While some policies seem to have been designed only to confer benefits in accordance with recipient race and immigration status, other welfare rules (midnight raids, for example) were used to control behavior of single mothers (Quadagno,1994).
An important change in welfare policy was made in 1996 when AFDC was replaced with TANF. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families introduced block grants, thus reintroducing significant state control over program administration. Strict time limits, family caps, permanent exclusion for even minor drug offenses, and work requirements were all presented as tools for the states to use in reducing their welfare rolls. Under TANF, the explicit primary goals of welfare are reducing welfare dependency and encouraging heterosexual marriage.


Sex and the Language of Welfare

The language used in the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) that created TANF reveals its patriarchal, paternal intentions. Take the name of the act, for example. It states that welfare reform as primarily being about the failure of personal responsibilities of the women who receive welfare. A number of other explanations of the poverty of single mothers could have been entertained: women, on average, are paid less than men when they do engage in wage labor; women are more likely than men to take lower paying part-time or temporary work to accommodate family responsibilities; the cost of quality, reliable childcare makes low wage labor even less attractive to single mothers than it otherwise might be to employees without children; single mothers often do not get financial or emotional support from the fathers of their children (Abramovitz, 1996).

But welfare reform as it currently exists is not about ending the feminization of poverty, not about holding Corporate America accountable for failing to pay living wages, and the failure of society to help provide for the basic needs of its poorest citizens. It is about punishing and controlling the poorest segment of the American population for being poor and not adhering to traditional “moral” values.


“Personal responsibility” is a supposedly neutral phrase. Yet, the way that it is used in the PRWORA is distinctly biased against poor black women. The phrase pretends that poor single mothers have the same range of opportunities and choices as any other citizen (even though reality suggests otherwise). The use of this phrase implies that the misfortunes of poor black single mothers are the result of irresponsible choices. To use it in this fashion ignores the range of responsibilities that poor single mothers do have (protecting their children in impoverished and sometimes dangerous neighborhoods, nurturing their children emotionally often without help of a partner, providing for children’s educational needs despite impoverished school districts) and focuses instead on the ‘responsibility’ to take low wage labor.


Further, the title of PRWORA implies that work opportunities are being offered to welfare recipients. This is not true. In reality, the legislation calls for limits on the length of time recipients can receive welfare benefits, and mandated employment, and limits on educational opportunities for welfare recipients. Clearly, the lawmakers who crafted this legislation were not interested in simply providing work opportunities for the single mothers on welfare. PRWORA addresses welfare recipients as failed women in need of strict behavioral guidelines from the government (Abramovitz, 1996) and the assumptions underlying language are clear. Welfare recipients are poor because they have failed to marry (Abramovitz, 1996).

Character flaws, including sexual promiscuity and lack of devotion to the traditional institution of marriage, are to blame for the poverty of single mothers. The way to fix this problem is for the government to encourage poor women to get married. These “findings” presume that welfare mothers are heterosexual, that marrying the (probably also poor) father of her children will bring financial security, that the decision to depend on a man (husband) for financial support will bring financial security, and that the decision to depend on a man (husband) for financial support is morally superior to relying on the man (the state).


Why does welfare reform language begin with value laden statements about traditional marriage? The assumptions underlying language are clear. Welfare recipients are poor because they have failed to marry. Character flaws, including sexual promiscuity and a lack of devotion to the traditional institution of marriage, are to blame for the poverty of single black mothers. The way to fix the problem is for the government to encourage poor black women to get married. These “findings” presume that welfare mothers are heterosexual, that marrying the (probably also poor) father of her children will bring financial security, and that the decision to rely on a man (husband) for financial support is morally superior to relying on the man (the state) Abramovitz, 1996). Whether or not the single mother wants to be married is outside the realm of this discussion: that she should marry is a moral imperative. The public assistance programs designed for other poor populations (Unemployment Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Social Security) do not promote marriage as a way out of poverty. This solution is only presented as appropriate in a program designed with poor single women in mind.


The concern with the marital status of welfare recipients is deeply rooted in racial politics. Blacks are less likely to marry than whites. Black families often violate the normative white middle class nuclear family structure, and conservatives have long seen this violation as an indicator of moral failure and as a problem that needs to be solved with government intervention.


The “Purpose” section of PRWORA explains that the legislation is intended to “…end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage” (“Personal responsibility and,” 1996). Lawmakers are aware that nearly all welfare recipients are single mothers. By using the gender neutral phrase “needy parents,” lawmakers willfully ignore reality, reinforcing the norm of the two parent heterosexual household. This willful ignorance allows lawmakers to pretend that “dependence” is not based on gender specific assumptions (Fraser and Gordon, 2002).


Controlling the reproductive behavior of poor women is a key part of this discourse about welfare. The purpose section of PRWORA continues, listing blatantly patriarchal goals: “to prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies (“Personal responsibility and,” 1996). There are no other federal public assistance programs in the US that promote abstinence and contraceptives as a way out of poverty. Middle class women are encouraged, through tax breaks, to reproduce. This language of controlling reproductive behavior is used only within the context of programs design for poor black women.


US welfare policy is based on the set of patriarchal assumptions that lawmakers hold about marriage, reproduction, and appropriate gender roles for poor black women. These patriarchal assumptions are evident in the history of US welfare policy, and in the language of current welfare policy. Sex has everything to do with welfare and the policing of black female sexuality.


Conclusion
The paradox of being a black woman in American society is a quandary in swirling emotions. From the moment they were brought here, they have been used to build up the image of white women from a certain economic class as inviolate: beyond reproach. Sexually, they are considered on the low end of the social and economic totem pole in American society, but from research and reality, they are the origins of mankind. Perhaps this is the reason for the stereotypes: the realization that if it was not for this woman, the world as society knows it, would not exist. That for all of the black woman’s lowly status, she is needed because societies would cease to exist if she disappeared. Black female sexuality is powerful; so much that American society has shaped social welfare policy because of them, for better or worse.

References
Adair, Vivyan. (2000). From Good Ma to Welfare Queen: A genealogy of the poor woman in American literature, photography and culture. New York: Garland.

Abramovitz, Mimi. (1996). Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Fraser, Nancy and Linda Gordon. (2002.) “A Genealogy of Dependence: Tracing a key word of the US welfare state.” The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependence. Eds. Eva Feder Kittay and Ellen Feder. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Maurer, S. (2000). Embodied public policies: the sexual stereotyping of black women in the design and implementation of u.s. policies. Journal of Public and International Affairs, 11(Spring), 150-166.
Pilgrim, D. (2002, July). Jezebel stereotype. Retrieved from http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/jezebel.htm
Quadagno, Jill. (1994). The Color of Welfare: How racism undermined the war on poverty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rhymes, E. (2007, May 18). A ‘ho’ by any other color: The history and economics of black female sexual exploitation.
The United States Congress, (1996). Personal responsibility and work opportunity reconciliation act of 1996.
Weedon, C. (1999). Feminism, theory and the politics of difference. Malden: Blackwell Publishers.
Wyatt, G. E. (1997). Stolen women: Reclaiming our sexuality, taking back our lives. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Yarbrough, M., & Bennett, C. (2000). Cassandra and the “sistahs”: the peculiar treatment of african american women in the myth of women as liars. The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, 3(3), 626-657.

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American Culture, black men, black women, blacks, Sociology

Gender Analysis of My Life

   From a graduate school paper written in 2015

The concept of gender is a fascinating concept in American society.  The reason it is so fascinating is because it is so fluid.  This year a man who was thought of as one of the manliest men in sports came out as a woman. Bruce Jenner was an Olympic sports hero, father to several children and married many times but he is now known as Caitlyn. I’m not quite sure if he is telling the truth because I have my own personal thoughts about his transformation but it has been eye-opening. It shows that for some, womanhood is based on superficial qualities such as hair, makeup, and clothes and as a woman who has been a woman for almost 45 years, it is maddeningly insulting. This paper will discuss gender and how it has affected my life. It is a tale filled with mishaps, mistakes and many trials but it is also a story of perseverance.

Gender affected me from the moment I was born. I was the youngest of three children born to my mother and I was the longed for baby girl. I didn’t feel any pressure as a little girl but I was swamped with a bunch of dolls, doll houses, and other toys marketed towards little girls. And although I enjoyed and still to this day love dolls and all things considered girly, I wonder now as a woman did my mother do me a disservice by purchasing only toys for girls. It would have been nice to receive a train set or some Tonka trucks.

I was a questioning child, the type who asked a million and one questions that no one wanted to answer. I remember asking my mother why boys can do certain things like stay out later or have sex with a bunch of girls and no one will say anything but if a girl did those things; she would be labeled a slut. She told me that is how society is set up and I was around twelve at the time. I just looked at her because it didn’t make any sense to me then and it still don’t. The boys in my classroom were some smelly dumb creatures and I didn’t look at them as superior in any type of way. I decided right then and there I was going to live my own life and if anyone didn’t like it, I wouldn’t care.

Around this same time, I read a book that would change my life and shape my views on gender: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It is the story of Scarlett O’Hara and it is set during the South at the beginning of the Civil War. I loved the character of Scarlett because she was the first female anti hero I had ever read about. She wasn’t a nice person. She didn’t have any close female friends because she looked at women as competition for men. She didn’t like her sisters and she would steal a beau from a girl in a minute. She was two faced but men loved her. What is funny is that she didn’t really like men too much either because she thought they were silly. Due to the social constraints of the era she was born in, she couldn’t show her true self so she learned to be the best Southern belle in Georgia.

I think I loved her character so much because she was everything I was taught not to be. Selfish, self centered, in every way a true bitch but she generally got everything she wanted while the nice girls got ignored. For a little black girl reading this book, it was eye opening because black women are taught to self sacrifice and put their needs on the back burner. In the black community, the thoughts of men come first and black women are not supposed to be heard.

Going into adolescence was hard for me because as a budding black feminist in a neighborhood seething with hyper black masculinity, I clashed with the young men constantly. I refused to stay in my place as a black girl and after I became a teenage mother, I still refused to hang my head in shame. Why should I be ashamed for being a young mother when the same boys talking crazy had children scattered all over the neighborhood and in several other zip codes?

But it wasn’t easy for me. Although I am a strong willed individual, those stereotypes got to me and I didn’t do anything with my life until I was twenty six years old when I got my GED. Eight years later, I walked across the stage as college graduate, receiving a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Sociology. Now when I look back, I feel so stupid for allowing others to get into my head and mess with my self-esteem. But it is not easy for most teens, especially a teen that had been sexually molested and thought her self-worth was her body.  I tried to fight against gender stereotypes as a teen and failed miserably, not understanding that it wasn’t my fault that people are judgmental fools.

Gender hasn’t really affected my life too much professionally because I have always worked in a field that is heavily female dominated, the clerical/administrative field.  However, the cattiness of women in this line of work is mind-boggling. I currently work at a company in which women e-mail the project manager to tattle on other women they think is dressed inappropriately. My goodness that is the pettiest stuff I have ever seen and I have worked in this field for eighteen years. But since women are the gatekeepers of patriarchy, I should not be surprised.

Well that is my gender story. I am a mother of two daughters and a son. My daughters are just as strong willed as their mother and they shatter gender stereotypes daily and my son is an empathic soul when it comes to gender issues. So I guess I have done a good job as a mother although some would say not because I am a single mother who didn’t conform. But so what?

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American Culture, Beauty, Feminism, popular culture, Women, Women

An Ode to Some Childhood Buddies – Barbie Doll and Friends

When I went to college, one of the first classes I took was Women and Gender Studies.  How could I not resist learning about the history of women since I am a woman?  My professor was named Dr. Jean Peterson and  she was a cool hippie chick from back in the day, complete with graying jet-black hair to her waist and she was so laid back she was practically horizontal.   However, a couple of weeks in her class, I was dismayed to find out she was not a fan of Barbie Dolls because she, as a feminist felt they contributed to low self-esteem issues in young girls in American society.

My collection of Barbie and Friends

I was totally amazed by her attitude because I loved and still love Barbie and not once when I was a child thought I would look like Barbie when I grew up. Because cause she was a doll and how could I possibly look like a doll?  She wasn’t real. Even at that young age, I had more sense than that. I have been a prolific reader since I was a child and Barbie and friends were props for my overactive imagination.  When I was into Greek mythology, my dolls were transformed into Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite and several of my mother’s silky nightgowns were turned into Greek robes for them.   When I read “Gone With the Wind” (at the age of ten), I learned to make hoop skirts for my dolls and reenacted the burning of Atlanta without actually setting the house on fire. 

But Dr. Peterson had her reasons. During the course of the class, I learned why Dr. Peterson had issues with Barbie (sexism and the branding of the skinny white chick with impossibly unattainable body) and although I respected her opinion a great deal and she had a PhD and several other degrees, to me, blaming a doll for self-esteem issues in young girls and women was a little too much.  I blame parents and society for making young girls and women feel bad because they do not live up to the womanly image that American society has memorialized as the epitome of beauty.  Every woman is not slim or tall with blue eyes and long flowing blond hair and guess what? Who gives a fuck?  It is hard enough being a woman in a sexist society without driving yourself crazy trying to be something that you are not.  A woman has to be happy and secure in her own skin to be truly complete.  But I will always love Barbie, Christie, Skipper, Starr, Kelly, Candi, Darci, Sydney and all my girls from childhood.  They kept a little girl’s imagination flowing and I will forever thankful to my favorite Plastics.

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American Culture, black men, black women, blacks, Family, Grief, History

Grief – In Loving Memory of Larry Allen and Trena Rule

Several years ago, I read the autobiography of Ava Gardner, an actress from the Golden Era of Hollywood and a really cool ass lady. I can’t remember right off hand the exact quote but in one of the earlier chapters, she discussed the death of her mother who died of uterine cancer and she said “You can get over a lot of things. Love, broken relationships but grief last forever.” “And lord she was telling the truth.

Because the grief of losing someone to death that you loved will never go away. You will learn to cope but you will never get over the lost. I don’t give care about how many grief books or articles you read. It doesn’t matter how many well meaning twits, I mean friends and relatives give you advice on how to deal with your grief, you will be dealing with grief for the rest of your life.

Are you supposed to dwell in your grief and waste away? No but it is not healthy to pretend that you are not devastated by the death of a loved one. In American culture, people are supposed to pretend that they are not bothered by death. That death is a natural part of life and that you should be happy that your loved one is no longer suffering and not of this world. And while that sounds good in perspective, no one is happy to lose someone to death that they loved. In the past two months, I have lost my brother and a woman that I loved like a sister. With the death of my brother was the end of my childhood family, the people that I had formed my earliest childhood memories with. At one time, it was myself, my mother and my brothers and now it is just me and that has been a bitter pill to swallow. I have come to the realization that I won’t get over it and that is okay.

And with the death of my friend was the lost of a friendship that meant so much to me. A woman I had known since 1992, who I lived with and who had welcomed me into her home with no hesitation. I cannot believe that I will never see my friend or hear her voice again. We were supposed to be old ladies with canes, cussing people out, telling them to get off our porches, but it wasn’t meant to be. And I know now that I won’t get over her death either and it is cool and normal to feel this way.

So for those who are grieving, whether you have been grieving for a day or for over 40 years, do not let anyone shame about how you decide to grieve. If necessary, tell those busybodies to kiss your ass and keep moving on with your life. You do not own an explanation to anyone on this planet about shit. Nothing. Nada. No Buenos. Just wipe away your tears and continue to remember your people. The longer we keep the dead alive, the better it is because they live forever in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

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American Culture, Beauty, child abuse, child molesters, Dysfunctional Shit, Family, History, misogynoir

Memories of Things Past

school picture

Recently I posted my third grade class photo and I can’t help but be fascinated by the little girl that I used to be in that picture.  I was third from the left with two pigtails parted straight in the middle (my favorite hairstyle) and I had on a red turtleneck sweater and a denim jean skirt on.  I had a huge smile on my face and I looked so happy.

That was in 1978. I was almost eight years old and I was a genuinely happy child during that period in my life.  Although my father only came around sporadically, it didn’t matter to me because I had my ladies or The Matriarchs as I now refer to them. These ladies consisted of my mother, my aunts Rosie, Mary, and Maggie. My grandmother and my cousin Cleo.

I was the youngest child born to my mother and the youngest grandchild of 46. I lived in a building with my ladies and I was spoiled and petted. During school vacations, I would wait for my mother to come home from work and be in her face for a little bit and when my aunts got home from work, I would be in their faces. My grandmother didn’t work so I would spend lazy summer days with her, listening to slave narratives about hants (Southern vernacular for ghosts) and bones who refused to stay still.

Anytime my cousin Cleo would look like she was going anywhere, I was right by her side because where Cleo was, fun times was around. We go visit our other cousins in Bronzeville and sometimes she would take me and the rest of the cousins to to the Museum of Science and Industry or to the beach.

Life was so easy for me in those day before I got molested which would take place three years later and continue for four years. So much of my innocence was stripped away and I can tell when I see other pictures of myself as I grew older. Cynicism and wariness was in my eyes although I still had that big beautiful smile.

Maybe that’s why I absolutely despise child molesters, rapists and their ilk. These monsters strip away the innocence of children and childhood is supposed to be the happiest time of a human’s life. No child should have to worry about what’s going to happen when it gets dark.   Or have to wear their street clothes to bed for fear of being groped.

But I see that little girl in the face of my grandson Karter. The same smile, the happiness, the joy of being alive and carefree. I would kill a motherfucker if I thought someone was trying to take away his joy.karter

 

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American Culture, Family, Feminism, History, popular culture, Relationships

The Dark Side of Life in the 1950s

1950s-life

When looking back at past eras, the 1950s is looked upon by many as an idyllic time in American history. The nuclear family headed by a male breadwinner was the desired norm and televisions shows such as Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy were popular. However, there was a dark side to this lifestyle. Women were treated like second-class citizens and some were living unhappily married because their financial and educational options were limited and they were as dependent on their husbands as their children.

The media, in collusion with the government, and sociologists constantly espoused the virtues of family and children and women, who wanted more out of life were looked upon as freaks of nature. However, some women during that era expressed dissatisfaction with their lives and an inarticulated longing for a life beyond their children and husbands. Some of these women were forced out the workforce after World War II and felt resentment that their only option for financial stability was marriage. This inarticulated longing would lead to a major social upheaval towards the end of the 1950s and would be the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement. This movement caused a shift in family values and altered family structure for future generations to come. The 1950s Family Experiment would be short-lived but fondly remembered.

Several factors lead to the forming of the nuclear family. By the end of the 1940s, the divorce rate dropped sharply; the ages of people getting married fell to a 100-year low; and the birth rate soared. Women dropped out of the workforce as soon as they become pregnant and some young women had two or more children in diapers at once. Also during this time, the education gap between young middle-class men and women increased and job segregation for working women and men peaked. Limited educational and job opportunities for women made them more dependent on marriage for their financial well-being.

Young, newly married couples were encouraged to sever their family ties and put all their emotional and financial eggs in the small basket of the immediate nuclear family. Women were told by experts that all their energies should be used for their husbands and children, not aging parents and other relatives. Psychiatrist Edward Strecker and various colleagues argued American boys were infantilized and emasculated by women who were old-fashioned “moms” instead of modern “mothers”.

1950s-life-2

Modern mothers placed their parents in nursing homes; old-fashioned mothers took their parents in at the expense of their own “important” nuclear family. A modern mother was not supposed to have friends, a job, or anything or anyone that would take attention from her husband and children. She was also supposed to grant early independence to her male child. It is no wonder that many women who believed in this advice and put it into practice ending up abusing alcohol or tranquilizers over the course of the decade.

Women were encouraged to confine themselves to a very narrow definition of “true” womanhood by a variety of sources such as family education specialists and marriage counselors, columns in women’s magazines, government pamphlets, and above all television. These experts told women during the 1950s that their greatest role on the planet was to be wives and mothers. The role of a “real” woman was to have no interest in a higher education or a career and women were taught by these experts to pity women who had the nerve to want a life beyond being a wife and mother.

Televisions shows such as Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best showed women how much easier their lives would be if their families were like those families and the I Love Lucy show warned women about the perils of what happened to a woman who wanted a career or if she schemed behind her husband’s back (Coontz, 38), The mothers on Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were immaculately dressed with pearls around their necks. Their homes were clean and their children never got into trouble. However, on I Love Lucy, Lucy usually looked terrible by the end of the episode. Her hair was at times standing on top of her head and her clothes filthy from her weekly adventure. Women and their families watched these shows and tried their best to emulate the perfect and bright lives shown to them on a weekly basis.

Noticeably absent from these discussions are the role of Black women during this era. Black women were delegated to the background as housekeepers and nannies, taking care of other women’s children and then going home to take care of their families. So from the beginning, this image of a beautiful, bountiful lady of leisure that keeps her home, children, and herself immaculate was never intended for Black women because Black women never had and were not given those same opportunities. They had to work. But unlike white women, they received help from their extended family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family member assisted in the raising of children. Many parents left their children with family members when they made the trek to the North during the Great Migration and when they got on their feet, sent for their children and the family members who helped them.

However, towards the end of the 1950s, a dramatic shift occurred. Cultural values changed dramatically and the children of these women found the social hypocrisy of their parents sickening. Many young adults and some of their mothers would march in the streets to protest against sexism, racism, and militarism. Minorities and women began to receive the civil rights that were rightfully due to them and more and more women entered the workforce, forcing a dynamic shift in child rearing practices. By the 1970s, husbands and wives had begun to share household duties and women were no longer bound to their homes.

The concept of family has changed and although there have been some issues; it was ultimately for the best.  Women have more rights but divorce is commonplace in current modern society and many children live in one-parent households. Despite the gains of the 1960s, women still face discrimination and do the majority of household work regardless of how many hours they work per week or if they have a partner. But women now have opportunities that would not have been imagined sixty-years ago. Children do not have to see their mothers treated like chattel and America is on the verge of electing the female President of the United States. Nothing remains the same – ever. The constantly changing landscape of the American family owes a lot to the women of the 1950s.

 

 

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American Culture, black men, black women, History, Sociology

A Letter From a South Side Apartment

A couple of years ago, I read Dr. Martin Luther King’s A Letter from a Birmingham Jail and I was mesmerized by the passion and anger in his words and although we are in the second decade of the 21st century, his words still resonate. This letter I am writing is my tribute to him for giving his life for me and other disadvantaged and disrespected groups in America. It would sadden him to no end that nothing has really changed in American society in regards to race and economics. Perhaps one day, we will be truly free from the chains of racism and economic selfishness that enveloped America since its inception.

28 March 2012

My Dear Mr. Gingrich & Other Republican Presidential Candidates who believe that the Poor Blacks are the Scum of the Universe:

While confined in my lower class existence, I cannot help but think about the words you put into the universe about Black people who receive unemployment compensation, food stamps and other government benefits, people whose lives have been touched by the mean specter of poverty. Since I am very stressed out about receiving $318 per month in public assistance, I normally would not have time to think about your condescending self-serving words since I am too busy trying to find a job in a dying economy but I had to speak to you about this. The current discourse on the lives of poor Blacks in this country has been taken over by well-dressed, well-fed career politicians like yourself and I thought you needed some enlightenment.

First of all, no one wants to be poor. I know that you believe that little Black children spend their time discussing ways to be indigent and homeless by the time they are eighteen, but the children I know have big plans for their future. My ten-year-old daughter’s plans for the future change on a daily basis: One day she wants to be a fashion designer, the next a mad scientist who is going to take over the world. The one thing she has made clear is that she does not see motherhood in her future because in her words, “Being a mother takes too much work.”

I know that you like to believe that the children of poor Blacks are a drain on society but you are so wrong. I was a teenage mother at the age of sixteen and had two children by the age of twenty-one. According to statistics on teen mothers, by now my daughter should have had a slew of kids by different men and my son should have dropped out of high school and is currently imprisoned for numerous drug offenses. Not! My daughter graduated from college last year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and my son is in college studying Communications. My children watched me work for various corporations who paid me very little money and proudly watched when I walked across the stage at the age of thirty-five to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with honors.

But I realize that you probably do not know too many Black people personally so when you chose to discuss them amongst your constituents, you like to use tired, worn-out stereotypes about them. According to you, Blacks have no work ethic and like taking baths in the piles of food stamps they receive on a monthly basis. Blacks have been in this country since 1619 and still have not made any progress, although White people have given them everything! What is wrong with these trifling Black people?

It is very easy for you and your kind to sprout these words, snugly enveloped in your cloak of White-male privilege but what you do not realize is that although Blacks were freed from the chains of slavery, they were never made equal, financially or mentally. Throughout the years, American society had every opportunity to make amends to African-Americans by giving them same economic advantages as Whites, but it never happened because that would mean Blacks would be on the same economic playing field as Whites and that is a no-no.

It is funny how you like to blame the media for everything wrong in your world but the media in all actuality is your best friend. The media, owned by the ruling class, has played a major role in distorting views about social economics by pretending the ruling class does not exist and poor Blacks are the dregs of society. The media with its ‘magic’ can make the historical legacy of slavery and subsequent Jim Crow laws vanish by pretending it is their fault that they are poor. By doing this, upper and middle-classed Americans learn to fear and loathe poor Blacks and refuse to make the connection between systematic racism and high poverty levels amongst African-Americans.

The dominant culture has succeeded in making African Americans subhuman to other groups, who passively accept these bigoted views. In your speeches and in the Republican debates, the message that you and others have given is to degenerate Black people at all costs and to keep poor working-class Whites in a constant tizzy about the so-called advantages given to them.

Mr. Gingrich, I feel sorry for you and wonder what you would do if Blacks did not exist in this country. Race and class was socially constructed for the advancement of Whites and the making up of a social class of poverty-stricken African-Americans who could be blamed for everything wrong in society. Take away the pretensions, the feelings of superiority that comes with having the “right” skin color and people like you in this society would be loss. No more scapegoats to blame and you would have to face up to the fact that you have no plans for making the economic system in America more equal. But it is easier to blame Blacks, who unlike your ancestors had no choice when they were brought to this country as chattel and broodmares to make the lives of the ruling class easier.

Sincerely,
Kathy M. Henry

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