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 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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Ghetto Nation 2019

Ghetto – A section of a city to which an entire ethnic or economically depressed group is is restricted; as by poverty or social pressure.

Life for Blacks who reside in the inner-city has never been easy but in the years since crack cocaine hit, things have most definitely taken a turn for the worst. A new breed of Black woman and manhood has arisen and they behave rather badly.  It has become absolutely normal to be ignorant and ghetto and more scarily, this behavior is celebrated with glee.

Take a stroll in any inner-city neighborhood and on any given afternoon, you will see groups of able-bodied young men lounging carelessly on street corners, smoking marijuana boldly on street corners bragging about their bitches, whores and baby mommas.  And although these young men show clear shiftless tendencies, throngs of ride or die chicks, sometimes with several children in tow surround them, taking loudly while dressed in pajama bottoms and dingy white wife-beaters complete with the proverbial head scarf.

These words are not stereotypes but actual truth.  Too many times, Blacks complain about their dirty laundry being aired publicly instead of fixing the problem and it is time to discuss an issue that is plaguing us as a people: the acceptance of ignorance.  Although racism is, has been, and will always be a part of American society, social behaviors once deemed deviant are embraced and accepted by some Blacks.

Urban terrorists have hijacked urban communities throughout America, but calling the police is considered “snitching” and murderers walk around unafraid and unrepentant.  Mothers hide the guns of their gang-banging sons and little children are left at home unattended with an empty refrigerator while their parents party in the streets. There are so many examples of this behavior that I could go and on but that would be redundant. However, one thing rings true, regardless if some folks do not want to face it: gutter, hood-related anti-social behavior is running amok in some Black communities.

Where did it all go so terribly wrong? The decline of the inner-city Black family can be traced to the crack cocaine era.  Black families throughout America were decimated due to drug abuse and drug dealing and the children became collateral damages. An entire generation of Black children have grown up seeing their parents either use or sell drugs and it has destroyed their psyche.

For these young adults, the only thing worth living for is the mass consumption of expensive designer clothing, alcohol, drugs and sexual escapades with multiple partners. They have no goals or ambitions but to live for the day. An education is scorned as being nothing more than a worthless piece of paper and disputes are settled by gunfire, regardless of who is around.

The blame for this generation of inner-city hoodrats can be laid at the feet of Black Generation X, my generation. Blacks born between 1965 and 1976 were the first recipients of the gains that the Civil Rights Movement had battled for and we squandered it by getting caught up in the “Greed is Good” era of the Eighties. We ran the streets instead of taking care of our children, shoving the responsibility of childrearing on our weary, overworked parents. We were more concerned about outer appearances, spending money on shiny things instead of saving money for better educational opportunities and now our children still lag behind every ethnic group when it comes to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead of being parents to our children, we became their friends, smoking blunts with them and allowing their boyfriends and girlfriends overnight privileges, creating the next generation of confused, angry children.

We planted the seeds for mass destruction and now we have a garden full of weeds.  It saddens me to write this but it is my opinion that little can be done to correct this hood-related behavior. These days, you cannot tell anyone anything bad about their children because it might cause a physical confrontation.  The US government could put trillions of dollars into every inner-city in America but this ghetto mentality will still exist because being absolutely nothing is accepted. An entire generation of Black young adults have accepted their caste in society as the lowest of the low, trapped by the narrow confines of their minds and neighborhoods.

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

 

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.

 

 

Searching For Assata Shakur

Disclaimer: I wrote this paper back in college when I was filled with fire!

assata_shakur

If asked the question, “How much would you be willing to sacrifice for your beliefs?” the average individual would probably look bewildered. Would you be willing to give up your friends, family, freedom, even possibly your life for a cause that was dear to you? The cynic inside me says, “Probably not.” In American society, people have a tendency to speak with much grandiloquence about their beliefs but when asked to sacrifice for those same beliefs, they crumble. Assata Shakur did not. Assata Shakur is a revolutionary and one of the most wrongly convicted individuals in U.S. history. Her story is a sad chapter in American history, in which race, social class, political affiliation, and gender played a role in her subsequent exile from her homeland.

On May 2, 1973, racial prejudice would forever change the life of Assata Shakur. An incident of what would now be labeled “racial profiling” took place on the New Jersey Turnpike. Ms. Shakur, an active participant in the Black Liberation Army (BLA), was traveling with friends, Malik Zayad Shakur and Sundiata Acoli when state troopers stopped them, reportedly because of a broken headlight. A trooper explained that they looked suspicious because the Vermont license plates on the vehicle they were driving. The three were made to exit the car with their hands up. Suddenly, shots were fired and when it was over, state trooper Werner Foerster and Malik Shakur were killed.

Ms. Shakur and Mr. Acoli were charged with the deaths of state trooper Foerster and Zayd Malik Shakur. While held in jail, she was shackled and chained to a bed, with bullet wounds still in her chest. She was also forced to undergo the jabs of shotgun butts of the New Jersey State troopers and heard their voices shouting Nazi slogans and threats to her life. In the history of New Jersey had a female prisoner ever been treated as she, confined to a men’s prison and placed under a constant twenty-four hour surveillance of her most intimate bodily functions.

Ms. Shakur and Mr. Acoli were eventually sentenced to life plus thirty-three years. Although the verdict was no surprise since they were convicted by an all-white jury, many questioned the racial injustice of the trial because it was riddled with several human rights violations and constitutional errors. The pretrial publicity was extremely negative and African-Americans were purposely excluded from the jury. Even more incredible was the fact Ms. Shakur was shot with her arms in the air, making it anatomically impossible for her to commit the murders she was convicted of.

However, in the country of the United States where there is allegedly freedom, justice, and liberty for all, the only people who have that luxury are white men. Ms. Shakur had the triple jeopardy of being Black, female, and poor and she was a member of a political organization that had been targeted by the CIA and the FBI because of its political views. Any organization that challenges the status quo has to be eliminated at all costs.

Assata Shakur spent six and a half years in prison, two of those in solitary confinement. During that time, she was beaten and tortured on a daily basis. Although there is no mention of rape, she was probably sexually harassed everyday of her imprisonment. While imprisoned, she gave birth to her daughter Kakuya who was taken away from her a week after her birth. In 1979, fearing for her life, she made a daring escape that continues to infuriate the United States government. There was a nationwide search for her but not a trace of her or the people who aided her escape was ever found. In 1984, she was granted political asylum by Fidel Castro, dictator of Cuba and was finally united with her daughter. On May 2, 2005, the federal government issued a statement in which they labeled Ms. Shakur a domestic terrorist. In addition to doing that, the government also increased the bounty on her head from $150,000 to an unprecedented $1,000,000.

When I first read about Ms. Shakur, I cried. I could not believe what this woman went through for fighting for basic human rights. Because of the triple jeopardy of race, sex, and class and her political affiliation, she was unjustly sentenced to jail for a murder she did not commit. According to research, African-American women experience more bias in the courts than White women on the basis that White women are presumed to be good mothers by virtue of marital status (Andersen, p.285) and Black women are not. Black women have been historically stereotyped as sexually deviant troublemakers who need to be controlled.

Also, according to the Labeling Theory, groups with the power to label individuals deviant, exercise total control over what and who is considered deviant. Ms. Shakur was deemed to be deviant by the courts and the U.S. government because of her race, gender, political beliefs, and class status; therefore, she was sentenced to prison without any due process of the law.

While in prison, she received horrific treatment at the hands of her jailers. During her pregnancy, she received no prenatal care and the authorities even tried to starve her so she would miscarry. Although this type of treatment of female prisoners is extreme, most do not receive adequate medical treatment while in prison. According to research, health care in women’s prisons is limited, and prenatal care is nonexistent. If pregnant, female prisoners’ babies are taken right after birth. They are also treated no differently than men in prison. Ms. Shakur experienced this first hand and she was beaten every day the six years she was in prison.

Writing this paper was one of the most emotionally wrenching projects I have ever done. Reading about Ms. Shakur’s experiences brought feelings of pain and anger but my feelings are minuscule when I think about the tears that she wept and still weeps. Imagine being convicted for the murders of two people, one of them your best friend and you are innocent. Imagine your other friend being convicted of the same murders and he was innocent too. Imagine being mentally tortured, beaten, and starved for six years of your life, living in a cage. Imagine giving birth to your daughter and having her taken away a week later. Imagine escaping from prison and being exiled away from your family and friends, knowing that you might not see them or the country of your birth again.

These are things that Assata Shakur experience everyday of her life and knowing that makes me as guilty as the criminal system that wrongly convicted her. I am guilty because I was ignorant of her history and had forgotten about the struggles of her and many African-Americans who fought for equality in this country. This woman in essence, gave her life for a cause she held dear and how many people are willing to that? She was and still is, a true warrior woman in every sense of the word. The only thing I can do to repay Assata and others who have sacrificed their lives in the battle for equality is to raise my children to be strong, productive members of their race who are proud of their heritage, and not afraid to fight for their rights.

A revolutionary woman can’t have no reactionary man. If he’s not about liberation, if he’s not about struggle, if he ain’t about building a strong Black family, if he ain’t about building a strong Black nation, then he ain’t about nothing. – Assata Shakur

 

A Christmas Tale

my mommy

Christmas has lost a lot of its sparkle for me since my mother died nine years ago in the month of December. There have been times, I have literally just wanted to curl up in a corner and just weep during this season but I have to keep going. Not just for me but my children and grandson. For her too because she made an incredible come back the Christmas season of 1978. Here it goes.

Right after Thanksgiving, my mother’s heath started failing. She was lethargic and sluggish but she went to work like the soldier she was. One Friday night, she couldn’t take it anymore and her niece and my cousin Cleo took her the hospital. She drove her car on three flat tires in one of the worst winters in Chicago history and got my mother checked in at a hospital on 61st and Ellis.

While in the hospital, my mother found out that she was a diabetic and that her glucose sugar level was at 900 and if she had not come in, she would gone into a coma and probably died. That was a scary thought to my then eight-year old self because she was all I had and she was everything to me.

She was in the hospital for almost three weeks; a long time for a clingy child to be without her mother. I told myself I would not cry and I didn’t but I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to Christmas. I learned a long time ago that there was no white man in a red suit that brought me my presents and that my mother did. So I pondered what would happen if she didn’t get out on time. I wanted my mother to come home so bad but I also wanted some presents.

But she did get out and she made miracles happen! She purchased my brother Larry a silk gray shirt and slacks complete with Stacy Adams and he thought he was the shit when he put it on. She brought Randy, my other brother some skates because it was 1978 and he was about that disco life and skating at the Rink on Disco Night.

And for me? The usual collage of dolls and dishes she knew I loved. Thirty-seven years later when I look back at on my mother’s strength and perseverance, I cannot help but marvel. Damn near died, hadn’t been to work in almost a month and she managed to find money to take care of her children for Christmas. So when I am feeling low during this time, I just remember my mother and pull myself together. She was a remarkable woman.

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

Unfinished Business – Race Relations between Blacks and Whites in America

One of the least known facts about the concept of race is that that it is a socially constructed ideology. Race and subsequent racism was created by Europeans and Americans (white people) in order to justify the enslavement of millions of people (black people) for profit. When people feel guilty about an action they committed, they will often try to find ways of justifying their actions. This is what Europeans and Americans did when they decided to explain away the actions of human bondage by declaring Africans subhuman. In doing this, they changed the interpretation of history itself. A land where complex civilizations had existed for centuries was reduced to the “Dark Continent” and its people declared savages. All in the name of profit for the status quo and converting the “natives” to Christianity. The history of Africa was rewritten to make whites the conquerors who ‘civilized’ the natives. Just like in the movies.

Although ‘race’ as a description of the physical condition probably dates back to the dawn of the human species, most scholars agree that it was primarily through European expansion in the 16th to the 19th century that ‘race’ as a physical description emerged. It was when European colonizers, whose aim was mainly to seek out valuable primary products such as sugar, tin, rubber and human labor, came into contact with ‘native’ populations who were ‘people of color’ that racism became a dominant force in Western society. In order to maintain control of these populations, they were defined as inferior human beings primarily because of their different cultural practices as well as not being white, the desired and ‘normal’ skin color. However, pushing such people to the margins of society did not stop European and American men from sexually mixing with African women, producing an entire group of people cannot trace their ancestry and have no history as a result. In order to make money and conquer, race as a biological factor was constructed and became a major factor in discrimination against people who who taken against their will and stripped of their culture. This ideology rapidly spread throughout Europe and the Americas, spreading the doctrines of alleged black inferiority and white supremacy that still exist to this day. Just turn on the television.

The ideology of racial dictatorship and hierarchy quickly took root in American society by the signing of a famous document, “The United States Constitution.” This document states emphatically, ‘We the People of the United States.’ The question proposed from this statement is, who exactly are “the People?” It certainly was not the enslaved Africans because they were considered to be three fifths of a human being. In addition to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence also posed many questions of racism. The Declaration of Independence was written to sever ties in which people were denied their unalienable rights. However, the Constitution was still denying several people of their life, liberty, and or the pursuit of happiness on the basis of the some as mundane as skin color. It is obvious to see that the Constitution laid the framework for a segregated, racial society in America.

Enslaved Africans were just as human as the white men whose rights were secured through the signing of the Constitution, but their rights did not matter. Because they did not have any rights, they were forced to live in a society in which the government officials did not represent them. Equality and justice was not for all, just for wealthy, land-owning white men. Almost like today. The practice of discriminating on the basis of skin color was born and would be legal until the six decade of the twentieth century. Even in the new millennium, racial inequalities still plague America and until this country can admit the wrongs done to enslaved Africans and their ancestors, this country will be plagued.