Reclaiming Joy in Your Life

The Sociological Imagination

I majored in sociology while in college because it made sense after reading the first paragraph of the textbook I had been assigned. I had been a sociologist my entire life but didn’t know it.

When I was a little girl, I used to go to work with my mother during summer vacations and we would take public transportation. I always noticed that everyone would go through the same exact turnstile when we got to the train station, although it would be several that would be empty. That never made any sense to me because why stand in line when it was another turnstile available? Ugh humans but despite of their flaws, humanity is utterly fascinating to me.

Due to sociology, the social media, and aging, unfortunately I’m noticing that people are pathologically unhappy and that makes me sad. Because life is so short and it’s precious. Everyday you wake up is a new opportunity to start over again. Who wants to wake up mad and miserable all the time? Not me.

Childhood memories

For this new year, I’m hoping that everyone claims their right to happiness and joy. I would have thought that living through a pandemic would have awakened some people but it hasn’t. Be happy and love the people in your life. Love them with all your heart and soul. Because at times, life can be rough as hell and you never know when the grim reaper will be knocking on your door. Reclaim your life from misery and have a grand old life.

The New Dirty Word – Feminism

What Feminism is Really About

Before I joined the social media, I used to read articles from the website Salon.com and debate folks in the now defunct comment section. At one time, Salon had a website named Open Salon for the readers who were writers and yours truly won Editors Choice a few times. But I’m digressing as usual so let me tell this tale.

What fascinated me the most about Salon is that whenever articles from prominent feminists were posted, the men would be foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs in the comments, writing barely coherent paragraphs filled with rage against them stanking ass feminists and spewing how the world was a much better place when women knew their “place.”

The mantra of feminists everywhere

And the vast majority of these men were white men. It wasn’t a lot of Black folks in the comments during that time period and I was just amazed at the anger from these men who are on the top of the economic and social totem pole in America. Even with all this power, they felt threatened by women having autonomy over their lives.

I’m really not surprised. Feminism which can defined as women being able to have the same rights as men drives normally sane people batshit crazy. Because you know women are supposed to stay in their place, cooking and cleaning, having babies, and shutting the fuck up. Women are supposed to walk in the shadows, never basking in the glory of their own sun. How dare these bitches think they have the right to control their own destinies and bodies without male interference? Shame on them!

But I hadn’t seen nothing yet until I joined Facebook and saw the venom that so many Black men have for the ideology called feminism. These men blame feminism for kicking Black men out of their homes by giving poor Black women access to welfare. For allowing Black women to become educated and have careers. For breathing. For weave. Makeup. Everything that’s wrong in the Black community has been placed at the feet of feminism. And it’s the most pathetic shit in the world.

Feminism makes the world a better place because it gives women options. The option of not having children or ten children. The option of being a career woman or a stay at home mother. And the option of doing absolutely nothing at all. Freedom to live without a ton of societal rules, expectations, and regulations just because you were born female. It’s nothing wrong with women being free to control their lives. Nothing at all.

A Village Without Love

There has been an ongoing war between the sexes in the Black community for decades and it is time for it to end because it is pathetic and the only people hurting are the children. 70% of Black children reside in a single parent household; usually the mother and Black children are highly over represented in the foster care system.  Black children are only 14% of the American population, but are in the foster care at the rate of 23% and that is a damn shame.

Some folks are so busy arguing amongst themselves about who is more trifling, Black men or Black women that they have absolved ourselves of all parental and community responsibility.  No one wants to look in the mirror and change themselves but would rather sit back and blame each other while making a slew of babies that will grow up confused and fucked up. Ladies its too much birth control out here to be having children you do not want to be bothered with. Motherhood is a tour of duty that never ends and if you really don’t want to be bothered with responsibility of children, don’t have any. Stop letting these dudes whisper sweet nothings in your ear when that coochie is on fire, trying put stupid shit in your heads about having babies but ain’t said shit about marriage.

And men, I have not forgotten about y’all: if you do not want children, strap your boy up or get a vasectomy. Any man who is stupid enough to put the fate of his unborn children in the hands of a possibly unstable and vindictive woman deserves to have the child support system hounding his dumb ass for the rest of his life.

In past five years, there has been a big movement online, encouraging Black women to date outside their race and it has been fascinating to read the comments from some Black women on various websites as to why they have decided to date interracially. Because ironically, they sound just like some of these Black dudes when they give their reasons for not dating within their race but I ain’t the one to gossip so you didn’t hear that from me. American culture is a patriarchal one in which all men, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has been socialized to believe that they are superior to women. So if a Black woman thinks she will be escape patriarchy by turning to another race, she needs a reality check. The same premise goes for those Black men who told themselves that if they get a White woman, they will be as good as the White man and history has shown that premise to be a complete and utter lie.

Stereotypes about Black men and women that were originally created by the dominant culture are now running amok and being perpetrated by Black people themselves. The community is on the edge of a precipice but instead of coming up with feasible solutions to the problems of a poor educational system, poverty, lack of economic opportunities in blighted areas, and the high murder rate in inner-city neighborhoods, some of us would rather discuss the lives of celebrities who wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.

All these stereotypes do is keep Black folks at each other’s throats and Black communities throughout America are on fire as a direct result. It takes a village to raise a child and what happens when the village is at war with each other? A generation of angry children without love and compassion, hence the state of current Black America.

Black History Lesson for the Day – Bronzeville

The Bronzeville neighborhood means so much to me because much of my family’s history has been entwined in this area. My family started migrating from Mississippi during the 1930s. My Uncle Joseph was the first Allen to make the trek to the Promised Land and for him, the journey was bountiful. He started a Ma and Pa grocery store on 45th and Wabash with the help of his wife, my Aunt Edna, who worked as a laundress. With the proceeds of both their earnings, they purchased two buildings, including the one where his store was located. After that, the rest of my family, including my grandmother, with hope high in their hearts came to Chicago to make their fortunes. Some succeeded and some did not. However, that was not really important. What was important is that they had the opportunity to succeed, an opportunity that had been denied to them in their hometown of Itta Bena, Mississippi because of the rampant racism that existed. My own experiences with Bronzeville started in 1989, when my mother, my daughter and I moved to 49th and Prairie. We lived there until 1992, and despite of what anyone says about that area, I had a ball. I never knew such colorful characters actually existed outside of the many books I had read.

Bronzeville got its name because of the mass influx of African-Americans who came to Chicago that settled in the areas between 29th and 51st Street, during the Great Migration from 1915 to the 70s. Bronzeville was once a city within a city, with its own stores, several newspapers and strong churches. This neighborhood was dubbed the Black Metropolis because of the many opportunities offered to blacks. It became a magnet for African Americans, who migrated from the South in droves. Jobs were plentiful and there were many black-owned businesses such as banks, insurance companies and funeral homes. There were many social institutions to help the disadvantaged and activities for people to immerse themselves in. The nightlife was fantastic. Musicians came from all over America to play at the Regal Theater and The Savoy. There were several famous blacks who lived in Bronzeville and they include: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Ferdinand Barnett, Robert Abbott, Lionel Hampton, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, George Cleveland Hall, T. K. Lawless, Jesse Binga, Anthony Overton, and Richard R. Wright. These African-Americans contributed many gifts that would stand the test of time.

However, despite of its rich history, Bronzeville has faced a severe reversal of fortune. The losses of the stockyards and steel mills to different cities have pushed thousands of people out of the job market. Public housing projects – Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor homes and the Ida B. Wells homes, created to give people better housing, trapped people in poverty and fear. The middle classed has moved to the suburbs. Retail businesses and lending capital have fled to safer pastures. This once proud Black Metropolis is now one of the poorest in the entire nation. The majority of its young people drop out of high school. Joblessness is the norm. Drugs and violence are rampant.

Even with all the adversity Bronzeville has faced in recent years, this community still has several strengths – beautiful old mansions, a great location near public transportation and the Loop, many churches, and a history so thick that you can feel it. This blog will discuss two things that were very important to the Bronzeville area during its heyday: housing and religion. It will discuss the hard time black migrants had getting decent housing due to overcrowding, segregation and what solution was taken to correct it, but ultimately caused a bigger problem. It will also discuss the religious wars that took place between the old guard blacks that had already settled in Chicago and the new immigrant blacks. There has been a great deal of renewed interest in the Bronzeville area because of its rich history, so hopefully, some of the money spent on other areas in the city of Chicago will be spent on this beautiful city within a city, the city called Bronzeville.

Religion Wars

The Great Migration forced the established African American community in Chicago to make major adjustments and accommodations for its new inhabitants. Historically, black churches had, like their counterparts in the South, resisted any involvement in social issues. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants, however, simply could not be ignored and churches, being the black community’s richest and most influential institution, were quickly called to action in the effort to help migrants properly adjust themselves to life in Chicago. 

African Americans already living in Chicago were known as the Old Settlers and they were aware of the major implications the Great Migration would have on their lifestyle. The Old Settlers had striven to establish respect from whites and a sense of equality within the city’s socioeconomic system. With the arrival of the Southern blacks, most of whom unfamiliar to city life, the Old Settlers feared that the progress they had achieved would be dashed. White people would probably equate them with the thousands of uneducated, fresh from the country migrants. Most importantly, the Old Settlers realized the enormous strain placed on many of the migrants who, having fled the South for better opportunities arrived in Chicago lacking housing or a sense of direction. From the migration’s outset, African American Chicago area churches bore the brunt of the responsibility for helping guide the migrants. 

The Old Settlers also worried that the temptations of Chicago’s nightlife would be too much for the green as grass migrants. Down South, the church was the center of social life. Chicago, on the other hand, provided numerous outlets for entertainment (bars, nightclubs, taverns, gambling halls), many of them deemed by the ministry as deviant and destructive. African American social activist Richard Wright, Jr. emphasized the importance the church played in welcoming migrants to Chicago. He said, “Get these Negroes in your churches; make them welcome; don’t turn your nose and let the saloon man and the gambler do all the welcoming. Help them buy homes, encourage them to send for their families and to put their children in school” (Sernett, Promised Land). 

One of the first churches to help the immigrants was Olivet Baptist Church which is located on 31st and King Drive. This church assumed a major role in the process of aiding migrants. The Rev. Lacey Kirk Williams, the minister at that time, sent members of his church to several Chicago train terminals to meet incoming passengers. Church members greeted the newcomers and immediately directed them to places of assistance. Olivet quickly transformed itself into a social service center for migrants, providing them with food and clothing, while assisting them in the obtainment of housing and employment. They also hosted a wide variety of social, educational, and recreational activities, and soon gained a reputation throughout the South “as an oasis of mercy in the urban desert” (Sernett, Promised Land). 

There would be major clashes between the migrants and the established Old Settlers, some of which concerned religion but most of which had to do with class status. The new migrants did not like the Northern churches. They felt that these churches were cold and impersonal. They were used to the expressiveness of the churches down South and to them; the Northern church services were restrained. The established Northern blacks felt that the new migrants were countrified and embarrassing. They liked the calmness of their church services and did not want change. They were also concerned about their own hierarchy in Chicago. 

Some churches compromised their traditional religious practices in order to accommodate their new members. They incorporated gospel choirs, and added new, more vibrant songs to their traditional church hymns. Ministers livened up their sermons by interjecting “shouts” and encouraging emotional responses from the congregation. Still, the migrants still found themselves set apart by their class status, appearance and demeanor. The condescending attitudes toward the migrants by the predominately upper-class church congregations did not help the situation. They made fun of the migrants’ clothes, accents, and lack of education. It always amazes me that in spite of all the racism and contempt we have endured from other cultures that we would treat each other so shabbily. 

Some of these migrants eventually left these churches and started their own denominations. The churches came to be known as Storefront Churches. These churches tried to recreate the Southern rural churches that the majority of the migrants were used to. E. Franklin Franzier explained that the storefront churches “represented an attempt on the part of migrants, especially from the rural areas of the South, to re-establish a type of church to which they were accustomed” (Sernett, Promised Land). 

Of course, the established black churches felt that these churches were a slap in their faces. They felt that these churches were a disgrace to the African American race and nothing more than a minstrel show. The preachers from these churches were derided for their lack of formal training and were subjected to accusations including defrauding their flock of money, being agents in the numbers racket, and of immoral sexual behavior (Sernett, Promised Land). However, despite the criticisms, storefront churches persisted, and exist to this very day, their presence a testament to the strength of the Southern migrants willingness to keep their heritage and an unwillingness not to bow down to those who looked down their noses upon them.

Decent Housing but At What Cost?

The new migrants having settled the issue of religion now had to deal with housing. The majority of people lived in tenement housing and there were many horror stories about overcrowding, rats and insects. However, living conditions in Chicago, though overcrowded, were similar to housing conditions in the South. Down South, most migrants lived in three or four room cabins. It was not uncommon for as many as five people to sleep in one room.

But this was The Promised Land, and things were supposed to be better. As soon as they were able to get themselves together, they moved. Living conditions were used as a measure of the success or failure of migration. A family succeeded when they secured a place of their own.

One of the most popular living spaces for migrants were kitchenette apartments. These apartments were called that because everything was enclosed in one room, including the kitchen and are similar to what is called an efficiency apartment today, except a bit smaller and housing more people. Families of four and up lived in these small spaces. Many families took an apartment like this, dreaming of the day when a better life would come along. I came to know this type of apartment very well. My mother, my then-baby daughter and I lived in a kitchenette apartment from 1989 to 1992. We had been burned out of our previous apartment and lost everything we owned. We needed to start off from scratch and save some money in the process.

Unlike the migrants, we did have two separate rooms. The kitchen was actually pretty large and so was the bedroom/living space but we had to share a bathroom with the other tenants. It was a unique experience living in that building. There was a pimp and his two ladies of night living down the hall, and they would fight everyday. Sometimes, the girls would fight each other and on other days, would join forces and beat up the pimp. A lady named Dorise lived across the hall and she would get drunk everyday. Her boyfriend was a drunk too, and one time when he was laid out across the lawn in a drunken stupor, someone stole his brand new Reebok gym shoes off his feet. When the first of the month came (check time), the tenants of 4949 South Prairie would party like it was New Year’s Eve. It was truly an experience I will never forget.

By the 1940s, as more migrants flooded Bronzeville, there was less and less space for them to move into. Already decrepit apartments became overcrowded and the living conditions became worse. To alleviate this overcrowding, many blacks attempted to move to into neighboring areas and out to the newly emerging suburbs. However, they were met with massive white resistance, both political and violent, forcing them to stay confined in the overcrowded and dilapidated slums of the South Side. The City of Chicago needed to do something about these conditions; there was a serious housing shortage and the migrants either did not have the money to move elsewhere, or could not because of white resistance. The Chicago Housing Authority, a government agency, attempted to solve the housing problems of the South Side by building affordable housing projects. 

The first of these housing projects to finished were the Ida B. Wells Homes, and they were completed in 1941. The next to be finished were The Dearborn Homes, which are located from 27th to 30th streets and from State Street to the Rock Island Railroad tracks. They were completed in 1950. They were designed by Loebl, Schlossman and Bennet and represented the CHA’s first “high-rise” public housing project. They ranged from 6 to 9 stories. The most notorious of the housing projects built by the CHA were The Robert Taylor Homes, Chicago’s (and the country’s) largest housing project. They were completed in 1962. They were named after Robert R. Taylor, the commissioner of the CHA from 1938-1950. Robert Taylor resigned from the CHA in 1950 after realizing that the political forces in Chicago would prevent the CHA from building unsegregated public housing. These political forces wanted blacks isolated and segregated from the rest of Chicago. And it worked.

The Robert Taylor Homes, consisting of 28 identical sixteen-story buildings practically guaranteed segregation because it was built in the middle of the slums of Bronzeville, keeping its over 28,000 residents isolated. By stacking people literally on top of each other, the CHA was able to house many people on this two-mile piece of land. The architects, who designed this madness, had hoped the open space surrounding the Robert Taylor Homes would give its residents a sense of closeness to the outdoors, making The Robert Taylor Homes a suburbia within the city. However, the land surrounding the buildings served more as an isolating factor Because of its isolation, these projects became a hot seat of criminal activity, which included drug trafficking, gang wars and murder. Public housing, instead of giving the poor an outlet of hope, continued the vicious cycle of poverty and turned Bronzeville into a ghetto.

Conclusion

Bronzeville was once a bustling center of activity for African-Americans who wanted to better their lives. Once the jobs left the community, it took the heart out of Bronzeville. The projects took its soul. What is left now is an empty shell of broken beer bottles and shattered dreams. There has been a great deal of renewed interest in Bronzeville, and some of the old, abandoned buildings have been rehabbed. New businesses have come back and put money in the community. If this interest continues, this neighborhood can be great again, but two key ingredients are needed to make this dream come true. The churches of Bronzeville have to take a more active role in the lives of its inhabitants, like they did in when the Migration first started. The ministers cannot turn a blind eye to the gang violence and drug activity that still plagues this area. The residents of Bronzeville also have to take a stand and not allow their neighborhood to continue its descent into the gutter. The residents have to teach their children about Bronzeville’s rich history. Bronzeville was built on the blood, sweat and tears of black migrants who came to Chicago with nothing in their pockets but dreams and a hope for the future. The children of Bronzeville should never be allowed to forget this. Bronzeville is the proverbial diamond in the rough. Let’s hope its shine will come through. 


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?

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.

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 to this day. 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 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