Remembering bell hooks

I didn’t discover bell hooks until I went to college in 2002. I majored in sociology and minored in history. Took two Women and Gender courses and it was then I was introduced to her works. And my life changed.

Her writings made me think deeply and I learned to fight for myself as a Black woman living in a white patriarchal society that despises all women but has placed the Black woman on a special rung in hell. Learned to fight for my dignity and autonomy in system that wasn’t set up for my advancement but my demise.

And as I’m getting older, due to her works, I have learned to have grace for others who weren’t as fortunate as me to have access to her writings and the writings of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Assata Shakur and others. Black writers who reveled in their Blackness and wasn’t afraid to show it. Ignorance is cultivated in American culture these days so some people are doomed and all you can do is pity them and move on.

So Rest in Power bell hooks. Although you are no longer here in form, your works will continue to educate and transform, encouraging folks to improve their lives and elevate their minds. Folks like me.

Words that every woman needs to chant to herself

Missing My Mommy

My Mommy

My mama left this world 15 years ago today and it hasn’t been a day in those 15 years that I haven’t thought about her. Especially now since I’m getting older, going through perimenopause and it’s many questions I would love to ask her.

Like did she cry like a broken hearted woman one minute and then be ready to beat someone’s ass the next minute? And after crying and raging, find herself giggling madly like a teenager? Because that’s me on a regular basis and I wish she was here so we could giggle together.

Like how did she feel when she became a grandmother? Did she look at her grandchildren with so much love and awe that her heart literally jumped for joy every time she saw their faces? Because that’s how I feel about my grandson. I wish she was here to see his face because I know she would have loved him to pieces.

And how did she feel about aging as a woman in a culture that hates all women but has a particular vicious venom for older women? All these questions I can’t ask her because she’s no longer here. That reality has saddened me for 15 years. That reality has left a bitter taste in my mouth, in my heart, in my soul.

I have so much to live for. My children, my grandchild and the new one who’s scheduled to be born on my mother’s 90th birthday in May but it’s a piece of me that was lost on December 6, 2006 when she became an ancestor. And that’s okay. We live in culture that shames people for grieving if it goes beyond the allotted timeframe that’s deemed acceptable. But I don’t give a fuck. I have the right to grieve for my mother forever. And I will.

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. 


Woes of a Frustrated Writer

Writing is a skill that has come easily to me and I consider myself blessed to be able to articulate my thoughts in the written form but it can be frustrating. Because in order to be a successful online writer in today’s culture, you have to appeal to the masses, most of whom aren’t interested in anything beyond celebrity gossip, relationships, and conspiracy theories. Subjects I do not give a rat’s ass about because when I do decide to write, I write from a viewpoint of something that I am passion about. So being a writer can be frustrating as hell.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Like celebrity gossip. I turned 51 last month (Scorpio Woman!!!!) and I’m clueless about the newest celebrities on the block. While cruising the social media streets, I often see stories about the lives of rappers and reality television stars and I don’t know these people from a can of paint. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to write about them because it would be disingenuous and most importantly, they are boring. At least to me.

Way back during the Stone age, I had an affinity for stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood because of the black and white movies that were shown on television (during ancient times when cable didn’t exist) and I used to purchase the National Enquirer and Star Magazine every week to read about the lives of Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins and other stars from that era. When stars were glamorous and had some real drama, not that manufactured shit that they do now for social media likes.

But now I am sounding like a snob so let me stop. Back to the subject. The other subject that will get an online writer a lot of attention on the internet is relationships. Especially amongst the online clique of Black folks who have discussions about relationships that last for days and usually places blame for the dysfunction that runs amok in the community upon the backs of Black woman. These conversations revolve around submission, single mothers, welfare, and who eats first, the man or the children. These subjects are talked about day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year and nothing changes except the people are getting older and their mindsets stupider and stupider.

When I see these musings from clearly disturbed individuals, I feel blessed and fortunate enough to know functional Black folks offline but I can admit that I am both fascinated and saddened by the lack of intellectual curiosity from the online Black folks, especially these so-called pro Black folks. Why are these folks clinging so tightly to the chains that have oppressed themselves and their ancestors ancestors for centuries so tightly? Bewailing about the end of the nuclear family which was created by dominant culture during the 1950s to take away the freedoms of its women. Especially when historically, the Black family was centered around the extended family concept. Geez…..

And the conspiracy theories truly make my ass itch and twitch. People have built large social media platforms spewing nonsense about the pandemic and whether the earth is round or flat. I can understand the fear about the pandemic but people claiming that the world is flat really fucked my entire understanding of life up because it’s not the 1500s anymore. I’ve been saying for the past five years that this era in American history is The New Dark Ages but no one believed me and now look. These fuckers are running amok looking like complete ninnies, spewing nonsense and rhetoric that they learned from fools.

It has been hard for me to write because I don’t feel passionate about anything anymore but my ability to write is calling me, telling me to use this gift from the ancestors. I feel so blah 80% of the time and I am doing my best to fight this feeling so that is why I am wrote this blog today. Perhaps my passion about life will come back through my writing. I hope so.

Middle Age Angst of a Black Generation X Around the Way Girl

I’m currently watching BET Soul and they played Mary J. Blige’s video “Love No Limit” and lord it brought back memories of being young and carefree. Then it occurred to me that this album will be 30 years old next year. The same age as my son and now I feel old as mummy dirt. So I’m sitting here wondering where the time go.

So much have changed in my life since 1992. I’ve lost so many people that I loved with all my soul including my original birth family, aunts, cousins and friends.

When I look in the mirror, I see traces of the younger woman I used to be but I mostly see sadness. Sadness for my lost loved ones and the state of a culture that is selfish and trifling. I remember that idealistic girl I used to be and wonder where she went and what happened to her. Who is this cynical broad staring back at me in the mirror daily?

But I know who she is. It was easy for her to turn into a cynic considering what generation she’s from. Generation X, the forgotten generation stuck between the Boomers and Millennials who battle daily on the social media.

The original latchkey children who were left to their own devices and learned to be satisfied with eating ravioli straight out the can because their mothers refused to buy a microwave and threatened them with violence if they turned on the stove.

The generation who saw a spaceship blow up in the air back in 1986 and if they were Black, saw the destruction of their community when the crack era started. It’s no wonder why so many of us are drunks. We’ve seen it all and still somehow manage to get up in the morning with a semi straight face despite the pain of yesteryear.

But despite the pain, considering what I have been through during these last almost 30 years, I’m eternally grateful to be still alive and in one piece. Fatter with laugh lines but still here. So this little story is for my Generation X folks. My middle age Around the Way gals and homeboys. We go make it y’all. Yes we are.

Working for Pennies- The Harsh Realities of Being a Welfare Recipient

One of the biggest misconceptions in American culture is that welfare recipients are living large at the taxpayer’s expense, receiving thousands of dollars per month while driving Cadillacs and other expensive cars. This myth is so not true and how do I know? Because for the past two months, I have been on welfare and let me be the one to tell you: being on public assistance sucks.

August 3, 2011 will be a day in infamy I will never forget because it was on that date that I received my last unemployment check and officially became one of the 99ers, a term for unemployed people in the United States, who have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, including all unemployment extensions. After applying for over two thousand jobs, I found myself in the position of having to apply for Public Aid or be faced with disconnection notices and phone calls from bill collectors who cannot speak English. If someone had asked me five years ago would I be in this position, back on welfare, I would have laughed because I went back to school and received a Bachelor’s degree and people who have degrees are supposed to be protected from economic turmoil. I graduated five years ago from Roosevelt University with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a 3.6 grade point average and I am proud of myself for that accomplishment. I know that some folks turn their noses up at people who pursue a liberal arts degree but I learned valuable critical thinking skills, how to analyze and solve problems in a creative manner, and most importantly about social stratification and inequality and I have no regrets. I also have over ten years of transferable experience in the administrative/clerical field and an ability to work with all types, fools and all. However, even with all those wonderful qualities, I cannot find a job to save my life.

When I made the decision to apply for welfare, I tried to keep positive about my situation. Millions of Americans are suffering from either being unemployed or underemployed so at least I was not alone in my troubles. But I cannot lie: Feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy run through my veins on a daily basis and a rage is building in me. A rage against a society that tells individuals that a college degree is the path to a economic prosperity, but does not disclose how centuries of social inequality have kept and will continue to keep the best and brightest out of the workforce. A rage against rich, clueless politicians who believe people that receive unemployment and welfare benefits are sitting on their butts swigging alcohol and smoking dope. A rage against myself for waiting so long to get my life together and having to deal with the consequences of perhaps being considered passé in the workforce.

I was a teenage mother who did not get my GED until I was twenty-six and my Bachelor’s degree until I was thirty-five. The entire time before both these changes took place, I was told by society that if I educated myself, I would get myself and my children out of poverty. Guess what? It did not work because I am back on welfare receiving $318 dollars per month. I did everything society told me to do and I am in the same position I was in nine years ago when I made the decision to attend college and that is a shame.

If I did not have children, there is no way in hell I would have applied for welfare. But when you are a mother, one has to make sacrifices, so I swallowed my pride and applied for cash benefits. By signing the Personal Responsibility contract in return for public assistance, a welfare recipient in essence signs her rights to being an adult away. Recipients must work for their cash and going to school is not an option.

Yes, welfare recipients must WORK for their cash benefits. I know that people believe in the myth of women laying up on welfare, eating bon-bons and spitting out a baby every year while collecting those fat government checks but that is a load of malarkey.

On August 22, 1996 in the Rose Garden of the White House, President William Jefferson Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known as welfare reform, dismantling the sixty-one year program of federally guaranteed cash assistance to needy families or what is known as welfare. Welfare recipients have five years to receive cash assistance and after that, it is a wrap. The debate surrounding welfare reform was dominated by white male politicians and journalists and focused predominately on minority women and their families living in poverty because minority women are the only ones in America who received Public Aid (sarcasm). Although President Clinton had the right idea, he and others did not take into account what would happen if the economy collapsed and finding a job would be the equivalency of hitting the lottery.

It burns my soul that I am back on the dole, working for $318 per month which is equal to $79.50 per week at six hours per day after everything I went through to better myself. If I refuse to go to any of the job sites my caseworker sends me to, I will be sanctioned, meaning that my monthly benefits will be cut in half to $159. So the next time, a hardworking tax payer complains about welfare recipients and how they are living good, eating lobster and shit, think about me, the college educated single mother who took care of her children, saw two of them graduate from high school, one from college, only to find herself and youngest child still poverty-stricken and broke as hell.

Also, if anyone knows of any job opportunities in the Chicagoland area, please let me know.