Struggle and poverty are NOT in the black woman’s DNA, they are NOT a part of her lineage or legacy. So why do so many of us AIM to struggle? Is struggle a rite of passage to black womanhood? Why deliberately make your life harder than it needs to be?
Why have children before educating yourself, building critical skills for the marketplace, saving up money and establishing a safe family environment?
Where does this attitude of “we gon’ make it” come from? And why are we keeping this message going?
This morning I came across an excellent question posed by the bloggers of the Facebook salon For Black Women ONLY.
Further, I think the “we gon make it ” attitude stems from the fact that so many black women are born into a family and surrounding world of poverty and ignorance that for many the attitude of surviving the Struggle is itself a kind of positive outlook.We see our mothers and sisters and grandmothers struggle under these burdens and considering how little they have, many women often make what seems under those circumstances to be “the best of a bad situation”. They support families after all and on occasion manage to scrimp and save just a little bit of something to have something nice when they can.
My grandmother used to say that some folks don’t know and they don’t know what they don’t know, which I think applies to so many black women in America who are shut out of participation in the American Dream through systematic structures that are designed to keep black women poor, uneducated, unable to access even the meanest of available resources like grocery stores that sell fresh food. When was the last time you saw a Whole Foods in the ghetto? Exactly. NEVER. This is not accidental. Michelle Obama works to fight obesity but why is it a problem? Do these people just sit up and eat like nasty pigs? What is wrong with those people? Well, for one, black neighborhoods do not have access to many of the most basic resources that are taken for granted in better neighborhoods. While there are many and many liquor stores, check cashing and payday loan businesses, pawn shops and mini-mart gas stations full of sugary soda, and junk food you’ll be hard pressed to locate a decent grocery.
On tv black women see sitcoms, dramas, and rom-coms about white people who pursue fulfilling careers and professions that require extensive university education. They live is fabulously plush homes that are large and airy and beautiful in neighborhoods that filled with wealthy, pretty people who own multiple luxury cars. But look at Detroit and Flint Michigan, the Cities that God Left Behind, residents have no clean,running water for weeks since the city cut off water due to financial strain on the city’s empty coffers. Does your city have running water? Don’t worry, that is a rhetorical question.
On television, impoverished black women can witness white men on golf courses discussing their stock portfolios and how they intend to produce more wealth for their personal disposal, and to black women born to ignorance, poor education and poverty it’s as good as watch aliens from another planet. I’m a black woman who is frequently called “over educated” by other black women who’ve had to labor from young ages without the benefit of being educated at fancy East Coast universities, women who have worked all their life….but don’t you know that even I don’t know many things about how white people obtain their wealth beyond my understanding of well, the old boy network, corruption, coded rules to keep out brown folk….
For those black women who don’t know and don’t know that they don’t know they see the Struggle as almost an optimist’s outlook – the glass is half, well not full, but it’s got something in it at least, even if the liquid in there supposed to be water isn’t looking so clear at all… But not knowing also produces the tragedy of merely SURVIVING which of course is not anything similar to true living. Subsistence level existence is not equal to thriving.
Furthermore, poor schools, poverty and the absence of other institutions of human necessity within the structure of “blackistans” and “chiraqs” – black communities of high violence and low resources – insulated from the rest of civilized America which possess basic necessities such as clean water, grocery stores stocked with healthful food and thriving businesses to serve the communities needs – merely perpetuate this extremely harmful, dangerous existence characterized by The Struggle that is so vaunted and revered among black women surviving in America.
But The Struggle is also responsible for destroying black women – their health, minds that are troubled by depression and other untreated mental illnesses, their bodies struggling with excessive weight from nutrient poor foods. And, finally when one’s health is gone, the mind under siege, the body suffering, it is only reasonable and tragically logical that the soul itself becomes threatened.
And these are the dangers inherent to the cultural embrace of the very principle of survival that in the end has proved most destructive of all the troubles and struggles facing a woman with black skin within a white world that coldly blames the victim for her inability to thrive beneath the boot of the victimizer.
As I write this, the lyrics to the song Get A Life by Soul II Soul keep running through my mind, the refrain sung by high piping children’s voices ask What’s the Meaning of Life?:
Dreaming of your goals, ambitions and feeling free
I’m on this mission to achieve
Achieve what? What’s in your minds eye? This is what you believe you should gain
What’s the meaning? What’s the meaning of life? Elevate your mind and free your soul
So there it is, work it out for yourself. Yeah, be selective, be objective. Be an asset to the collective As you know, you gotta get a life
Subsistence is only the most base level of survival; survival is not thriving; and The Struggle, endurance is merely existing. Our history as black women in America has infused our culture with the belief that black women are the least of these, and we ourselves have reinforced the idea and this anemic spirit of sufferance to our daughters; we have obediently followed the rules of hard labor with a perverse sort of alacrity even competing with one another to prove who can be the strongest, the hardest, the most run down yet still functioning; it is almost a source of shame in the feminine black culture to admit to weakness beneath the burden. The conditions that change at glacial pace have entrapped so many within a sort of volunteer slavery notwithstanding the conditions imposed upon us by a system devoid of compassion which pays only lip service to the ideals of Freedom, Civilization, Equality and Prosperity.
Those who escape do so like our ancestors who coveted freedom so desperately that they ran from their captors fearful yet disdainful at the risks, instinctively understanding that any freedom was superior to the wicked stability of enslavement.
Are we now enslaving ourselves to the principle of Survival and Struggle? And what meaning does life have once one accepts the principle which has been fed to us with our mother’s milk? Is it betrayal to utterly defy and reject the lesson in pursuit of realizing the true nature of our soul’s potential?
Or are betrayal and defiance the only tickets that will gain us passage to a sort of Underground Railroad to a new, fulfilling life of choice, health, opportunity and the tantalizing luxury of possibility, which is only second in by the ultimate goal: the sumptuous extravagance inherent to the chance of having a Dream, pursuing the Dream of having more…more life, more love, more joy once the shackles of our destructive inheritance have been sundered forever