”The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house,” advises feminist Audre Lorde in her famous essay. I was doing some research for an upcoming show that will help us examine the impact of racism on our mental health, and I came across a powerful video of a James Farmer interview with Betty Shabazz after the assassination of her husband, Malcolm X.
After watching her, I was left with the thought that in the aftermath of violence we are left to try to raise our babies anyway. I thought about it a few more days, and this occurred to me: When we look at the statistics for the numbers of Black men in prison, we aren’t talking about some generic men we are unfamiliar with. No, those men are our brothers, husbands, cousins, uncles, nephews and fathers — urban men.
Ray’jon Gomez, 13; Quantell Braxton, 14; Jason Osburn, 16 — victims of homicide, urban babies, our babies. We are the urban women who gave birth to them, who cooked for them, who prayed for and encouraged them. We are the urban women who are left to bury our children, absolutely unnatural.
Malcolm X said that we, Black people, “determine who goes to the poor house and who goes to the White House,” and I couldn’t agree more. Across urban communities, the realities of economic segregation, concentrated poverty, low wages, crime and violence leave too many urban women struggling to raise a generation increasingly disconnected from the “haves.”
Our urban babies are denied the right to a proper public education. They have disproportionate contact with the police and are disproportionately placed outside of our care.
Since the ideology loves its labels, I will indulge it for a moment. When the ideology calls our babies “at-risk” or “proven-risk,” the ideology sees our children as the enemy who present a risk to the ideology and to those who believe absolutely in it and practice it as such. I say this: Our babies are at-proven-risk in every category — education, health, economics. They are at-proven-risk, and their enemy, our enemy, is the status quo.
Urban women can decide this election, right now. They can decide “who goes to the poor house and who goes to the White House,” literally. Urban women, victims of similar circumstances, uniquely strong, can bind together as a collective to make the politicians see us.
Urban women can hold them accountable, especially those who represent our communities across government, to see the pain and plight of our urban communities. We can make them acknowledge the daily injustices we suffer, to address lower wages for women, and to stop economic segregation in our communities.
Hennepin County produced a report on the regional service centers the county intends to build. It tells us that a full 80 percent of the people living on the North Side of Minneapolis are using some kind of county service like food stamps, rent or daycare assistance.
Urban women — we can’t believe that this is an accident, or that we are solely responsible for having raised two generations of men who have been socialized inside of institutions. Do we bear the sole responsibility for the deaths of our children, victims of homicide? We cannot believe that we are responsible for the City of Minneapolis’ failure to make violence prevention its priority. Are we responsible for our collective poverty, or for the complete absence of discussion in political circles about our realities or the prospects for our children?
Johnetta Cole said, “To educate a man is to educate an individual, but to educate a woman is to educate a nation.” I know that many of us make our voices heard at the voting box, but now I know that is no longer enough. Understanding the dire prospects our babies face, we have a chance to make the government stop playing with us.
We can demand that our children and their misery no longer be the primary source of all the social service jobs, corrections funding, and educational dollars requested on the backs of our babies only to be spent on other priorities. No more riches to be gained on the suffering of urban children, our children!
Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
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Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at www.kmojfm.com, or read web posts from Lissa at www.kmojfm.com. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected]