Friday, May 29, 2009

The Hit Back...A Black Love Ethic

Hey Sabrina,

I am also alarmed at the number of children dying in Chicago and how the larger culture has not responded. Black and Brown life does not have value. But what is more striking to me is OUR lack of response to this violence. What do people on the block think? What do we think as the larger Black community?

As an organizer I can certainly look at systems and structures that exacerbate the situation. We can talk about how the closing of Chicago public schools and federally subsidized housing has forced students to leave their communities. While I don’t think dilapidated housing and ill-performing schools should be maintained, we have to consider how their closures have impacted the community.

In lieu of dismantling federally subsidized housing, mixed income housing has been put in in its place. With mixed income housing, only 1/3 of the units are set aside for low income people. The remaining 2/3 must find their own housing and by default are displaced.

The same can be said for the newly created schools, which are mostly charter schools. After a poor performing schools is reopened children who initially attended the schools are not guaranteed placement. Enrollment is now open to the entire city and neighborhood kids are forced to enter a lottery to secure a slot. If they are not accepted they will have to a attend school outside of the neighborhood and more than likely it is similar in performance to the school that was closed.

They also have to deal with additional safety issues because they now have to cross gang lines to get there. I have heard colleagues describe incidents where mothers in tears have pleaded with CPS officials not to send their sons to schools outside of their community because they were frightened for their safety. How can these children feel valuable and worthy when things are always closed down in their name and whenever anything is new and improved it’s never for them?

But you know what? We have heard this all before. In fact I am tired of talking about the problems in our community in the same old antiquated ways. You are right Sabrina, this is not just about more resources and social programs. While targeting issues like housing and education is part of combating violence, we have to seriously consider the larger problem of self hate. Because our children have repeatedly been told that they are not valuable and now they believe it. What else could explains the blatant disregard for life? Violence is so normalized that we have become desensitized. Something has died in the hearts of our children and what’s left no one recognizes. Talking about, modeling, and creating a culture of self-love, Black love is far more daunting than tackling any other issue.

As a people historically we have struggled to make it but there was always a Black middle class. Back then we all lived in the same neighborhoods; doctors and teachers on the same block as number runners and garbage man. No matter what obstacles we faced -- ill-equipped schools, run down housing, lack of political power -- we always believed that education was the key and our children could and would be better off than us.

It was this belief that created historically Black colleges. It was burned in our hearts that these opportunities were bought in blood by those proud Black folks that went before us. It’s the same story that Michelle Obama shared at the Democratic National Convention. Her parent made sure that she and her brother had opportunities.

So what changed? All I know is that something happened with the baby boomer generation. Maybe we are seeing the consequences of an 80s drug culture that eroded segments of an entire generation. Maybe poor youth no longer are reminded of the possibilities because Black folks with class privilege no longer have to live in the hood. While I can continue to speculate on why, what I know for sure is that there is hope.

But what about President Obama and Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to be nominated for the Supreme Court? Here you have two people of color who did not come from privileged backgrounds but worked hard and made it. Real people that look like them and with similar backgrounds. In spite of all barriers, they made a choice to move in a different direction.

When I think about all the violence our children witness daily, I am reminded of the work I do in the domestic violence community. It takes a survivor on average seven times to leave an abusive relationship. Exposure to violence can begin to impact their sprit and forces them to make decisions that are not healthy in order to navigate the situations they are in. Maybe this Black love ethic must be coupled with non-judgment and the understanding that this situation was not created over night and won’t be solved in a day.

While I don’t have all the answers I will hold on to our history and the image of Obama and Sotomayor standing together at the White House. I will also pray that our youth will see this image and be able to recognize themselves in it.


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