Current Events

Black on Black death, systemic racism and humanity lost

With the rise of Black Lives Matter as both a phrase and a movement, a common retort by BLM detractors has been “Why don’t Black lives matter when Black people kill each other?”

We can’t ask that question without asking: How did we get to the place where life is cheap and fleeting? Where a simple act of disrespect and a misunderstanding can lead to death. In the end, it’s systemic and the current inhabitants of high-crime Black communities, while they may be participants in the system, they didn’t create the system. No, the foundation was laid long before many of today’s participants were even born and in some cases before their parents were even born.

In the 1960s, my maternal grandparents bought their first and what would be their only home in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the city’s South Side. They were one of the first Black families to buy on their block and in less than five years the block would go from being racially mixed to the lone white woman, who apparently didn’t get the white flight memo. As a kid visiting my grandparents in the 1970s, I always wondered about that one white lady and why she didn’t leave.

As a kid born in the early 1970s, my weekends were often spent with my grandparents. I was the only grandchild at that time and my grandparents were solidly middle class thanks to good-paying factory jobs with plenty of overtime and regular raises.  Their what-would-prove-to-be-precarious place in the middle class provided some buffer from my parents’ bohemian (broke-ass) lifestyle. My grandparents were more than happy to take me overnight to ensure that I was “properly” dressed with Buster Brown shoes and sensible clothes from Wieboldt’s and Carson’s. Weekends at their house meant treats and fun followed up by Sunday dinners with the entire family; these are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.  My grandparents’ solidly middle class life gave me a regular visits into the middle class especially when juxtaposed against my parents’ less-well-paying working-class existence.

The Auburn Gresham of my childhood was an area where there were thriving businesses, where Saturday morning rounds with my grandmother included visits to the full-service grocery store, the bank and the barber shop. It was a place where neighborhood kids ran up and down the street playing until the streetlights came on, neighbors sat on the stoop and everyone knew each other. As I have shared before, those same neighbors narced on me when at the tender age of 14, I took up smoking. I didn’t even make it back from the store before some nosy neighbor called my grandma and mom.  It was place where Ms. Peaches across the street regularly took trips to the Caribbean and brought treats back for all the neighborhood kids. It was place where my own beloved Granny made her annual trip to Jamaica and my grandfather went back to the family homestead in Galveston, Texas.

Today’s Auburn Gresham is a different story, it is one of those neighborhoods. In a city comprised of 77 different neighborhoods, Auburn Gresham ranks 12 for violent crime. You can almost bet money that when Chicago has an especially violent weekend, some of it happened in the Auburn Gresham area.

The last time I stepped foot in the old neighborhood was in 2004 when my mother died. I flew home from Maine and made arrangements with my father and afterwards we took a drive for me to sit with my grandmother. On the way to my grandmother’s house, I wanted a cup of coffee after being up for hours and weary with grief. There was no coffee to be found in the neighborhood other than McDonald’s. A stop at the local corner store was an adventure in urban experiences as my father and I were sized up by all the local hoods as fresh meat.  It was a chilling experience. Granted, in our raw state neither my father nor I had any fucks to give.  A year later my almost 80-year-grandmother would be robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight in the neighborhood she had settled some 40 years earlier.

Neighborhoods don’t go from the place of hopes and dreams that my grandparents bought into in the 1960s to a place where elderly women become afraid to venture outside on a whim. No, it is systemic and at the root of it race matters.

In the 1980s, I remember when the neighborhood shifted as drugs started to play a role…crack cocaine anyone? I remember when the good factory jobs that my grandparents worked at moved from the city center to outlying suburbs, creating hellaciously long commutes and thus making it harder for neighbors to know one another or creating voids as long-term residents relocated closer to their jobs if they were able to.

By 1991, I was out of the house but my parents who had hit one of their bad patches were staying with my grandmother and within a year they would leave because my brother who was about 9 or 10 at the time was being pressured to join the local gangs. A little kid being pressured to join a gang; think about that. Around 1993-94, my first marriage had imploded and alone with a young child, I needed to get my life together. My grandmother offered my son and I free housing which I was in no position to refuse.

As thankful as I was for that free housing, the year I spent getting myself together at my grandmother’s has been permanently seared into my memory bank because it was clear to me as a young adult that the neighborhood was not the one of my childhood. The full-service grocery store of my childhood was long gone. Buying anything other than third-tier meats in a corner store that smelled to high heavens but rich in cheap booze, chips, and snacks required a bus ride or two. I have never forgotten the one night when I offered to treat us to pizza, we placed our order and after two hours of waiting, I called the pizza parlor back and they said they were sorry but due to gang violence that night, they couldn’t deliver to our address. Turns out we lived in what is now called a “food desert” though I didn’t know it at the time. During my time there, I would never go to the local branch of the library because that required walking down a street well known for gang activity.

In the 1990s, the area didn’t have too much hope left for the inhabitants and if it was hopeless then, I can only imagine what it must feel like now. Especially under the leadership of mayors  who systematically dismantle the resources from communities of color and reallocate to tourist areas, and areas where white people live.

Increasingly, conversations about race are starting to acknowledge the role of housing. Where you live and what is available where you live plays a huge role in one’s success. Going to school and getting a job is a lot easier said than done if a walk to school requires dodging gangbangers who want to make you a gangbanger and the schools don’t have the same resources as the middle class white school on the other side of town. As for the jobs, if the only jobs that are accessible to you don’t pay living wages and don’t offer reliable shifts or a shot at advancement, then work ceases to look attractive when the dope boys are looking far more prosperous than the few working stiffs you do know, who still can’t make their ends meet. We know this yet we pretend it doesn’t matter. How people are policed where they live also matters. Black communities that were hard hit with drug use in the 1980s and 1990s were criminalized yet now in white communities across the country including the state where I currently live, the same drug behavior that fractured Black communities is now being seen as a public health crisis with cries for treatment not jail. Even back in the days of cocaine’s peak, prison sentences for white coke users were very rare compared to prison sentences for Black crack cocaine users.

The casual disregard for Black lives lies at the foot of white supremacy that created a two-tiered system of survival that affects every aspect of Black life by creating hurdles and barriers to survival that simply are not as high for white bodies. When one is constantly leaping hurdles to survive, it is easy to forget your own humanity as well as the humanity of those near you. Running on empty from the day of consciousness can make life cheap and fleeting. To unwrap an entire system of oppression will take some time so perhaps we should focus on what we can grasp in the immediate which is dealing with the criminal justice system, police overreach and brutality and mass incarceration. It took hundreds of years to get here, it’s going to take a while to move the needle. 
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Black Women Are the Ones Voting For Your Liberal Politics : A Guest Post

I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time. Connect the dots, take data from Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 and break it down to white folks. My people. Liberal white people. Democrat-leaning white people. The kind of white people who show up to hear Bernie Sanders speak and then freak the hell out about “respectability” in protest. Like that’s a thing. Like, an affluent white guy/socialist firmly cemented within the power structure of American politics is a shrinking violet in need of protection from the Black woman brute.

Here’s the thing, though. Black women, the ones the white folks — my people–are so angry with for leading and disrupting political speeches in the name of Black Lives Matter are the ones who vote for candidates like Saunders. And they must, in their due diligence as voters within a democracy, hold politicians accountable when their overwhelming majority is taken for granted.

It Bears repeating: It is women of color who, election year-over-election year consistently vote white liberal politics into office. They did it in 2008 and they did it again in 2012. They even do it in midterm elections

Let’s go to the numbers.

In 2008, and through exit polling, McCain won the white vote of both genders by 55%.
That same election, Obama lost white women by 7% to McCain.
And only 41% of white men voted for Obama.

In 2012, Obama’s re-election was called “historic” for the amount of women who voted for him. But as we all know women are not a monolithic group no matter how much the media likes to group us all together. The key point here is white, married women en masse have never voted for Obama. Ever. There is a very specific subset of women who are liberal and vote that way in large numbers. They are:

Women of color
Single, white women (ALL ages)

As The Atlantic so keenly pointed out in 2012, race and ethnicity are, generally speaking, the easiest ways to determine how one voted for both genders. Here’s how they broke it down:

If you were to list gender and racial/ethnic groups by their Democratic vote on Tuesday, the list would go like this: black women (96 percent), black men (87 percent), Hispanic women (76 percent), Hispanic men (65 percent), white women (42 percent) and white men (35 percent).

However, I’d argue the quickest way to determine how a woman probably voted is through these two things:

Marital status

Keep in mind white voters of both genders continues to shrink within the voting pool which is how Obama could win the women’s vote, yet still lose white women. It’s also how Romney could win the white vote of both genders and still lose the election.

But what does this mean for Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter disruption? It means EVERYTHING.

Black women are, by in large, the organizers of the movement. Ninety-six percent of them voted for Obama. When we talk about the standard bearers of Liberal politics moving forward, the reality is these voters are women and they are various shades of brown. If a voting bloc that wins elections was a cupcake, single white women are the sprinkles. White men are negligible as baking powder. The population of the United States leans 53% toward women.

The fact remains the people Saunders needs to vote for him look NOTHING like him. And, they don’t look like Hilary Clinton either. Clinton is a white, married woman. Her demographic as such consistently votes Republican. White, married people can’t quit the GOP. White, wealthy women, however, voted for Obama in key “monied suburbs” in Colorado, Virginia and Ohio. He won them by seven points (but lost the white guys), yet these numbers are not the kind of overwhelming voting bloc one can use to tamp down on Black Lives Matter protestors to sit down and wait their turn. In fact, Black Lives Matter organizers are doing exactly what they should be doing: withholding their vote and making politicians earn it.

No one sums up Black women as a voting group better than the Center For American Progress: As the 2008, 2012, and 2013 elections demonstrated, women of color are a key, emerging voting bloc with the potential to significantly affect electoral outcomes.

White liberals, my people, stand down.


Liz Henry was a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Postand Brain, Child magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. She lives in Philadelphia.

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Rainy day musings on marriage, the Ashley Madison hack and judgment

I find myself sitting here on a cool and rainy day with the weight of the world straining my shoulders, pondering my life and my future as I stand at the crossroads of upheaval and change…yet I find myself absolutely engrossed in the story of the Ashley Madison hack and the almost unanimous judgment.

In case you aren’t up to speed let me help you. Ashley Madison is a website that, for the most part, is designed to help married people cheat on their spouses.  It’s safe to say that most people find such a site morally reprehensible, yet the reality is that people do cheat on their spouses (quite often on both sides of the gender fence) and in this market-driven world apparently the market created a niche to help such people. Funny thing is, cheating is as old as time; people have always cheated. It’s just that in our app-heavy, convenience-driven world, someone decided to make it easier for such people. A group calling itself The Impact Team found the whole situation morally repugnant and after telling AM’s parent group to take down the site and being rebuffed, it decided to release data on millions of users. Turns out some of the users of the site are quite known and, well, I suspect the past few days for those people have been quite uncomfortable.  

The majority of people I know have no sympathy for cheaters and I imagine most of my readers are in that same group. Which is why my own feelings on the matter may be a surprise. After over 20 years of marriage between two marriages, I think that marriages are complex and the reasons why people step out are even more complex. I think that we live in a culture that has elevated the institution of marriage without providing most people with a realistic framework for what a marriage really entails.

Most of us assume that all a marriage needs is love and, while love is an important piece of marriage, it is not the most important factor in my opinion. As I deal with my own shifting marital landscape, I can say that two people can love, respect and adore each other but be woefully unprepared for the hard work of sharing their life with another or evolve into two people who aren’t compatible cohabiting anymore, no matter how much they like each other. Marriage requires the ability to surrender and compromise and as long as the ongoing process of surrender and compromise is mutually beneficial, then the marriage continues. But sometimes that process is no longer mutually beneficial and to stay married means to give up so much of ourselves that we become a shell of who we once were.

Marriages hit rocky patches for any number of reasons and ideally a couple can fix the issue or resolve to end the relationship in a mindful and compassionate manner. However, life doesn’t always yield to best practices and relationships and connections become messy. Sometimes partners step out rather than to leave and while no doubt that is a questionable choice, one bad decision does not make a person beyond redemption nor does it invalidate any and all good they have done. It’s also a little presumptuous of those on the outside to assume there isn’t a silent or overt acceptance on the part of the other spouse to allow what so many of us would call indiscretions.

However in a 24-hour cycle world where we can consume details non-stop, it becomes easy to become judge and jury and to issue proclamations on those we will never know and revel in our own sense of righteousness. We may not cheat on our spouses but we easily forget the time we steal time and/or material from our employers when we choose to check our Facebook pages from the office or the office supplies we bring home. Or maybe it’s the “business” lunches we claim to lower our tax burden.

Yet our “cheats” will rarely be discovered and almost certainly never become public fodder so we pat ourselves on the back for being “good” people when in essence few of us are really good. Even professional do-gooders have bad moments. In case you haven’t figured out, I am not a fan of public pitchforks and shame sessions that often forget the humanity of those who transgressed and while shame can have merit, the public shame that has become our norm is rarely helpful and often far more dangerous because it forgets that we are dealing with people. It doesn’t give them a chance to reflect and change but instead exposes them to the entire world, risking (at times) their physical safety, employment and more.

At the end of the day, if one partner has cheated, that is for that couple and their family to deal with and decide their next steps, not outside people. Our culture is fickle when it comes to matters of cheating since we don’t lump all cheating in the same boat yet we find some strict moral compass on cheating when it involves married people…then again, as I noted before we have created a market that elevates marriage to an often unachievable standard.

Having lost a dear friend to suicide many years ago over the shame of an adulterous relationship, it scares me to think of how many lives could be prematurely ended over this hack and while we may all be having a good laugh and feeling better because we would never cheat…the fact is we don’t know what curveballs life will throw at us. Life is funny like that, as soon as we think we know what we would do, life sometimes takes us someplace else. Yet I suspect the one thing we all would like no matter what road we travel is respect and compassion for our less-than-stellar moments.
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