2008-06-20

When A Black Woman Needs Help

I read this post over at one of my favorite blogs, Los Angelista's Guide To The Pursuit of Happiness. I think it goes well with the current theme of black women and their treatment in the black community in comparison to black men.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for this wonderful post Los Angelista:

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that broke my heart. She's someone I've known since I was nine or ten years old and she's been going through a really tough time for the past year or so. I've often wished I was back in Chicago so I could be there for her more than I have been. I don't want to put her business out on front street but talking to her made me think about something I've asked myself many times over the years: What's the response when a black woman asks for help?

I've been thinking about this for many years because when I was in college, I noticed an interesting phenomenon happening with a few of the young black men who were among my best friends. Almost all of them lived at home with their parents, none of them were going to college even though one or both of their parents was college educated and they were often treated by their mothers and most of the friends we mutually had as an endangered species. Not that that perspective was necessarily wrong because looking at the statistics, they are often in physical, mental, spiritual and emotional danger. I also worry about all those statistics when I look at my own sons and the possibilities of what could happen scare me. It's just that the same care and attention was most often not given to the black girls and women I knew.

Out of the black women I knew, none of them lived at home with their parents. Almost all of them were going to college. Many had more than one job on top of school responsibilities, and if any of us said we were short on the rent and didn't know where the money was coming from, there was no helping hand to assist. If we were hungry, well, we just had to be hungry. We were not regarded as being an endangered species because we're supposed to be the Strong Black Woman -- you know, the woman who has endured birthing babies in the field and going back to picking cotton twenty minutes later.

For so many black women I know, there is a complete double standard in how they were brought up compared to their brothers or male cousins. The brothers and cousins were "loved" and the daughters were "raised". The lives of many of the black women I've known have been an intersection of the real axis of evil, racism and gender inequality. I remember how in high school, guys I know were expected to have girlfriends and their mothers would chuckle over their son's attractiveness to the opposite sex. The more girls calling the house the better.

On the other hand, some girls I knew were called whore and slut and beaten/grounded if a guy called them up. Academics were pushed with girls, and although they might be pushed with the boys, being cool was pushed just as much.

So many of the girls I know, girls who are now women, were raised with the attitude that black women have got to be self reliant, you've got to hold it together and if you're having a tough time, you better hustle and figure it out on your own because you don't have anyone to count on but yourself.

I remember being 19 years old and asking my now husband why it was that he was always getting asked if he was hungry but no one ever asked me if I was hungry. His black male friends were always being asked if they were hungry too. If these guys said yes, somebody would immediately fix them something to eat. Or, if we were out in public and one of my black male friends said, "I don't have any money," someone would buy them a meal or pay for their movie ticket. If they didn't have a ride somewhere, then someone would come pick them up. If they needed a job, hook-ups would happen.

Sometimes this all got particularly weird and seemed to have racial undertones to it because we hung out with a very diverse group of people. The sociologist in me would wonder how much of a role guilt was playing into some of the interactions I'd observe between my friends and those in our circle who were not black. I just knew that young black women weren't being cultivated and nurtured in the same way. Some would use the word "coddled" instead of nurtured. Sometimes my friends made me angry though because at times it felt like they sort of milked some folks' perceptions in order to get a hook up.

The person offering up the food or money for a movie ticket was most often not a black female. Black females would look at these guys and be like, "And? So? I guess you're not going to the movie then."

There was the racially sexualized dynamic between the black males I knew and the young white women of our acquaintance. I remember one college boyfriend brutally explaining to me that he was cheating on me with a white girl we both knew because she would give him, "her car, her cash and that ass."

Funny how some things are said to you and you never forget them.

Anyway, I can't tell you how many times this discussion about the differences in the way black women and men are treated by society has come up when I'm a room full of black men and women. Most often it's turned into a huge, heated argument where the women are sharing what they've been through and how they didn't have, for example, white girls lending a car, buying laptops for them or taking them shopping at the mall and they didn't have a mom at home telling them that it didn't matter what they did, they'd love them no matter what, and if things didn't work out, they could stay at home forever.

The men turn around and say that at least the women don't have to get harassed by the cops and put in special education. At least the women don't have folks grabbing their purse and crossing the street when they see a scary black man coming. The conversation never ends well.

So, like I said, my friend is really going through some struggles and yet many of the same people that would bend over backwards to lend a helping hand to the guys I knew back in the day are blind and deaf to her plight. She's not too proud to ask for help, but listening to her yesterday, her requests for assistance are being ignored.

I can't help but wonder if the response would be different if she was male.