I have long held that black women in America are under attack. We get harsher criminal prosecution than our white counterparts; we are murdered by intimate partners at higher rates than any other groups.
And now President Obama is helping prove me right.
In late April with “My Brother’s Keeper,” the president announced a $200 million (privately funded), five-year initiative to help get and keep black and Latino boys and men out of the clutches of prison, high drop-out rates and murder statistics with this sweeping, corporate-funded and -inflated mentoring program.
MBK will and will not do a lot of things.
Namely, it will continue to slam a wedge between black men and women as each keeps trying to rescue him and herself from their own distinctive sets of ills and -isms; it will also increase the long-held belief in respective black and brown communities that says if the men aren’t healthy and successful, then no one else can or deserves to be.
It will do drive-bys past girl-specific programs and initiatives to throw money at programs geared specifically toward boys, leaving the administrators of programs that study and target girls scraping and scrapping for funding.
And as the choruses of black men rise and swell in calls — literally to the White House and in much-publicized open letters — for the president to rethink MBK to be more inclusive of girls and women, it’s become more apparent that the initiative is built on staunchly heteronormative ideals that exclude all manner of shape-shifting notions of family dynamics.
Further, it continues that tired narrative that boys cannot learn to be men unless taught by men to do so. Tell that to all the Northside, Over-the-Rhine, West End, Price Hill, Avondale, Evanston and Corryville mammas, grandmamma and aunties in communities around America just like theirs who are raising good boys into good men in the wake of the phenomenal swath cut by the absence of the men in their lives.
MBK will place hierarchical and patriarchal importance on “men’s issues,” much like the health care industry and big pharma belittle, misdiagnose, under spend and under research women’s health and sexual health issues while TV commercials for erectile disorders and testosterone deficiencies ejaculate all over prime-time viewing hours.
MBK — with its funding from boldface corporations like Ford and Kellogg — is a commendable step. To even be publicly acknowledging that racial, social and economic issues come harder and faster for black and Latino boys is a watershed moment in this nation.
But it summarily dismisses that while black and Latino boys are suffering more than white boys and men, black and Latino women are suffering more than anyone else; meantime, white men and women still emerge as winners in education, jobs and median income.
(An ever-lingering side note: Black women are still contracting HIV and AIDS at higher rates than any other population in America due in no small part to the infected blood, bodily fluid and penises of our black men who still share needles, have unprotected prison sex and creep in the clubs. These associations embarrass us into living unreported and untreated, skewing national statistics and thereby lulling us into believing the HIV/AIDS crisis has passed.)
And it’s letting institutional racism off the hook with a feel-good hug.
Race-baiting blowhard Bill O’Reilly and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who should be thanking his lucky stars his stop-and-frisk tactic directly targeting young black and brown men didn’t spark a race riot — attended the MBK roll out.
This is but one of MBK’s fantastic ironies.
Men like O’Reilly and Bloomberg secretly know the beliefs and institutions (and institutional racism) they support are all passing like Sarah Jane in Imitation of Life with a program like MBK because, ultimately, it will be left up to “the brothers” to feel better about being brothers.
What of the institutions, the laws, the hiring practices, the police departments and the failed wars on drugs that, by their very profiling, subjugation and mistreatment of MBK’s intended focus groups, have all conspired to create the need for MBK in the first place?
They’ll not be held accountable.
Wrongs will not be righted.
Bootstraps, however, will be found under the auspices and assistance of high-post mentors and corporate set-aside programs and black and Latino boys will be expected to use those bootstraps to yank their brown and black asses up from the gutters and live out the American Dream despite the fact that Dream perpetually excludes their mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts.
That is, until they need convenient resting places for the blame they always somehow place at the feet of the black and brown women who failed to understand, support and accept them even and especially when they’re doing dirt that brings the entire family and community asunder.
But MBK is a social experiment — like a grown-up Big Brothers without the Big Sisters — and not a federal directive.
It belches up again what black men and women have known about our interpersonal relationships since Scripture: Black women are back-up singers.
Since before the days of the modern civil rights movement, black women have been in support roles — unspoken yet understood — and told that if we play our positions within the church, the movement, the office, the bed, the family, the kitchen, the field, the factory line, hell, even in the killing of whitey during our bloodiest revolutionary moments, that we will eventually be rewarded with ... a position invisibly behind or silently beside our men where we’re inevitably smiling proudly or weeping quietly.
With “My Brother’s Keeper” America has managed to do to President Obama what it’s managed to do to the rest of us.
It’s forced his hand and forced his public choice, and in that choice he’s doing what America has done to black and brown communities all along: to divide and conquer, to elevate and support one group over another from within the ranks, leaving behind women without whom men wouldn’t even exist in all their glorious flaws.