Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Myth of the Independent Black Woman


We’ve all heard of her; she’s been crooned, immortalized and hyped since the beginning of the 1990’s as the strong, self-sufficient black woman. She’s appeared in film, literature and theater as the saving grace of the black family and the antidote to black male patriarchy. In the process, she’s become the star of African American post-modern folklore; there aren’t too many black families that don’t claim her as one of their own. She is the independent black woman.
But are independent black women really that independent? And, with all due respect to the crooner Neo, how did the independent black woman come about in the first place, if, in fact, we even give preeminence to her existence?

The Disappearing Black Male
To best answer this we’d have to turn to history and look at such factors as the disappearance of black men as viable marriage partners for black women. If black women have theoretically become independent, it stands to reason at some point they were dependent or, at the very least, co-dependent with men. So what happened?
There are several factors, but let’s start with this one: economics and labor (read: jobs). It’s no coincidence that the emergence into popular culture in the 1990’s of the I-don’t-need-a-man movement coincided with the Clinton inspired economic boom, when it was widely reported that black people were faring as well economically as anytime in American history. It’s befitting, then, that we begin our discussion with the economics behind the fa├žade of independence. Today, the unemployment rate for black males is 9.5%, twice the national average for all males across all ethnicities. This upward trend has had a slow, steady march for the past fifty years and is intimately connected to the closing of steel mills, manufacturing and auto plants and other staples of American productivity. The result: black men began to disappear from the labor force.
At about the same time, two other peculiar events began to unfold. As families began to feel the impact of less black males in the workforce, black mothers began to whisper into the precocious ears of black girls: “get you an education and do things for yourself! Don’t wait on no man to do it for you!” Don’t get me wrong; black mothers were not being hateful toward black males (at least, I’m sure, in most cases); on the contrary, they were looking out for the best interests of their daughters. The other significant event was the election of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States and the advent of the war on drugs and the so-called law and order society.
These three historical events – the reduction of black men in the labor market, how little black girls were socialized, and the law and order society (in terms of how it was a precursor to black male incarceration rates) have all conspired to produce a vacuum in the number of black marriageable men and has, in my opinion, contributed to the myth of the independent black woman.

The Real Meaning of Independence
Now, what’s my point? The point is black women today who pride themselves on being independent should realize their status was attained not just through hard work, determination and burning the midnight oil, but also through a confluence of economic, political and cultural events that aided and abetted their success.
I say this because today the term “independent” seems to have been applied to sisters as a badge of self-reliance, a carefully crafted image pushed to extremes, whose only goal is to reinforce a false notion that they are “self-made”, propagating a kind of economic relativism.
As a result, the black marriage market has been thrown into chaos and relationships between the sexes are as strained as ever. Sadly, a lot of brothers regard independent sisters as so way out, so deeply entrenched in fantasy, that they lose even the desire to approach them (usually interpreted as an inability to handle a “strong black woman”). Is this really the point of achieving independence, to be so insulated from reality that even the prospects of living the rest of one’s life alone raises no internal concern?
Besides this, the notion of independence is neither biblically nor culturally meaningful. If most of black life and love is predicated on our religious experience (as most of it is), and if most black women extract a fair amount of comfort from that experience (and they do), then how do we reconcile notions of independence and what it means to be committed to the well-being of the entire village, if not the opposite sex? What about the emotional, spiritual and non-physical intimate needs that was given to a woman by the Creator and was designed to be fulfilled by a man (although we are responsible for its nurturing)? We were not created in a vacuum; didn't God create a man for a woman and a woman for a man?

Black Relationships: A New Paradigm
What we need are strong, positive, mutually beneficial relationships. We should nurture, love and respect one another’s opinions and ideas and together achieve a sense of becoming while working toward a common goal.
For an embodiment of those ideals, we can turn to our first African American president, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle. They have both been successful in achieving the American dream. Although I am not privy to the details of their personal interactions, I must only assume that their success story has had, like all relationships, its share of lows, as well as highs. In the end, however, they were able to forge a mutually benefiting union, one that superseded power relations.
But here is the greater point: Obviously Michelle Obama could have built her own castles of success, given her stellar educational accomplishments. But she chose to leave her career and work tirelessly on the career of her husband. Now I am not suggesting that every woman should follow suit; contrary, what I am saying though is that the sister didn’t have a problem with it.
Instead of lauding Michelle Obama as the model of black feminine independence (as a lot of black women are doing), let’s salute her for channeling that independent energy toward pushing her husband upward to the pinnacle of American politics. Because in the end, Michelle needed Barack and Barack needed Michelle! Michelle Obama didn’t subscribe to the lunatic theory that she didn’t need a man!
Black males want to provide for their families, just like males of any other ethnicity. But how to do it in the face of declining wages, a huge gap in earnings compared to white males and the aforementioned historically high unemployment rate is the challenge for black men today. We’ve got to fight back against that by getting more black males into college and/or pursuing a trade or craft that can be used for economic mobility; in short, education is paramount!
These are the challenges we face, but we really face them as a unit. Black women still experience sexism, racism and other forms of exploitation; the wages they earn still lag woefully behind those of white women. The truth is we are all trying to make it happen! In historical terms, our situation is not much different than that of black men and women who came up from slavery.
They faced a hostile society, open hostility, below minimum wage standards, the prospect of a future with no economic fortune at their fingertips (unlike what we have today): can you imagine the likelihood of an independent black woman back then?

Positive Thought for the Week

"Change is the engine of the empowered life; if you are not willing to tap into the wellspring of your existence, to accept change, you will never move beyond your present shores."

-Author unknown

Did You Know?

Between the 1970's and 1999 the rate of suicide among black males climbed from 7.9 per 100,000 in 1970 to 10.9in 1997, compared to a modest increase in the rate for all blacks during the same period. Furthermore, since the 1970's, the rate of increase in suicides among black males in their twenties has been alarmingly steady. Source: Lay My Burden Down, Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African Americans, Dr. Alvin Pouissant and Amy Alexander

Don't Believe the Hype!

Hype: Teenage pregnancy is a runaway problem in the African American community.

Fact: African Americans ages 15 to 19 experienced the steepest decline in birth rates—42 percent—from 118 per 1,000 women in 1991 to 68 in 2002. Among African Americans ages 15 to 17, birth rates dropped by 52 percent between 1991 and 2002.
Source: Advocates for Youth

The Literati: A Crisis in the Mental Health of Black America

Suicide has always been a hush-hush topic in the African-American community; nothing silences a conversation more suddenly than talk of someone who has taken their own life, whether a family member or friend. With the publication of Lay My Burden Down, Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans in 2000, the veil of secrecy and inherited shame was lifted and the subject was put out in the public arena. Its authors, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint and Amy Alexander, offer a convincing, cogent and relentlessly grievous account as to the myriad reasons so many African-Americans suffer from depression and other mental health issues and how those reasons lay the groundwork for the ultimate act of self-aggression: suicide. In particular, and certainly disturbing, is the suicidal trend of black males in America, which tripled between the 1980’s and the end of the twentieth-century, according to the authors. The common element of this trend is the loss of hope, a virtue that historically underpinned the ability of blacks to overcome the legacy of discrimination, segregation and unequal justice. Says Poussaint and Alexander: “…the realities of modern life have begun to undermine the historic adoptions, the coping strategies that are part of the African-American culture.” Lay My Burden Down requires the immediate and consistent attention from anybody who senses the urgency of self-destructive behaviors in a family member or friend and is a must-read for policy chieftains, church leaders and grass-roots organizations.

An Interview with Rev. James David Manning

This interview was conducted by W. Eric Croomes on Friday, October 31, 2008 regarding Manning's comments on Senator Barack Obama.

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About the Editor

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Arlington, Texas, United States
W. Eric Croomes is a writer and playwright based in Irving, Texas and a native of Phoenix, Arizona. Eric is a graduate of Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas, earning a Bachelor of Arts in religion and sociology and is founder and executive director of Millennium Men of Color, a non-profit black male advocacy group. In 2002, Eric self-published Dance in the Dark, Poetic Reflections on Love and Culture, a collection of his original poems and essays on love and relationship in the African-American tradition. Three to Eight, a play examining the hours when most teens become pregnant and most juvenile crime is committed, was Eric’s first theatrical release and debuted at the 2004 Black N Blues one act play festival at the African-American museum in Dallas. Brotha2Brotha, Becoming Healthy Men from the Inside Out, a spiritual primer for men of color, was released in September, 2006. Eric’s next book, Thoughts in Black and Male, is slated for release in spring 2008. COMING SOON: THEVILLAGEREPORT.NET Visit Eric at www.wericcroomes.com

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The Village Report with W. Eric Croomes is a registered trademark of The Apple Tree Group. All content authored by W. Eric Croomes is Copyrighted 2008.

January 19, 2008 issue of Golfweek Magazine

January 19, 2008 issue of Golfweek Magazine
and I didn't say 1958!