A Debt We Don’t Owe by La Vonda R. Staples
We’ve heard it. We’ve seen it. We’ve felt it. We live it. The contract American society has taken out against Black men of every socioeconomic, academic, and cultural demographic. The “hit” transcends national boundaries and this is proven in the violent actions against African and Caribbean immigrant men, in example Amadou Diallo, who do not share language, customs, or even practices with African American men. The only commonalities necessary to receive a plunger in the rectum or to be over-killed in an apartment hallway is being male and Black.
Juries make sure that the criminal justice system, for the most part, doesn’t pay the wrongfully charged, tried, and incarcerated. Civil courts give money but money is no return for the living years of a husband, brother, father, and son. Even with millions in the bank there are always the empty chairs, hands unheld, and cold beds. Institutions do not pay for the debt caused by centuries of negative public relations campaigns against Black men. They are, without question, the automatic boogeymen of American society.
Someone does pay. And that someone is a Black woman. We pay for bail. We pay in tears. We pay for misdiagnoses by unqualified teachers. We pay in dollars. We pay for the years spent out of contact. And we pay when our men, our sons, and most importantly our fathers, check out of our lives. In most instances, our fathers fail to ever report for duty but I really believe the fault for that lies squarely in the laps of our mothers. After all, our moms chose these men, now didn’t they? But here’s the mitigating factor: Black women know about the bull’s eye on the backs, foreheads and futures of Black men and we try to understand and soften the blows which mainstream society never tires and never ceases to hurl. We get taxed for our compassion. We are degraded for our attempts at empathy. We are paying a debt we don’t owe. Over and over and over again we pay, in one way or another. Very little relief is to be granted for is one complains, she is seen as “bitter” and a “bitch.” Why shouldn’t one be bitter and angry as a street animal when one has clearly been dealt an injustice? I ask you. How would you feel and how would you respond? Only the dumbest animal fails to react when its life is being threatened or when its ability to survive is constantly challenged.
All men are not good men. There are some who take advantage of this narrative in order to earn their living off of the labor of women. There are still others, who have risen to a certain level of economic security, see it as their due to be ‘compensated’ for not ending up in jail, paying their child support, getting an education, and working every day. This amounts to being paid twice for what a man is supposed to do take care of himself. That compensation can range from actual money to the ability to sleep around without question from any woman. His compensation package means that he is not bound to pledge his allegiance to any woman. And the sad fact is that this man is creating the very ‘bitter Black bitches’ that he claims is keeping him from choosing one Black woman. Another group of these men take their compensation in the form of a non-Black wife. He has risen to the level of the masters and he intends to have the same prize. Anyone, it seems, deserves more respect, protection and provision, than the poor Black woman who labors in her solitary fashion in this new land called America. It seems that all we have is God, children, and work (in that order, I might add).
We didn’t invent slavery. We didn’t invent Jim Crow. We didn’t invent Project 100,000, the draft, the lottery system of Vietnam, and neither did we create the three strikes and you’re out clauses popular under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. We went to the same colleges and we earned the same degrees with racial and gender shackles of our own. Yet we still say, by statistics and by mouth, that we are standing strong beside our men. Even when our men prefer us to be horizontal or not by their side at all. We stand in lock-step to those who look like us and our hearts remain as protective as ever. And maybe that’s the problem? Perhaps we should just let them go and we should just quit paying? Perhaps we should report the same numbers in inter-racial marriages and relationships? Perhaps we should stop paying bail and we should stop turning the other way to a stray hair in his bathroom or a scent that is definitely not our perfume in his home? I don’t know. How could I?
I do know one thing. It’s been said by too many people in too many different ways. Black women and Black men are the denizens of a single house. It doesn’t matter how much money that house receives, the titles of that house, or the goodness of that house. We’re cast, since the good ship Jesus docked in New England, in the same lot. Our house will not stand for much longer if there is no support from within.