Detroit and the Black Woman Condition
Tawana Honeycomb Petty
Historically, Black women have been of the most marginalized in the United States. We are often left to lead, as one of my comrades would say, “a life of quiet desperation.” If we are vocal about our conditions, we are “angry Black women.” If we are silent about our conditions, we are “lazy Black women.” If we utilize the limited resources afforded to us as a result of our conditions, which are symptoms of white supremacist policies resulting in institutionalized racism, then we are “Black women looking for a handout.” The Black woman is a punching bag for the dominate culture – governed by capitalism, racism, materialism and militarism.
The water shutoffs in Detroit are a form of violence rooted in racism and sexism. The city is over 80% Black with households led predominately by Black women.
Black women are on the receiving end of tens of thousands of water shutoffs, tens of thousands of tax foreclosures, the commodification of our bodies, and the dehumanization of our image by media, movies, television and the music industry.
Our exposure is compounded by the fact that Detroit as a city has suffered under propaganda assault for over half a century. White flight out of the city, and the subsequent leveling of prosperous Black neighborhoods by racist government officials, provided the corporate owned media an opportunity to manipulate the narrative away from the Black prosperity and self-determination it was witnessing in neighborhoods like Paradise Valley/Black Bottom, and misdirect it towards the labeling of Blacks as perpetrators of most of the blight you see around the city today. The fact that neighborhoods were leveled for expressways is of no consequence to those who like to tell the whitened version of the Detroit comeback story.
Recently, Black residents have complained of having their community gardens “accidentally” leveled by the city, some on multiple occasions, while many young whites are receiving stipends to move into the Detroit and grow gardens, while being hailed in the media as saviors.
Detroit, one of the last major Black meccas in the United States is rapidly being gentrified. The “less desirable” aka Black residents (which means predominately Black women led households) are being expeditiously marginalized and displaced. The water shutoff tragedy is directly connected to this displacement and linked to the tax foreclosure crisis – which too many capitalists are seeing as an opportunity to “buy cheap property,” with total disregard for the families being evicted. This is creating antagonistic interactions all over the city, with mothers rushing to remove their belongings and their children, in the face of tax property purchasers, who often lack patience and humanity for the families they are making homeless.
Also, while many in the city are applauding the rapid removal of blight, the fact that foreclosures are 80% responsible for that blight, is information lost on many. To ignore this phenomenon, is to turn a blind eye to the black eye being waged upon Black families – Black mothers and children. Although it cannot be argued that there are indeed structures that need to be removed, we must also struggle against the cause of those blighted out structures.
We cannot be silent while Black mothers are forced to hide their children from being taken away, are unable to bathe their children, or properly nourish their children, because they do not have access to clean affordable water. We cannot be silent while children are ashamed to go to school because they do not have clean clothing or clean bodies, because their water has been shut off. We cannot be silent while entire communities risk the threat of illness, disease and contamination because families are unable to sanitize their homes or take their medications. We cannot be silent while Black mothers are forced to run from house to house seeking water to make baby food for their infants. We cannot be silent while homes are being ripped from underneath Black mothers and children by the thousands – blighting entire neighborhoods, making it unsafe for their children to walk to school.
It is no longer an option to say, “That was then, this is now. Racism is in the past.” The impact of racist policies and its symptom – internalized oppression must be struggled against. We must become neighbors again. We have a responsibility to not only work to dismantle our rugged, individualism which would have us remain silent in the face of such oppression and adversity, but we have a responsibility to struggle against the policies and structures that have divided and seek to conquer us.
Together we will win. Divided we will be spectators and contributors to the genocide of our people.
It is our time to build a new world together. One of sisterhood rooted in the woman’s way of knowing, a society that honors and nurtures our humanity and our need for interdependence.