From Confederate statutes to the White House drama, there’s no shortage of controversies on which to take a stand. In those judgmental moments when I wonder why folks don’t care about what I care about, I have to remember not all of us are tone deaf to the suffering of others; we’re simply prioritizing. A self-inventory helped me gain clarity so I can get over myself when giving the side-eye to, say, check-writing philanthropy knowing full well somebody’s gotta write those checks.
I am black.
Aside from gender, my blackness is my most distinguishable physical attribute. I’m concerned about safety in a society where white supremacist cowards have been emboldened. There is a distinct difference in perception and treatment if you remove “black” from woman and mom, and child, too.
As a black person, how do I protect myself and my daughter? Memphis is but a bluish dot in a staunchly red state, surrounded by other red states. I don’t have a son, but my daughter may be with someone’s son when some cop is “fearful for his life.” How do we protect ourselves from those sworn to protect us? I do find comfort in the fact the Memphis police force closely reflects the majority black populace.
Like many people of color, I feel post-election anxiety linked to the casual racism unleashed into our daily lives. Nineteen percent of black households reported owning a gun in 2014, up from 15 percent the previous year. The National African American Gun Association has added 9,000 new members since Election Day. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 700 racially motivated assaults between Election Day 2016 and the Nov. 27. LBGT hotlines noted “an all-time peak” in harassment reports. Our fear is righteous and real.
I am woman(ist)
I say it this way because I cannot stress enough how it changes the tenor of a situation once you add black to woman. Black women have a whole different set of issues, separate and apart from white women.
As a black woman, I am “bigly” concerned about my coins, especially as an independent consultant. We still make less than our white counterparts, and according to the Economic Policy Institute, black women have to work seven months to earn the same as equally educated and experienced white men. Locally, I have seen firms in my area of expertise get tossed minority business enterprise contractor crumbs. Many of these firms have been asked to be a subcontractor instead of the primary, even when they have the capacity and capability. Then there was my own #blackwomenatwork epiphany: Once I found out the only person who made less than me in the office was the receptionist. Really? C’mon!
On the healthcare and reproductive rights front, minority and disadvantaged women are most adversely affected by changes in healthcare policy. I recently worked on an awareness campaign targeting black women who are twice as likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts, women in Memphis being chief among them. Meanwhile, there’s the war being waged on Planned Parenthood, again affecting low-income women. Fortunately, Shelby County officials voted, narrowly, to continue funding to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
I am a mom.
Being a mother is interchangeable with blackness as a priority. The way my mama bear is set up … just don’t try it, m’kay? I am also a single mother and acknowledge my testimony is not that of most. I have full support from family, close friends, mommy friends and my daughter’s father. But to be clear, even an engaged and financial co-parent is different than a life partner. So I advocate for my daughter at school and everywhere else. Her dad is involved but does not live in Memphis, so it’s on me.
Black children are already judged and disciplined more harshly than other students, with black boys four times more likely to be suspended once during the school year. This leads to absences and lagging behind academically. Most all black parents are keenly aware of the “discipline gap,” staying on high alert. There has to be a better way, much like the school in Baltimore than replaced detention with yoga and meditation. There was a will, so they made a way!
Understanding the identities that define my existence helps me find connections for the big-deal issues like fighting poverty, wealth generation, and supporting black art, my LGBT friends and domestic violence survivors. As a black, woman and fierce mom, such clarity gives me lift.
Joy Doss is an experienced communications professional working with lifestyle, fashion and nonprofit clients via her consulting company, East West PR. She launched her column Access 901 with the Tri-State Defender in 2016 and is a also a contributor to Focus Mid-South and Millennial Mom magazine.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today.