Monday, August 29, 2011

No Woman Left Behind

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg announced the Young Men's Iniative- a program designed to prevent young black and latino men from entering or reentering the incarceration system. Quite admirably, he will donate 30 million dollars to the project and have that amount matched by fellow billionaire George Soros.

The program is designed to take a more holistic approach to improving the lives of the men in trapped in our underclass. This includes reforming the Probation Department and expanding it into high crime areas in the city like East New York, Brooklyn; Jamaica, Queens and the South Bronx. Hundreds of mentors will also be hired and will theoretically have many of the same struggles of the men they are helping. There will also be a wide array of programs offering services like job training, computer classes and community upkeep  to improve poor employment.

I am no fan of this mayor, but I respect him for recognizing the needs poor men in New York City, and making the effort to better their lives. But what about the plight of poor black and latina women?? Statistics of the impact of  poverty on black women is similiar but the concern given to us is not and that angers me. Hell, for every black man in jail, there is a black woman left alone to raise a family by herself.

Many will argue that there is a level of urgency needed in addressing the issues that are currently facing black men today, especially in light of this recession. Dropout rates, incarceration, joblessness, homicide rates, etc. are all higher for minority men than they are even for minority women. That is true. But that doesn't mean that issues that affect black men are more than those of black women, they are simply different. Part of our struggle is the systemic disregard for the struggles we face.

Black women are more likely to be the victims of violence, including domestic violence and sexual assault. Nationally, 43 percent of black women report they were verbally or emotionally abused while growing up. Approximately 20 percent reported they were physically abused as a child and another 22 percent said they were sexually abused, according to a 2001 study conducted for the Black Women's Health Imperative. Interestingly enough, I could not find more recent studies but I assume the statistics remain stagnant, that is if they haven't worsened.

Violence in addition to structural cultural alienation, racism and sexism has put a huge strain on black women's mental health as well. We are more susceptible to depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As for physical health, African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S, putting us at higher risk for hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Plus we have a higher mortality rates for various cancers, especially breast cancer and cervical cancer.

I blame Steve Harvey and his ilk for collapsing the struggles of black women to not being able to find a man, as if it is the biggest obstacle they need to overcome. This same sexism is akin to our collective preference on black male issues. This is purely theory, but I think most people adopt this patriarchal mindset and believe that the uplift of the black man is critical to the betterment of the black community. It is ironic considering our long history of women- Mothers and Grandmothers- heading households and being the primary guardians for fatherless children.

So I ask, how far do we have to fall for people to try to catch us? Where are our leaders to mobilize on behalf of our plight? Because the need is there, but the concern isn't.

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