First-World Address, Third-World Problems

We were all shocked and grieved by recent news accounts of the death of Mary Spears, a 27-year-old Detroit mother of three who was shot, ultimately, because she turned down romantic advances from a stranger.

It’s a tragedy that tears at all our hearts, or should, not only because it was an unspeakable act of cruelty, but also because it’s an example of the kind of dangerous and backward existence so many Black women face in this country. Black women are routinely treated with moral depravity at the hands of Black men – the very ones who should defend them the most in our society. It is the kind of misogyny and casual violence that we associate with the rough and remote warlord territories of Afghanistan or the repressive regimes of the emirates.

Now here is my pandering and obligatory disclaimer, for the oversensitive types who will rush to pan this post as a Black male-bashing effort: I’m not bashing or vilifying Black men. Ms. Spears’ fiancé tried to intervene before the shooting happened, so clearly he is a shining example of: a Black man who deplores violence; a Black man who is responsible enough to marry his girlfriend and give three Black children a full-time, attentive and protective father; and a Black man who thinks Black women should be able to move through society without being harassed and threatened with bodily harm. 

Yet the late Ms. Spears’ fiancé is a figure whose job in Black society is hindered by the troublemakers, and we all know this. How many communities are in the grip of violence, which shaped the mentality of that shooting suspect? How many times have I complained on this blog about Black men who I encounter in public who become enraged when I don’t feel like making idle chit chat with them? Clearly the shooting suspect is unstable, but I’m not willing to brush it under the rug of mental instability, or slap a bandage of “hurt people hurt people” on the situation. He has no impulse control, no anger management abilities, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a psychiatric or clinical psychological assessment revealed a dangerous personality disorder. It’s unclear as to what really drove this man to a murderous rage: Does a mental imbalance perhaps stem from untreated trauma from his youth; are his impulses unchecked because a father was never there to help him control them; or did he have a good upbringing but simply made poor decisions and looks down on women as less than him?

This is the kind of violence that we read about in dispatches from Third World nations, mainly Asia and the Middle East, where many of the men feel that women don’t have rights or feelings that need to be respected. She must keep her place and not seek betterment through education, and she has to submit to the desires of his id on demand, regardless of what place, if any, he has in her life. Over there, we call it backwardness and misogyny. Here, or London, Kingston or anywhere else Blacks of the diaspora are assembled, we call it Blackistan.

We have known that for a long time American Blacks have been socially and economically disenfranchised. Over time, social scientists believe or fear that it has relegated us to second-class status. I disagree. We’ve fallen well below second-class to third world. If researchers with the CIA World Factbook, the CDC, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Pew Center were to assess the well being of Blacks as a separate society unto itself from Whites, the results would tell us that we are far behind the mainstream Whites in terms overall wellness. We can either become defensive about it, lapse into pro-Black denials, while ranting about the white supremacist systems that thwart all of our efforts to do better, and try to censor the message (I’m looking at you, Lisa McDonald), or we can take action. That does not always mean marrying out, and I’ll tell you why: I married a White man with Liberal (or Pluralistic, if you ask him) ideologies, and we jointly decided to live in an aging urban city in the Northeast. You can call it a “transitional neighborhood” or “pre-gentrified” all you want. The nearest high street has too many liquor stores, too many used condoms that litter the sidewalk, and so many idle riff-raff that when I used to send my little sister on errands to the local bodega, I strictly timed her and promised to come looking if she wasn’t back within the grace period. The next high street has too many drug-addled wraiths of people who used to be young with bright prospects, too many prostitutes and too many abandoned buildings. We didn’t escape the challenges of living in the inner cities, so I have to confront these issues as much as any other woman living in a distressed neighborhood.

There are too many, far too many, Black men who become violently, irrationally enraged when a woman tries to walk away from a relationship, or when she refuses to engage with him in public. We are not a Taliban-controlled society. We are Americans, and women are supposed to enjoy a world-class standard of living here. This kind of extreme violence, enabled by broken families, personal failings and yes, the irrational prevalence of military-grade guns, undercuts what we aim to be as a civil society. We need to deal with this problem and do so from all angles, and we need to be committed about it, not letting bruised egos suck us down into censorship tactics, or be stymied by squabbling among different factions in the Black community.

When it comes to my only child, a good-natured and polite girl who is growing up beautiful – I grow more fearful of what she will encounter in the days when she moves through our city unattended. As a matter of fact, Hubby and I had to deal with a situation at her school recently where she tried to ignore the inappropriate advances of a boy classmate. None of our suggested tactics or teacher intervention worked, until one day we were preparing dinner in the kitchen and she told us that the boy had touched her on her privates, and when she moved to correct him, she was detained by the teacher. We did eventually bring this up with the teacher and have since worked out an acceptable solution. We are still happy with the school, but I am concerned about that little boy. Which older sibling or older male relative taught him invalidate a woman’s ‘no,’ to pester her, and overstep boundaries to get what he wants anyway? Someone is failing him, and if steps are not taken to correct his behavior, I fear we’ll read about his arrest, trial and sentencing — or worse — one day in the newspaper.

Mary Spears’ experience is not unheard of in cities that have a Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard – and what a heartbreaking irony! It’s another failing on our part to get a grip on these issues and stop losing young people to such violence. Somewhere in America right now an attractive young Black woman is rejecting the advances of a paramour. May God watch over and protect her until we get it right.