Today across urban America lie pockets of Black poverty produced largely by housing discrimination, redlining and later, public housing. While some neighborhoods have always been poor, they haven’t always been dangerous.
Black families lived relatively peacefully in poverty for over a century. Prior to the 1970s during the struggle for civil rights, violent crimes in the black community were often a result of White-on-Black hate crimes and it wasn’t until the outbreak of the post-Vietnam heroin epidemic and organized gang activity in the mid-70s that Black-on-Black crimes became prevalent.
Combined with Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, a robust set of domestic programs referred to as a “war on poverty” that essentially forced Black fathers out of the home, Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” that provided Black fathers a new permanent residence upstate, the election of Ronald Reagan (and his subsequent Reaganomics that defunded public schools and other social programs), the crash of the steel industry in the ‘80s and the crack epidemic, a dangerous cocktail of drugs, gangs, unemployment, welfare dependency, fatherless homes and mass incarceration was created that crippled a Black community on the rise. From 1969 to 1993, the Black poverty rate remained virtually flat at roughly 32 percent but once people were denied the ability to earn an honest living, they began to resort to less constructive means of supporting themselves. This is how peaceful Black ghettos became treacherous Black hoods.
In the ten years following the launch of the Great Society, the percentage of single Black mothers doubled. By 1994 that number had tripled, ballooning from 24 percent in 1964 to 70 percent in 1994. In 1971, when Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs, our prison population was roughly 200,000. Today it’s over two million and disproportionately Black and brown.
Working in tandem, these dynamics have produced generations of Black children who don’t know their fathers, who’ve never seen marriage modeled and who devalue the significance of a spouse. That, in turn, has caused marriage rates in the Black community to decline. It has also forced many Black women to learn how to be independent. Over time this learned behavior has become hardwired in the psyche of many Black mothers and Black daughters. The goal is no longer to get married but to be independent.
Black women have relinquished their power and rightful place in Black society through the birth of the Independent Black Woman, a financially stable woman who provides for herself and is proud of her ability to stand alone. This, however, has contributed to the death of the institution of marriage—creating a new social (dis)order. Now that Black women have their own money, the playing field has been leveled from a financial perspective, giving them the ability to say to Black men “I don’t need you.” Financial prosperity has given Black women a false sense of power and a cocky “never put a man before my money” attitude as the Black community deteriorates due to this social dysfunction.
Black America is already generations behind in wealth building compared to its White counterpart. Choosing to remain single instead of joining forces with Black men in marriage is only hindering the economic growth within the Black community. The problems plaguing the Black community are vast and cannot be easily remedied. There is no cure-all. It is a painfully slow and arduous path back to prosperity. However, before we can heal the community we must first heal the Black family. The first step in recovery is admitting there is a problem.
Torri Stuckey is a community activist and the author of the forthcoming book, His Dough, Her Cookie: The Black Woman’s Guide to Love and Marriage in the Age of Independence.