U.S. Institutional Racism is a Social Activity

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The following is the story of one of two individuals who were subjects of a study; (link above).  At first I didn’t want to post this because it’s sickening and shocking – a life of a person; not a political, psychological, social, economic, religious, gender study / black study, but a human life that is the consequence of a package of concepts with which society seals off people into unknowable, invisible packages. Diversity, the pop-culture fad, creates cul-de-sacs of humans to be lied about, manipulated and exploited for personal gain and to create division and hatred between classes of people. At the bottom of the social pyramid vast numbers of individuals exist in a “world” of never-ending generational self-destruction – safely removed from spoiling “nice neurotypical people’s imaginary American Dream. 

Is this the fulfillment of the Emancipation Proclamation?

It’s tempting to “trash” poor people; it’s convenient to hide racism in a system billed as “compassionate; an empathetic response to poverty, with billions of dollars spent on  diligent aid” but it is this very governmental and social system that has built our modern American nightmare, one day at a time, one family at a time, one child at a time, one ethical crime at a time over many decades. 

And what of the physical and psychology damage incurred by infants due to premature birth, devastating drug and alcohol abuse, rampant violence and epigenetic mutations? Organized poverty is a death trap built on institutional racism that delivers obscene profits to “regular” criminals, white collar criminals, corporations and politicians who “lock-in” votes on promises they will never fulfill?  

How dare we lecture the rest of the world’s population about Morality, Ethics and Human Rights?

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Published in final edited form as: J Sociol Soc Welf. 2006; 33(1): 115–139.

The Severely-Distressed African American Family in the Crack Era: Empowerment is not Enough

Ricochet’s Family

The interviewer reported, “I was introduced to Ricochet on one of those calm clear winter days when a bright sun mocks the bitter-cold temperature. She was very large, well over 300 pounds. She wore an oversized dress with spandex pants underneath and slip-on shoes. Her hair was short and brushed back. She had a slight scar on her lip. She came across as friendly and outgoing, but there was a clear undertone of despair.”

Ricochet was born in 1961 in Brooklyn, New York, the last of 10 living children. Unlike most of the children, Ricochet knew her father, Tom, who lived with them while she was growing up. Ricochet’s mother, Joyce, hated Tom’s drinking. She took out her anger on Ricochet, because Ricochet resembled him. She would force Ricochet to eat excessively and then beat her for being fat. Joyce would often tell her, “Get off your fat stinking ass.” Joyce generally left the care of her children to the oldest child living at home. Ricochet reported, “My mother was into parties and stuff. Everything I ask her, ‘Go ask your sister.’ My father, he was like messing with everybody, everybody, [he was always at] somebody’s mother’s house. … So, he wasn’t there either. … [My sister Denise] was more like my mother. You know, come to school with me and stuff.”

At age 18, Ricochet dropped out of school. She started dating a man she met while he was installing new doorbells in her apartment building. They had a daughter together, Tushay,(1) but the relationship did not last long. He had said that he was in his twenties. However, he was actually almost 40 and already married. Ricochet would leave care of the child to her mother.

Ricochet had emerged. At 19, she was in the prime of life. She had a large circle of friends. She knew what was happening. She attended parties, drank alcohol, smoked marijuana and started to smoke cocaine freebase. It was 1980, and her life was fun and carefree. In contrast, Joyce was greatly displeased with this turn of events and would routinely fight with Ricochet, verbally and physically.

At 21, Ricochet became romantically involved with John, who had just returned from jail to live with his mother in the apartment above Joyce’s. Ricochet and John had a daughter together, Fruitloops. (2) John was a heroin addict and mostly hustled to support his habit. He was also very violent. To protect herself, Ricochet would call the police, “I kept him locked up. [To keep him] from beating me all the time.… So, he’s back in there, [in prison,] doing another seven. So, he rather be in there. It’s his second home. That’s what his mother said.”

Joyce got an apartment in a senior citizen building, which left Ricochet and her children homeless. They spent nine months in a shelter, until they were placed in one of Harlem’s high-rise, low-income projects. Many homeless women with children turned to the shelter system for temporary housing. In conjunction with this emergency service, the New York Department of Housing attempted to place all homeless families in apartments. However, given housing shortages the demand for these placements out-stripped the supply. Families often waited for months and even years for run-down apartments, most often in housing projects. Given their lack of income and lack of discipline in paying rent and bills, many families did not remain in their units for long.

Once Ricochet set up her own household, there was a steady parade of boyfriends and other shorter-term relationships. Ricochet was spending even less time with her children and more time with her crack habit. Ricochet reported, “I used to smoke up all my money. I was getting like $311 cash in the projects. But the stamps, I used to always, you know, take the stamps and buy food. I always bought food.” Tushay, who was effectively in charge, disagreed. Tushay recalled, “I call the BCW [Bureau of Child Welfare] on my mother, when she didn’t buy me no school clothes.… She didn’t even feed me. She didn’t feed me for like two days.” Indeed, Ricochet’s mother, Joyce, as well as her two children Tushay and Fruitloops all called BCW at different times to complain about Ricochet’s inattentive parenting.

After a few years, Ricochet lost the apartment for not paying the rent and the family moved back in with Joyce. At the height of the Crack Era in 1988, Ricochet began to support her habit through prostitution. The father of her next daughter, Shena, (3) was a one-night stand. Two years later, Ricochet obtained an apartment in the projects. There, she met Bill. He was a very violent man. Like Ricochet, he was heavily involved with crack. Bill was living with his mother at that time. When Bill came to the house, everyone was afraid. He stole money from Tushay and Fruitloops whenever he could. Bill and Ricochet had a son, Timothy.(4) Then the housing cycle continued. Ricochet was evicted from her apartment again, moved her family into a shelter, and eventually obtained another apartment.

Tushay resented her mother’s boyfriends continually invading her home and her private life. Some tried to act like a father. Many threatened her with violence. Some wanted to have sex with her. In response, Tushay learned to run away from home and stay with a friend for a while as a reprieve from her mother, the boyfriends and school. Far from protecting her daughters from sexual advances, Ricochet would encourage her daughters to prostitute. Ricochet explained, “A lotta times my vic didn’t come and I didn’t wanna fuck ‘em, and they [Tushay or Fruitloops] used to bust them off.… I’m sayin’ I didn’t make them prostitute. But when they did, I wanted some of the money for the drugs, and I know that. I had to talk about that [years later while in drug treatment]. I said that’s how fucked I was.” At ages 14 and 12, Tushay and Fruitloops were hospitalized with a venereal disease. BCW removed them from the household and placed them in foster care. Ricochet was able to get them back by pleading that they were wild and she was trying to control them. However, she quickly lost custody of them again.

In 1995, Ricochet met George. Like so many of her previous boyfriends, George was intensely violent. As a young man, George had shot a man while robbing a supermarket, and served 13 years for the offense. Ricochet met him soon after he got out. Crack cocaine was their common interest and shared passion. Ricochet was soon pregnant, but George beat her so badly that she had a miscarriage. After another particularly violent domestic incident, George was arrested and returned to prison. Meanwhile, Ricochet was pregnant again. Ricochet said that one time while having sex early in their relationship, George told her, “Daddy die, mama die.” This cryptic avowal seemed romantic at the time. Later, she realized that George had knowingly infected her with HIV. When the next baby, Zena, (5) was born, she was HIV positive. The hospital would not release her into Ricochet’s custody. Ricochet had Zena placed in kin foster care with one of her mother’s nieces, Willie Mae. In 1998, Ricochet also placed her next son, Vernon Jr., with Willie Mae.

By the end of 1998, all of Ricochet’s children had been removed from her household, including her two oldest daughters. However, Tushay and Fruitloops continually ran away from the foster homes and institutions in which they were placed. Eventually, BCW grew tired of continually searching for them, and they returned home to Ricochet’s apartment. In due course, Ricochet was again evicted from her apartment. This time, however she did not have any children in her care so she was not eligible for subsidized housing. Instead of living in one place, she shuttled between the apartments maintained by Tushay, Fruitloops, Joyce, and Victor, a senior citizen in Joyce’s apartment building with whom she smoked crack.

As of 2003, Fruitloops was maintaining an apartment provided by welfare. This household served as the primary residence for 15 people, Fruitloops, her four children, her long-term boyfriend Patrick (who stayed about half time and was legally married to someone else), Ricochet and her current boyfriend Brian, Tushay and her five children.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Ricochet was primarily a crack-using sex worker. Most of the time, her family did not have an apartment of its own. According to Census Bureau definitions, her family would be variously categorized over time as a multi-generational single household (with varying household heads), as members of multiple households, or as members of no household. Ricochet’s experiences illustrate the devastation that prevails when the responsible parent is caught up in her own personal concerns. Men regularly circulated through Ricochet’s household between periods of jail and prison. Children attended school sporadically, if at all. Food was often not available. Lights and water went off regularly because of unpaid bills. In a sense, Ricochet’s household can be viewed as caught in a whirlwind, moving about, bumping up against hard circumstances and sending children off in various directions. In contrast, Willie Mae’s household seemed like a relatively safe haven. In the inner city, however, stable residence does not alone ensure a wholesome environment for child development.

Published in final edited form as: J Sociol Soc Welf. 2006; 33(1): 115–139.

What is equally astounding is that many African Americans defend this lifestyle. Some exploit these appalling conditions for religious and political status.

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