The definition of extortion is the act or practice of obtaining money or property from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power. Please hold that systemic thought as I take you down memory lane to how child support came about. Originated after slavery ended in 1865, the term Jim Crow came from laws that were mandated primarily in Confederate states during the 1870s to enforce racial segregation in all public facilities such as schools, restrooms, restaurants, lodging, transportation, and even water fountains. This oppressed way of life continued until 1965 when courageous Black leaders emerged and birthed the Civil Rights Movement in efforts to eradicate Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, they appeared successful at the cost of significant lives lost. However, significant changes were taking place in our society: schools were desegregated; restaurants were forced to serve Black people; and thanks to sacrifices made by civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Black people did not have to sit in the back of the bus anymore.
While this may be true, looks can be deceiving. You cannot keep a powerful system of racism down because although Jim Crow laws were found unconstitutional, you can never underestimate the power of a “loophole.” These unconstitutional systems would go on to exist but just in a covert manner similar to the Ku Klux Klan trading in their sheets and horses for police badges and courtroom bench seats. Throughout the 1970s well into the late 1990s, these injustices transitioned into unequal education, employment, and housing opportunities purposely designed to keep Black people from achieving higher levels of success. During a specific period between the 1970s and 1980s, Black men were not valued and systems were put in place to
help Black women achieve public aide at the expense of driving a wedge between them and Black men. It has always been the goal of the oppressors to keep Black families separated, disconnected, and at odds with each other in efforts to make their overall goal less overt. However, strong Black women have always thought two steps ahead of Black men and systemic racism. So they held Black men close and uplifted them when men did not believe in themselves because they understood the value of family and community.
The Black woman was a legit threat to the plot and overall goal of oppression. She could turn nothing into something, make her Black man feel like he could conquer the world, and raise children who would be conscious of their environment and explore educational opportunities that could evolve into Israelites turning against the Pharaoh. In speaking of turning nothing into something, I think of Mary Kenner who was an African American inventor who created the feminine product maxi pad. Her invention was denied by many hygiene companies simply due to the color of her skin. As a result, she went on to invent and patent other household items such as the bathroom tissue holder, back washer that mounted on the shower, and the carrier attachment on walkers for people with disabilities. Similarly, when I think about strong Black women raising children who would be conscious of their environment, I think about Daisy Bates, a civil rights hero who led the charge to desegregate an all-White high school in Little Rock, Arkansas during the late ’50s. When I think about a Black woman making her Black man feel like he could conquer the world, former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama is first on this list; she is a lawyer, writer, and mother among other well- deserved titles, and she supported her Black man to become the 44th president of the United States. Their contribution to our communities is well received and encouraging.
Again, you can’t keep systemic racism down! You have to secure the loopholes. Crack cocaine somehow made it into a community of Black and Brown people burdened with hopelessness, and the effects were catastrophic. Black women who were victims of drug addiction resorted to immoral acts to feed their habit. Black men committed heinous crimes against each other. Finally, the Black child left to fend for himself. If I had an enemy I wanted to mentally and physically destroy, I could not have implemented a
better plan myself. Nancy Reagan’s strongly spoken words “Just Say No” in the 1980s was the political spark Ronald Reagan used to pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory sentences for drug offenses that were primarily aimed at the Black community where drug use spiraled out of control as the government anticipated it would. This systemic form of racism gave the government another loophole to separate Black men from their families permanently through the reformed Jim Crow 2.0 called the United States justice system.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, my generation was plagued with not having stability and being raised either on our own or by our grandparents. Our role models back then were neighborhood drug dealers who appeared to have money, women, and cars, athletes who appeared to be loved by the world despite being Black, and rappers who glorified violence, money, and having multiple women. In early adolescence, during a time when I was learning developmental tasks related to physical maturation, emotional development, and membership in peer groups, I had no idea who I was or wanted to become. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a player like Biggie Smalls, a gangster like Snoop Dog, a conscious thug like Tupac, or a ball player like Mike.
What I did know was those glorified personalities appeared to engender money, power, and respect more so than the men I saw in my immediate environment. I remember my immediate environment being primarily without males. I was raised mostly by women, sprinkled with a step-grandfather who was too old to relate to me, one uncle who physically and verbally abused women, who I had no respect for, and a stepfather who would punch me as hard as he could in my stomach to make me tough. There were only two men in my life during my adolescent years who were positive, and that was an uncle who is a preacher and married to one of my aunts, and my mother’s current husband who I met during high school and gave me solid life advice. Other guys in my life were passer-byers who were boyfriends of my aunts or friends of the family I would often call Unc, who gave me terrible advice related to how to treat women as objects. Overall, I felt I had more in common with these fictional personas than I had with the immediate men in my
life, so I chose to go the womanizing conscious thug route like so many other Black men in my age group. With no guidance from father figures, exacerbated by images of “Big Pimpin’” and “Tip Drill” videos, we raised ourselves to believe that mistreating women was acceptable, which led to abandoning our children and family responsibilities.
This culture and new way of life for the Black man created another opportunity for the oppressor to kick us while we were already down in efforts to clean up the leftover combatants who did not get swept up into their biased prison system. Although child support was established in 1975 in efforts to reduce welfare expenses, Black women were not taking advantage of that. Remember, Black women are always thinking two steps ahead and knew imposing a system like that on a Black man would mean she was complicit in helping the White man keep a foot on the Black man’s neck. However, when you fast-forward to the late 2000s and beyond, Black women have grown tired of the Black man’s disrespect, and just as we were cut from a different cloth of witnessing womanizing images, they were too. So the line has been drawn in the sand, where some Black women have been left no choice but to protect themselves and their children by utilizing child support because some Black men refuse to handle their responsibilities.
The Black women had to evolve into both the female and male figure within the average household. Most who utilize child support actually need it because they have been abandoned and mistreated. However, there is a small percentage of women in general who have weaponized child support and have the full arm of the law to support their legalized extortion. Unfortunately, most of our Black men lack the ability to see two steps ahead because their vision is obscured by a big butt and a smile. Well, I am here to tell you that child support cripples you to the point where: your credit is jeopardized; you can’t achieve financial success; and in some cases, you will be imprisoned. The systemic loophole is real, and I am suggesting you take necessary precautions to avoid being trapped in one.
I need you to receive the value of learning about the Jim Crow system and the systemic loopholes that I think you need to think about very seriously before you find your life out of your control. I would like
to offer several questions I think you may benefit from after reading this chapter. These self-awareness questions will allow you to own your Superhero powers versus being a Super-less hero to your own children someday. (Those of you who are reading this book to help young Black men, please consider these questions when you engage with them about their lives and life choices ahead of them.) I would like you to think about a time before hormones became relevant in your life and you had no desire to please the opposite sex with your attractiveness or through money, power, and respect, and contemplate these questions:
1. How do you think you might contribute in your own unique way to looking for guidance from positive people in your environment?
2. Could you ask them for insight into when you first started feeling a strong desire to protect yourself with false armor, which may be hindering your goal-setting abilities in reaching developmental milestones?
3.Who do you relate to in your community enough that you might be able to ask them something about life that may influence you to relinquish your armor and live an authentic life without the tough facade? Anyone?
4. If not, how will you start taking small steps towards a quality life reaching milestones that will help you make enough money to support the kind of life you want to lead?
5. How can you pursue ambition, respect and power by being a valued member of society?
6. What image this week did you see of a rapper or a gang member that intimidated you and made you feel like you wanted everything they had no matter what, despite the fact that you’ve got to build your own life based on what you have and what your true gifts are?
7. What would you change about the adults in your environment because they are ultimately a product of what you will become?