Trigger Warning: Please excuse my bad English, I’m hopelessly out of practice. 😉
For his now well known study Gang Leader For A Day sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh went into the projects of Chicago and asked some gang members: „How does it feel to be black and poor?“ What he really asked (in this suicidal attempt) was: „How does it feel to be black, poor and male?“.
In his recent article for the New Yorker Jim DeRogatis asked: „Why Has R. Kelly’s Career Thrived Despite Sexual-Misconduct Allegations?“
One of the answers lies in the skin color of his victims. For the Washington Post Karen Attiah said: „As long as black women are seen to be a caste not worthy of care and protection, his actions will not receive widespread outcry …“
In her autobiography (that I am currently reading) Angela Davis describes a jail in New York where ninety percent of the female inmates where blacks or Puerto Ricans, due to a bail system designed for the white and wealthy.
Patricia Williams a.k.a. Rabitt a.k.a. Ms Pat was thirteen when she got pregnant by an adult. She conceived her second child by the same father at the age of fifteen. She grew up in ghetto in Atlanta under circumstances people not living there wouldn’t believe. Her grandfather runs an illegal liquor house, where the whole family lives. Her mother instructs her to steal, and every family member does something criminal for living. To survive, to feed her children, she starts selling crack.
When people like me, white privileged outsider, think about the ghetto, we think of TV shows like The Wire, we think of young gangsters dealing crack and killing each other in drive-by shootings. What we don’t see are the black girls and women that grew up and live in all this violence, in all this poverty, without finishing school, without proper jobs. To us they are invisible.
This is how Rabbit felt all those years. This is why she was looking for a way out of the hood The reason she finally went on stage and became a comic. There she talks about her life, not in way that generates pity, but in way that makes people laugh.
The book was written by Jeannine Amber, because Patricia Williams is according to her own statement not an author. But she definitely knows how to tell a heartbreaking story full of tragedy in an entertaining way with a lot of hope between the lines. And Amber was the right person to put this story in a book.
I am more than amazed, how important family was for this young women, still a child herself, but already taking care of several other children, who were not all her own. But they were family, and so she took care of the four daughters of her drug-addicted sister, without hesitating for a second.
This iron will to do what has to been done, might be one of the reasons, she made it out of the hood, into a normal life, with a husband, a regular job, and a career as a comic. Another reason could be her business sense, doing the dealing the right way, in a sense of make a profit out of it from the beginning. And last but not least she did not take drugs herself. On top of all that she also had help from people who believed in her (like her husband), who stayed with her, even when she had a setback and times where getting harder.
Although this story depicts mostly in the 90s, sometimes you can find subtle comments on the present. For example, when Hood, the owner of the laundromat says „at least we have Bill Cosby“, after a rant about negative example of former black idols like Mike Tyson.
Well Patricia Williams, you are not invisible any more, you are not unheard anymore. Even here in Germany I can see and hear you. And albeit of those tragic circumstances and life stories, that surrounded and crossed your way out of the shadows, you made me laugh a lot. Most of the women, who would need the encouragement and example displayed in this book, won’t be able or willing to read it. Still I hope it will inspire many.
If you are interested in a positive view on black communities in the USA, take a look at the Photographs of Jamel Shabazz.
Song for the book (cause it summarizes its content pretty good):