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First lady Obama ignores Black women’s issues

I read (Dr. E. Faye Williams’ Dec. 8 ) column in the Michigan Citizen and want to raise a few issues around mothers’ work and women’s struggles for justice.

I understand from Dr. Williams’ critique of Ms. Cottle that she feels our first lady is failing women in her role as chief executive’s partner. Although you perceive this as a white woman’s failure to understand Black women’s priorities, I would like to suggest that the issue is more complex.

Many women, Black and white, are disappointed in the general non-response of the Obamas to the survival issues of women, especially Black women:

– Millions of mothers and children now live with ZERO income due to the disaster of welfare deform and the devastating loss of jobs through outsourcing and self-service, yet the Obamas support the deadly “Work-First,” education-never, welfare deform policies;

– Violence against women has grown under the Obamas, with more Black women murdered — a rate two and a half times higher than Black males (2.61 per 100,000 versus .99 per 100,000) and most of the Black women are murdered by Black men;

– The war on the poor has left millions of women and children without access to housing (and millions without income);

– The war on the poor has left over 140,000 children motherless as they are forced into the foster care system on false, unproven, allegations of abuse or neglect — although being victims of poverty is their only crime;

– The war on the poor takes newborn infants, disproportionately Black, from the hospital after birth for adoption to suburban families under false, unproven allegations of abuse and neglect (child trafficking).

All of these economic and physical attacks on mothers and children in poverty disproportionately affect Black families, yet all races of women and children suffer this massive victimization —especially Black, white, Latina, and Native Americans.

As far as we can see, our first lady has no interest in advocating for, or speaking on behalf of, mothers and children surviving with zero income, no housing, no jobs, violent partners, or CPS preying on their families. She has yet to respond to one letter sent to her by our members, whether Black moms or white moms losing children to the deadly “Child Protective System.”

Fresh local food and gardens are a great luxury for improved nutrition; fitness is a great, trendy luxury too. But as you suggest, many mothers are far more concerned with finding a way to access income and housing — and to protect our children from those professionals who prey on them for a living.

This is not just a white vs. Black feminist issue. Those on the front lines in the struggle to survive are terribly disappointed in our first lady. She appears to be completely out of touch with that half of the U.S. women and children, especially the Black women and children, who are drowning in injustice, poverty, and violence. She has not even spoken out for Marissa Alexander who is doing 20 years in prison and lost her infant to her abuser, due to a sexist, male supremacist, racist legal system which supported her violent ex-husband, a Black man, and even gave him her infant!

Perhaps Dr. William’s believes I also have “no understanding of the facts of life that shape our first lady’s perspective.” We on the front lines in this deadly warfare against the poor assume her perspective is shaped by her class privilege as an attorney and first lady. It may indeed also be shaped by a desire not to ruffle the dollars of the wealthy who reward silence in the face of atrocities.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that half of the women and children in this country are suffering horrific injustices, but are unable to win a voice in the White House, the Congress, or the mass media. I hope that the National Congress of Black Women is taking on some of these five issues that so dangerously impact Black families.

— Pat Gowens, director of Welfare Warriors, “fighting for the lives of mothers and children in poverty since 1986.”


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