The Viral Video, EBT: We Have Failed You, Chapter . . . An Open Letter
Once upon a time when I was a little brown girl and the economy was really bad because of Reganomics, my “employed” and single black mother received food assistance to help feed her two daughters because her minimal wage check could not fully cover rent and the daily luxuries of milk, eggs, meat, beans, and rice. Yes, we were the working class poor. Yes, we were on food stamps. Yes, we needed help. And, yes, we received the EBT though I prefer to call it the Electronic Benefit Transfer because EBT sounds like some viral disease that must be stopped instead of something that has helped to feed many families including a large majority of white families.
To say the least, I found your video deeply troubling. And, not necessarily for the reasons people have listed in your YouTube’s comment section about displaying stereotypical images of black people. Chapter, I found your video troubling because it shows how we as a community of black women have failed to educate you. We have failed to tell you about your history, dearest. We have failed to tell you about National Welfare Rights Organization which was founded in the 1960s and lead by poor Black women who understood the interconnections between food justice, a living wage, racism, and poverty. You see, Chapter, our foremothers, as my grandmother would say, “fought tooth and nail,” to ensure that we would have access to federal assistance because it was our right not only because we were citizens, but because we were human. And, based on our god-given humanity, we deserved the option of being able to seek help when needed.
I tell you, Chapter, we have done you a grave disservice by not telling you about your history and the struggles of your foremothers. We have kept from you the reality of injustice when it comes to the racial inequities of the labor market and how it affects the lives of black families and communities. We should have sat you down when you were a little girl and told you about the racism during the Great Depression and how black families were forced to fend for themselves because white conservatives thought black people were born to live in poverty. We should have taken one moment out of our busy lives to share with you about how President Regan used the image of the cunning and lazy Welfare Queen to cut welfare at time when both poor black and white families needed help the most. We should have told you. We have failed you, little sister, which is why I can’t be upset with you about the video you produced.
I can’t be upset with you, dearest. And, I can’t hold you accountable for not knowing that your video will be used for nefarious purposes that Republicans and Tea Party members will use it to show why federal food assistance programs should be dramatically reduced or completely demolished. You, and by extension, me, have created a space for conservatives to say, “Look, this is why we should cut aid because even young black women admit they use the system.”
Chapter, I want to apologize on behalf of all black women who know the stories and who have not shared them with you. I want to apologize for allowing you to think that when you create such a video that it’s some important form of satire. No, dearest, what you produced was not satire. Satire is often used for the purpose of “constructive” social criticism. Your video was not constructive, but whether you know it or not it does carry a political message with it. And, the message is that Black women are cunning and lazy and need to be controlled. In particular, this message has deep historical roots. We should have told you about how enslavement and rape was used during slavery to control black women’s animalistic hyper-sexual nature. We should have told you about how many poor black women in the South who received welfare were sterilized without their consent so that they could have no more babies to burden the good white tax payers. We should have told you how sinister and evil people have been when they thought black women were trying to elevate themselves. We should have told you.
And one last thing, Chapter, I also want you to know that I understand that it is hard for a black fem MC to break into the Hip Hop game because of what I like to think of as black male braggadocio better known as patriarchy and sexism. I know you want to be one of the great fem MCs like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Lil’Kim, and Nikki Minaj, but creating videos like the one you created will only have limited purchase on the market. Once, people have laughed, scoffed, and used it for their own purposes, you will simply be known as the young black woman who helped either to spread stereotypes of black women or the young black woman who helped online to elect Tea Party members, not the great MC you were born/destined to be.
Well, I look forward to your response, Chapter. I know I have shared a lot with you in this blog. My hope is that you will learn something important about black women her-stories so that when you create another video about black women you will do your research by either looking it up or if you like you can email me. I do not mind helping you think through some of these things, lil’sis.
With great care,