To Do What You Gotta’ Do
“‘You know what we women gotta’ do.’”
I had come off the elevator and saw the new neighbor ahead of me, approaching her apartment door, just past my door. She turned and noticed me. I said “Hello, new neighbor,” as I unlocked my door and noticed the woman was walking toward me. My door stood open, exposing a wall of bookshelves, overfilled with books.
I wear clothes this younger Black woman would not think to wear, and she wore what would confirm a downhill transformation of my state of mind.
Yes, the building has issues. Some are calling it the “ghetto” rather than “luxury” Towers - only I arrived in 2008 to discover the word “luxury” was a matter of semantics. The management is rude, disrespectful, all about money. But then I would not have limited this description to only the building management personnel. As an older Black woman and an “outsider,” I have come to expect rudeness and disrespect, and I am shocked when someone is genuinely friendly.
I realize I have been standing at my door a bit too long and need to get in and get to work.
“‘I have a gun.’” And then, “‘I have speakers this tall,’” and she raised her hand to her chest.
She will make the best of it, given she has had a rough time.
“‘You know what we women gotta’ do?’” and she bent her knees and made a gesture with both hands below her waist.
“‘No. I don’t know.’”
She stood straight and stared at me, puzzled.
“‘Well, what do you do?’”
“‘I teach. Write.’”
Oh as in an Oh expressing disappointment, and then a quick recovery.
“‘Well, I gotta’ do what I gotta’ do.’”
She delivered her message.For me, what constitutes a huge chunk of metal activity involves sustaining a memory of our past, a memory of who we were before axe labeled COINTELPRO struck us and the blow disoriented us, scattered us. Then another blow from Reagan’s administration severed us. The final blow from the Clinton administration left behind the fatally wounded. There is no reason to be so dramatic now, so overt, when trillions flow with ease to fund corporate wars, prisons, and security apparatuses with a “Black” president in the White House.
Bill Cosby would have seen my neighbor before I did in 2009. In his experience here in Philadelphia, he would have seen plenty of Blacks exchanging body fluids and drugs for cash.
I have heard plenty of the “You is…” and the “I be…” uttered with no shame, in fact, uttered with a sense of group pride, identifying allegiance to the familiar for which my “You are…” and “I am…” exclude me not only from communication with this population of Black Americans, Philadelphians, but also from being recognized as human.
Cosby voiced his concern in an address at the NAACP on the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, May, 2004, in Washington D.C. But he did not express any understanding of how this population of Black Americans ended up, as he argues, lacking personal “responsibility.” Would the U.S. government take responsibility for enslaving and exploiting Black labor or for establishing laws that remained to favor white citizens or would this government take responsibility for exploiting the vulnerability of a traumatized population?
When Cosby erased the historical blows the Black community received from its government, and when he refused to acknowledge liberal silence and institutionalized racism, he assisted in laying out the red carpet for a to parade one J.P. Morgan Chase after one Goldman Sachs cabinet nominee and to complete the Wall Street to the White House pipeline that sustains the life of capitalism. And we can expect to see more Black people walking around insisting that their work is to freely exchange body fluids and drugs for cash because we have too many of us who continue to echo the mantra we have learned from our oppressors. It’s the past! As Leonard Pitts writes in his article, “Don’t Let Others Define Us”:
Every January we hear Martin Luther King's great speech. Every February, school kids dress up as black inventors or social leaders. But there is in us - meaning the African-American community - a marked tendency to avoid the grit, gristle and grime of our history. The telling of those stories is neither institutionalized nor even particularly encouraged. (http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/05/2000893/dont-let-others-define-us.html#ixzz1AORzUb90)
Attempts by a Cosby or anyone else to shame this abused and abusive population into submission in order to recruit them into government-funded revolving door programs, only satisfies the guilt of white and Black, the latter of whom managed to slip in the door before it was slammed shut. For both the white and Black liberal to occupy the unfortunate in an endless, yet income-generating, cycle of liberal reform programs is unconscionable. But this solution is, too, as acceptable in this country as it is unacceptable to ask how the corporations benefit from the “dead.”
What Cosby considers the “personal values of the low-economic Black people” is the public values of the corporations. If, as Cosby argues, “parenting” consists of elevating neglect to a fine art, then both groups reflect a remarkable affinity. Both indulge in the pleasure of production without taking responsibility for the outcome of that pleasure. Speaking about the Black population in Philadelphia, one older Black woman summed it up: They do things “without suffering the consequences.”
Maybe not now - but there will be consequences to pay for the public as well as personal neglect of producing values that elevate human potential rather than greed. “‘You know what we women gotta’ do’” is not about freedom, but then neither is what the corporations offer.
But there is Philadelphia where Mumia was sentenced to death and where the city dropped a bomb on the house at 6221 Osage Avenue where 6 adults and 5 children were murdered. But, here, too, fear propels people to move forward, get a job, get that cash, man, and so Mumia and the 5 children and countless other historical atrocities of the past and in the present committed against the Black community anywhere is best forgotten. Here is a Philadelphia where the business-minded mayor closes libraries and schools, particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods - but he is a “Black” man - and they simply cannot remember the enslaved collaborators.
Here in Philadelphia, whites are pleased to have their Blacks grateful for the job, for the high-profile governmental positions, grateful for the housing, grateful for the community government-funded program, grateful for the education, grateful for the health care, the food, the air they breathe. From the white liberals, I am always asked if I know the history of how enslaved Blacks were hidden by whites in one or another “landmark” building. Did I see that historical building? Did I see that historical building?
There is a level of comfort in this arraignment. It is beneficial to all and consequently to the corporations, particularly Comcast, GlaxoSmithKline, Citizens Bank.
For the whites here the “Where you is…” and “Why you ain’t…” are familiar reminders that they were indeed saviors of the enslaved and therefore have no need to fear the saved.
There is Philadelphia, where there is no land mass outside of Philadelphia, where losing your memory of a world that does exist outside this land mass means losing the memory of our collective struggle.
But why should the Philadelphia school system teach its Black population that abolitionists were Black, too, and that long before white abolitionists, the average enslaved Black resisted and many died and “to do what you gotta’ do” meant something quite different.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Sorry the news from the Black community isn’t any better than it was in 1967.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.