“you always was committed, a poor, single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it. There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand, you are appreciated.”
I’ve posted for a couple days on Facebook about the Williams-Bolar case, occurring right here in my own Northeast Ohio, but I wanted to dig a little deeper, and encourage everyone reading this to both sign the Change.org petition to Governor Kasich and call both his office and also that of your State Senator and Representative.
For some background, Kelley Williams-Bolar was accused of falsifying records to obtain school services for her children in the Copley-Fairlawn school system, in the suburbs of Akron. A senior at the University of Akron, where she was a few credits away from a teaching degree, Ms. Williams-Bolar will now be unable to give back to society (more than she already has) as a teacher, because of the felony charge. She also, incidentally, has been totally antagonized in her quest to improve her ability to provide for her two young daughters. Her daughters are presumably at least a part of why she wanted to improve her employment prospects in the first place, to say nothing of trying to do what white families have been doing for decades- sending their children to the good schools in the suburbs, where they can have a shot at avoiding grinding poverty (and too often, black people), or at the very least growing up in a safe and healthy environment. More below the flip,
“it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects…
This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems. Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime). She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters. Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families). Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids. In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate. That, my friends, is American Racism 101.”
Over at Prison Culture, the writer makes the chilling point that even beyond standing as a symbol of contemporary and long-lasting educational apartheid (Brown v. Board of Ed. anyone?), community disinvestment and devastation, and the hammer of false criminal ‘justice’ that has been taken to black communities for decades, hampering black opportunity for economic advancement and social inclusion, what this case really hearkens back to is the slavery-era actual criminalization of black advancement.
Just to add my own two cents, this case struck me particularly hard because of the work I do at Hard Hatted Women, and because of the unambiguously racial and gendered nature of poverty in this country, and state. About forty percent of families headed by a single mother, with children under 18, are in poverty. It takes women in Ohio four years of college to begin making what a male high-school graduate makes. Needless to say, the above forty percent rate for single mothers in poverty is worse for black and latina women. Needless to say, the rate of black women with four-year degrees in Ohio is the lowest for any subgroup in the state, besides Appalachian.
But more than the statistics, I’ve had the absolute privilege of meeting some of the hardest, toughest, kindest, funniest most revolutionary single moms out there, and they accomplish nothing short of heroic feats by working in fields that have long been dominated by old boys’ networks and the holdovers of an era where ‘black woman professional’ might be considered a contradiction in terms. They accomplish nothing short of heroic feats by providing for their children, moving them into good neighborhoods, getting them into good schools, making sure they are fed, clothed, and sheltered right. And they do it all while working the hardest jobs we’ve got- jobs men come home to and usually have someone to take care of the shit they don’t want to deal with. I’ve also had the absolute frustration and and sorrow of seeing the impact that felony status has on so many mothers in our community, of seeing how many opportunities and options are closed forever to them, and by extension, their families.
More than statistics, I’ve been the fabulously lucky beneficiary of two parents who did everything they could to make sure I had the best education available to me. And not even just the best schools, but the schools I’d be happy in, the schools that helped grow me as a person and a man and a citizen, the schools that brought me here, to Ohio. They made big sacrifices for me and my happiness (as well as my sister’s, of course), and I can never repay them fully, but by honoring their wishes for me and giving back to society (and hopefully, someday, my own children) that has given me, by virtue of my color, anatomy, and background, everything I could want. Thank you, Mom and Dad. I tremble with rage to think of how our society has smacked down the dreams and aspirations of this woman who persevered under far more difficult circumstances than I will ever encounter, who wanted a future for herself and her children, and who was brutally rebuffed by a system that can find a place for folks in the suburbs and hard to reach places of this country, but not for those of us in the cities, for those of us who don’t fit the ‘traditional’ mold.
This disgraceful attempt to revive the ‘welfare queen’ bogeyman of the nightmares of the 80′s must be contested. The transformation of a hero into a victim, and the image they’re trying to create of her as a parasite who doesn’t belong must be challenged and called out for what it is. The archetype of the welfare queen- the undeserving black woman, addled with drugs and saddled with kids she uses to obtain benefits from a coddling and foolish state- has led the charge not only for the conservative (and not too infrequently, with liberal silent affirmation) assaults on communities of color and women, but for the assault on the very integrity of a government that can take as its responsibility and duty the well-being of all its constituents, all its people. The destruction of the image of the welfare queen is part of what I love most about Hard Hatted Women, and what I hope my generation’s movement can do as it reaches towards justice and opportunity for all.
This is all the more important given the incredibly troubling indicators we’ve been seeing recently of the way the winds are blowing at the executive level where racial and gender justice are concerned. Make no mistake, these forces are always present in our society, they are organized, concerted, and destructive. They must be (non-violently and civically) turned back, and there are those already working to do so.
But it starts with raising your voice, and standing up for your neighbors, especially those who have already demonstrated their deep commitment to the kind of society we need to be working towards by their faith in their families and themselves.
“I wonder why we take from our women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think it’s time we killed for our women, time we healed our women, be real to our women.”
ps. it goes without saying, but please pass this along when you call, let others know how important this is. It’s by our personal one-to-one relationships that change happens. It’s my hope that by sharing a little I’ll have persuaded you to take that step.