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Women Of Color On The Weight Of The Generational Curses They Carry

I carry the narrative of being a strong independent woman because of the pain my mother endured.

Life & Travel

Women have been programmed for generations to look, act, speak, heal and not heal a certain way. Sadly, most of this has been passed down from the women in our families growing up. Our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts sometimes projected traditional beliefs or acted in ways we didn't always agree with. Continuing to love them, but consciously knowing the pain behind their lessons and actions.

I grew up in a household where both my mother and father worked. My father was bringing in most of the money and covering the bills from his mechanic business. My mother was working for minimum wage and providing her children with what they needed. As their marriage began to strain, so did the finances. My father (the breadwinner) eventually left home and started a new life. At the same time, my mother held the financial responsibility. As the bills began to pile, so did her stress. Food was now minimal, and cable was a privilege. One day, it all became too much. My mother grabbed me in frustration and said, "Don't you ever rely on a man!"

The pain in her eyes still haunts me to this day.

As an adult, I have struggled with financial roles in relationships. I find myself cringing when a man wants to pay for date night, cover living expenses, or even buy me a cup of coffee. The idea of a partner providing financial security is frightening. I know this fear comes from my childhood experience. I carry the narrative of being a strong independent woman because of the pain my mother endured. I'm learning through therapy that it's OK to be a strong independent woman and be cared for by your partner. A common factor many women of color struggle with today.

I believe I am the woman I am today because of my mom. I have inherited so much (both good and bad) from watching her as a little girl. As I learned this about myself, I began to wonder if other women felt the same way. Here are a few women on their experience with generational curses.

Khristina Williams

Courtesy of Khristina Williams

"As a little girl watching other women in my life, my experience was seeing women who constantly put others before themselves. The women I saw growing up were independent and strong. My mother always sacrificed so that my siblings and I could have a better life. My mother constantly worked, so we spent most of our time with my grandmothers and sitters. I have some strong women in my family, but the man was the head of the household.

"My great-grandmother, Ernestine, was a nurturer. Growing up, I observed her taking care of my great-grandfather, a former WWII vet. They stayed in separate rooms due to him being ill. Her entire day revolved around taking care of her husband until his demise. All of the women in my family leaned on one another in good and bad times.

"In terms of gender roles, the women in my family defied those expectations."

"The women (my mom's generation) were able to pursue careers. However, my grandmothers and great-grandmothers were housewives. So, it's interesting to see the changes through generations. Gender expression and gender roles are societal constructs. I was never raised to feel I couldn't do something because of my gender. My family has always encouraged me to be the best version of myself and do what I want to do."

For more of Khristina, follow her on Instagram.

Anisa Benitez

Courtesy of Anisa Benitez

"I don't believe in 'curses', but there are infidelity patterns and scarcity in my family. I grew up around others who felt and expressed a lack of prosperity, time, money, and love in their lives. Meanwhile, they weren't expressing appreciation for the abundance in their present moment; for example, gratitude for good health, the love of friends, and the money to always make ends meet somehow.

"In regards to breaking a scarcity mindset, I've learned that the present moment is abundant. Our clinging to the past or fixation on the future is the root of most suffering. When we can enjoy where we are and all we have, the more good opportunities we see in the present."

"Loving myself has been healing. I practice living mindfully and mind my thoughts most of all. 'What is the story I am telling myself?' is a common question I ask myself. I go to therapy, meditate, take care of my body, eat well, sleep, practice creative wellness, make time to laugh, enjoy this life, and take holistic care of my health. I make more love-based decisions than fear-based. It's a better time to be ourselves openly. It means more room to self-express, heal, liberate yourself and others."

"Women in my family are compelling and nurturing. However, taking on caregiving roles left them with little bandwidth to care for themselves. They didn't know how to enjoy their alone time. We need to normalize breakthroughs. It would be great to see enough women of color liberated, successful, and being themselves. This way of living shouldn't be considered a 'breakthrough'."

For more of Anisa, follow her on Instagram.

Britney Turner

Courtesy of Britney Turner

"When it came to my mom, I observed something that I would rarely see on TV shows and movies at that time--a woman who was knowledgeable in finances and accounting. You always heard that men handled the finances and were the breadwinners, and women just didn't ask questions. Seeing her crunch numbers and budget gave me a different outlook on financial literacy and its accessibility to women. Not only did I learn about financial literacy from her, but I also observed the way she carried herself.

"In the media, women are often sexualized and exploited for their bodies - but I'm thankful that my mother and grandmothers rooted us in the church and taught us the importance of respecting yourself and demanding respect as a woman. Watching their mannerisms and how they were vocal about their needs helped set the tone of how I would present myself in the workplace, friendships, and relationships.

"As a little girl, watching the women in my life was a great experience. I took away so many different perspectives from each of them about being a woman, and more importantly, being a black woman."

"We still have so much work to do, but seeing the women I admire live life unapologetically and speak their minds is such a liberating feeling. Seeing women of color embrace their skin, natural hair, and features without shrinking themselves has made me want to cry. I think back to being in elementary school and feeling like straight hair was more 'appropriate' or more 'professional'. I remember being scared to embody what it means to be a black woman fully. Generational curses sometimes come from the stigma and stereotypes that society has placed on us as well."

For more of Britney, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Britney Nicole

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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