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CNN Money Writes About the Impact of Incarceration on Black Women... Leaves Out Mentioning Incarcerated Black women.

When I saw a teasing headline about the impact of incarceration on Black women, I fell for it and clicked. I expected to read a story about incarcerated Black women. Nope! The CNN Money story written by Tanzina Vega was about incarceration. It was about Black women, but it wasn’t about incarcerated Black women.

The story was about incarcerated Black men and the Black women who go to destructive lengths to support the men financially while the men are in prison and once they get out.

That’s right, in a story about the impact of incarceration on Black women, not a single  incarcerated Black women was mentioned.

At least three Black women are featured. One Black mother died an early in part because she worked herself into the ground to support two incarcerated sons...

"The financial stress of having two sons in prison ultimately took a physical toll on Belinda's mother, who ended up struggling with cancer, hypertension and blindness in one of her eyes.CNN Money

Leaving her law abiding daughters to pick up the slack.

Another woman declared bankruptcy and sacrificed her homes and savings to post bond on a habitually offending husband.

And it doesn’t stop for these women once the men are released:

"We're the ones with the credit, we're the ones with the job, we're the ones putting everything in our name," said Muhammad, whose husband died in prison halfway through a 24-year sentence. "They need a ride, they need a suit, they have to go job hunting? You're putting them up. You're their sponsor." CNN Money

WAOD reader responses on Facebook

  • "Who is signing up to be a sponsor?????Where????"
  • "This article is ridiculous. Nobody has to financially support a grown man....especially if he habitually makes poor decisions.  Also, I wonder if incarcerated black women get that kind of economic support. I don't think most men would put themselves in an financial bind like so many women feel that they have to."
  • "The problem is worse that the article states. Prison officials are on record stating that non-criminal, non-imprisoned (female) family members are responsible for providing commissary money so that the incarcerated person can get soap and toilet paper."

What’s the big deal? It reinforces the message that Black women don’t need support from two angles.

First, the absence of incarcerated Black women implies that they don’t exist. It implies that Black women are not disproportionately represented in prison populations - that’s not true. And Black women’s incarcerations ( including Black girls) are increasing. The article also implies that Black women can handle it all, even poorly, and are unworthy of support.

Second, by featuring Black women whose financial support of the incarcerated Black men reaches destructive levels, we reinforce dangerous ideas about Black women’s roles as sacrificial lambs.  There is not one expert in the article that discusses financial literacy. There is not one expert in the article that challenges these women or offers solutions that allow these women to support incarcerated family members while continuing to build a happy, stable life of their own. And there is not a single voice in the article that says “STOP!” or “NO!”.  There is no one to say "this is not healthy!"

What is so clear is that all of the women who were featured were self-destructive and probably lacking in self love.  

The article concludes with a Black woman who was earlier complaining about the massive financial toll  from supporting the incarcerated men in her life. She was now booed up with another man she met...while he was incarcerated for a decade. When asked why she is carrying the financial load now that he is released, her response was the following:

"He cooks dinner for me, I get my feet rubbed and I get the companionship of a guy that I care about that I couldn't be with for nine years."

Economic ruin in exchange for a foot rub and companionship...that's not normal. That's not healthy.

If you’re  a young Black girl reading this, please know that you can be generous with people without being self-destructive.

In addition to criminal justice reform, telling people NO is an option. Being single ( and happy) is an option. Boundaries are an option. Limits are an option. You can give without giving everything you have.

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