“Break the curse!” A new sit-com trailer features a grandmother saying these words to her 16-year old granddaughter. The “curse” she does not want repeated was having a baby at 16—as she did, and her own daughter did. The twist is it is not the granddaughter who is pregnant again, but the daughter, pregnant by the same man again—thus the name of the sitcom, ”Here We Go Again.”
Is there such a thing as a “generational curse” that families tend to repeat? This Black History Month is the perfect time to pose this question. Is there something about the black experience in America that has generations of black families repeating the same “bad history” cycle of assorted lack of family accomplishments, namely, dropping out of high school, teenage unwed pregnancy, behavior that trigger criminal consequences, drug and alcohol abuse , poverty and homelessness? What is it that explains why so many of the “dire statistics” seem to put black Americans at the top of the heap? What explains why so many black children are academic under achievers? What explains why black home ownership is less than all other ethnic groups? What explains why the black poverty rate remains consistently high? Is there something “generational” that explains why the children of poor black women are more likely to remain poor for the rest of their lives? Is there something “generational” that explains why certain behavior among poor black people especially tends to repeat itself in the following generations? Is it a “curse” or something else?
This past week the Dallas Morning News featured a story, “The Long Way Home,” about a black family that became homeless and ended up in a Dallas homeless shelter. The story was riveting as the writer, Steve Thompson, chronicled the life of a husband and wife that led to job losses and apartment evictions that culminated with a 10-month stay in a homeless shelter. What unfolded was a series of events, call it bad luck, call it bad choices, call it whatever, but the result was a family whose lives tended toward repeating the same cycle of decisions—according to the writer “going back to slavery.” What “went back to slavery” was economic oppression and lack of opportunity that produced a type of “life on the edge,” always fighting just to stay afloat. And staying afloat meant paying rent, bills, food, clothing, trying to keep a car running, trying to hold a low wage demeaning job, trying to keep the girls from becoming pregnant, trying to keep the boys from making a quick buck selling drugs, trying to hold a family together living on the economic fringe of poverty.
The Dallas Morning News story highlighted the daily struggle of one poor family to find decent housing, especially given an eviction. With just one eviction it is difficult for anyone to get pass a background check and find affordable and safe housing. Obtaining Section 8 housing is the “go to” answer. But, as the story explained, getting on Section 8 housing can take years. At one point 30,000 people showed up in Dallas hoping to get on the list that was whittled down to 5000. And even Section8 housing presents challenges for residents who are often “ghettoized.”
The story said that any Section 8 apartment that included the word, “Village” was a ghetto. But still it beats a homeless shelter, or sleeping in a car, or squatting with friends and families who make it known that any stay is not be to “for long.”
Is there a way to break the “generational curse?” Can it be broken if the oppressive circumstances are from without rather than within. Is there still such widespread racism in America that what is called a “generational curse” is generational oppression of black people? Even if you rename it, what will it take to change things? What will it take to change a whole swatch of problems that continue to “smack down” black America? What could have been done to have prevented the massive loss of wealth due to home foreclosures during the 2008 financial crisis? What we later learned was the existence of a predatory lending system where black borrowers were given the worst housing loans of any racial group. Even black borrowers with good credit were placed in predatory loans with interest rates that later re-set so high that they could not afford the payments. Billions of dollars of wealth was wiped out, not because of a “curse” but because of greed by those taking part in one of the biggest real-estate scams in history. And who suffered the most—black Americans. And many economists say that the loss of wealth will permanently deprive future generations of black families of home-equity wealth –wealth that could be used for college or self betterment.
Is the “generational curse” real? If children repeat the same mistakes as their parents and grandparents is that a curse or is that a lack of family education about the dire consequences of repeating those same mistakes? Or do children even see repeating their parents and grandparents behavior as a mistake if this is all they see? If entire neighborhoods offer few life improvement choices what behaviors are children expected to model? If children will “be what they see” how are claims of a “generational curse” to be broken? The Dallas Morning News story ends this way: “With drastically subsidized rent and an income tax credit coming, (the couple) will probably scrape by until he lands another job. With luck, they’ll never see the inside of another shelter. To head toward a better life, they must defy an unrelenting force, one that will pull on (their children) all their lives, and on their children, too. It’s the force that tugs all people backward, toward their fortunes at birth, toward the circumstances of their childhoods, toward the places they came from.”
Copyright 2016 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.