Black Folks and Hard Work—Setting the Record Straight
by L. Arthalia Cravin
I need to straighten out a misconception that white folks have about black folks and hard work. Black folks have worked harder and longer than anybody in America. We have worked for no pay and low pay longer than anybody in America. The problem with all our hard work was that it was done within the strictures and confines of bigotry and racism that failed, not only to reward black folks’ hard work, but to keep the substance of that hard work from ever benefiting anyone but white folks.
The reason I’m talking about this hard work matter is because of a recent story that appeared in the Amarillo Globe news about the Pima cotton that I planted in my garden. I was bothered by the caption of the story suggesting that our ancestors “hard work” had really done them any real good. It didn’t. My sharecropper grandparents picked and chopped cotton all across Texas for all of their lives and they all died broke and virtually property-less. I know how hard they worked. My grandmother had a stroke in her early 60s from working in the hot cotton fields in Navarro County. She died at the age of 72 having had both legs amputated due to untreated diabetes. She never had health insurance, never received proper medical care, never saw a dentist, never had a pap smear, and never had a breast examination. What she got for all her years of hard work slaving in some white man’s cotton field was an early and painful death. Do what did this one ancestor’s hard work amount to?
I found the title of the Amarillo Globe article disturbing because it continues the white myth of “why can’t black folks just work hard (like us) and get ahead (like us.)” Well, the reason why is because of “folks like you” have systematically deprived black folks of the true fruits of their labor for centuries. Let’s cut the bull on this. Black folks are sick and tired of white folks going to church and coming out acting as if white always make right. White has been the reason for hundreds of years of grievous sins and wrongs—that continue until this day when it comes to justice for black folks. So again, let’s cut the bull. I could write a book or two about all my ancestors’ hard work that never was properly rewarded right down to me. I could tell you stories of racism and bigotry that I have faced right here in America with three advanced degrees. I continue to face it right here in Amarillo in the year 2010. So again, let’s cut the bull and look bigotry squarely in its ugly eyes. My hard work was never rewarded with equal pay or promotions. Instead I was shafted at every corner by jealous white lawyers who somehow wanted to brand me as the product of “affirmative action.” I have beat white lawyers in court and they still refused to face the fact that a black woman’s brain kicked their butts. Still I faced discrimination from them. And so, when a black woman right here in Amarillo, told me that the same week that she started work as a paralegal for an Amarillo white law firm that a white lawyer told her that the bathrooms sure had been looking nice since she came what does that tell us about white bigotry? I told her, same old racism and bigotry, it’s ugly, but it’s real.
And so the question is this, given the centuries of failure to reward the hard work of black folks, across this globe, are we to continue working hard? The answer is a resounding yes. In spite of oppression and repression we have an obligation to the breath of God within us to continue to get up every day and do our best—in spite of white folks. Our responsibility to work hard to better ourselves and our communities exists independent of and in spite of white folks. I view most of them as little more than negative orbits, as mere obstacles and stumbling blocks to be overcome anyway. So, when I saw the picture of myself standing in my cotton patch I had to come face to face with the truth that there is a large segment of white America, including folks in Amarillo, who would still relegate me to the cotton patch. I have personally felt the sting of professional and educational rejection since I arrived in Amarillo. Still, I press on doing my best. Each day, I still wake up, thank God for the day, Think Free, think the best of me, and seize the day doing my best. I do this in spite of white folks. I do this because in the final analysis I want to hear God say to me, “You fought the good fight of faith—in spite of white folks.” In spite of white folks I want to hear my Savior, Jesus Christ, say “Well, done my good in faithful servant.” My calling in this realm is much higher than white folks’ opinion of this little chocolate brown child of God.
Copyright 2010 – 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.