Born in rural Georgia in 1930, Richelene Mitchell faced significant obstacles throughout her life, from the entrenched racism of the American South to the economic hardships that forced her into public housing and onto welfare. Yet, despite the unyielding challenges she faced as an African American single mother raising seven children, Mitchell was a fiercely intelligent woman with a deep literary yearning. In 1973, she chose to document a year of her life through a series of letters addressed to herself, which were later compiled and published posthumously under the title Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mom. This is just one of those entries, written in October of 1973 as she failed once again to paint her living room due to her “belligerent back” (“BB”).
The Diary Entry
BB wouldn’t let me begin painting today so I’ll do it when I can. I could let Ricky paint, but I’d rather do it myself than clean up the mess after him. Maybe that’s the wrong attitude, but I just can’t stand to clean up messes behind other people! Since I didn’t feel like painting today, I took advantage of the opportunity to write a letter that was burning in my soul.
This week, Dr. Louise Bates Ames devoted her columns to “helpful” advice for black parents. What a travesty! She merely subtly reinforced the standard myths that “all blacks hate themselves and want to be white; hate their kinky hair, etc., ad nauseam.” She recommended the book The Black Child: A Parent’s Guide. How to Overcome the Problems of Raising a Child in a White World and she took some pretty denigrating quotes from the book out of context.
As I see it, she offered no solutions to the problems of raising children in a white world; she merely set down a concoction of shit that is passé, and we didn’t need to hear. So I had to write and set her straight. White folks! Why don’t they tell it like it is sometimes, namely the race problem begins and ends in the white psyche and heart? That they started the whole problem, and once they cleanse themselves of their sins of superiority and supremacy, everything will fall into perspective? Oh, self, they make me so sick!
Richelene Mitchell’s diary, titled, Dear Self: A Year In The Life Of A Welfare Mother, was published in 2007 by NID Publishers, with an introduction by her son, Imam Zaid Shakir, who is co-founder of, and Professor Emeritus at, Zaytuna College in California. Though difficult to absorb at times, its raw honesty and piercing insights make it an essential read.