Being Poor Is Expensive, Being a Woman is Exhausting. #QueenSugar Episode 6 recap.
Esther Duflo, an MIT professor who specializes in poverty research, once said that it can be shocking to most people that poor farmers keep using the same methods over and over again, almost never willing to experiments on new methods. We might find this absurd, until we realize that precisely because they are poor, they cannot afford to experiment because a failure means that no harvest, means no money to care for their family. Essentially, being adventurous, being willing to try and fail, that is a luxury that poor people simply do not have.
This point is well illustrated throughout this Queen Sugar episode, as we see Charley having a conversation with Remy, the agricultural engineer. Since a few episode back, we remember that Ralph got scammed out of $15,000 went he purchased fungus-infected seed cane, Charley is now scrambling to find seed on time. Remy then tells her that he has seed available, but it is one that he specially engineered himself for the Louisiana soil, but he hasn’t been able to get any of the farmers to try it because they simply can’t afford to take a chance on a seed that might not produce much. For as Esther Duflo explained, poor people can’t afford to make mistakes.
The high cost of experimentation is one that we see in Ralph’s struggle as well, as we know from last episode that he got entangled with a few other employees who were fed up with their boss constantly stealing from their paychecks. As formerly incarcerated men, they just couldn’t afford to quit their jobs so they found ways to compensate by stealing from the company. Eventually Ralph realizes that he no longer wants to take part in the illegal activities, but when he tries to get out of it, he gets beaten up by his co-workers. When he decides to quit his job, his employer warns him that he can’t afford to be unemployed because his parole agreement requires that he stays employed. Here we see the struggle of people who have done jail time, where there is a willingness to work, but no employers willing to hire, and the necessity of putting up with abuse when they do get hired, because of scarce choices. Ralph quits his job anyway, but that same evening the police comes to raid his house, obviously looking for the cell phones he had been hiding in the shed when he agreed to steal from the company to resell them. Thankfully, he has his guardian Angel Aunt Vi, who moved it well before the cops arrived. He got lucky this time but how many poor, formely incarcerated black men, have someone looking out for them, or a support system of family members to help them navigate a society that still views them as unstrustworthy? How many times do they have to say,
While Ralph Angel is struggling to survive life post-jail, “two sweet” is doing everything he can to stay alive in jail as he returns from the hospital, barely recovered from his assault. In a phone call with Nova, he asks her when he’s going to get his trial date and she reminds him that he can’t get one until he has a lawyer. And he likely won’t get better than a public defender, because he doesn’t have the money for one. And to accentuate the pain of poverty, he also can’t afford bail money so he has to stay in jail where he is more likely to get beaten up again while the guards stand by and watch his spirit get broken along with his bones. Last episode, Nova explained why the boy is named “too sweet”. She said to Calvin, “ You ever met a white boy named too sweet? No. Cuz it’s so rare that a black boy makes it through with their soul in one piece, that he gets a nickname for pulling it off”. But in this phone conversation between her and too sweet, this might be the moment when his soul really gets broken when it dawns on him that he might even die before he trial date, or end up with a long sentence because he can’t afford a good lawyer.
A good lawyer is an issue that Davis certainly doesn’t have to worry about, because he has one that is working hard to get his rape charge dismissed and he has enough money to buy her silence. This privilege is one that Davis is somehow oblivious to, as he compares his scandal to the struggle of too sweet, during a conversation with Nova. Needless to say, she is quick to remind him of his gross error.
Despite Davis and too sweet both being black facing the justice system, there is a privilege that money can buy. Davis as been able to remain out of jail, has a great lawyer, and will likely be able to pay off his accuser. Meanwhile, too sweet can’t even afford the bail necessary for him leave jail and stay alive long enough for his trial date. All struggle is not created equal, and for poor people, mistakes are much too expensive.
Actor Nate Parker produced, directed, and starred in the movie Birth of a Nation, centering Nat Turner. Upon it’s successful screening at Sundance, we were all proud of him, glad to see a black man finding success by telling black stories on own terms. But then, rumors of his rape case resurfaced, in which he and his friend raped a woman who eventually committed suicide. Naturally, a debate arose on whether or not to support Nate and his movie or hold him accountable for his actions. Perhaps the biggest burden was on the shoulders of black women, who would have to choose between being the ride-or-die for a black man, or center her womanhood and hold him accountable. It’s a constantly struggle for black women to straddle this fence in which they must constantly put themselves aside for the good of the black movement even if it the price to pay is to disregard sexual violence against themselves or other women.
Throughout all the Queen Sugar episodes, we see Charley being the quintessential example of this dilemma as she deals with the scandal of her husband being accused of sexual assault. The fact that the accuser is a prostitute makes the struggle even harder for her because even if she might not fully believe it, she has a hard time believing that a sex worker can be raped. She is well aware of the racial component of the case, with the history of black men being falsely accused of raped; but she also isn’t oblivious to the tendency to demonize victims and silence them. She is constantly dealing with this juxtaposition of loyalty to her husband, and wondering whether he is in fact guilty. In the first few episodes, she tells him she’s only standing by him as his manager not his wife. Then in this episode when he tells her he did not rape the girl, she responds “ I know that. Otherwise I wouldn’t be standing next to you”. But this certainty quickly crumbles like a house of cards, when Goldie begins to play a voicemail that Davis left her after the scandal was exposed.
It turns out that he didn’t have sex with her only once as he told his wife. They had an ongoing relationship in which trust and respect was established between them. But it’s clear in the voicemail that the trust and respect was not mutual, as he reminds her, “ I pay you to keep your mouth shut. Unless I put something in it, I pay you to keep your mouth shut. To do shit my wife won’t do. You used to do gang bangs, now all of a sudden you don’t do them anymore”? There are so many layers to this voicemail.
The curtain falls on the bit of hope Charley had that her husband was clean from this whole scandal. Then she learns of the 3 years ongoing relationship between Davis and Goldie, and the fact that before he left the party the night of the scandal, he left money for Goldie essentially paying for other players to do with her as they pleased.
She sees the look on Goldie’s face and realizes they have much more in common than she initially wanted to admit. Two women betrayed by the same man, the man who let them both believe that he would always be there for them. Despite her whole world falling apart in that moment, Charley is able to gather herself enough to apologize to Goldie before she runs out of the room. This is the defining moment when Charley knows the ride-or-die is really ride-and-hold-accountable. We (most of us) black women left Nate Parker at the box office, and Charley left Davis to deal with his mess so she can prioritize herself for once.
Davis runs after her, as he realizes that his whole masquerade has been unveiled. At that closing scene, we have no idea what will become of them marriage but as of now, Charley makes sure Davis knows,
All pictures and gifs courtesy of the OWN youtube Channel