By Josie Pickens
On January 6, the PowerBall Jackpot was up to $500 million. I'm not a gambling woman, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have an itch to buy a ticket (or 100) with hopes of winning the prize. Picture me rolling like Tupac, and paying off my massive student loan debt if I won. (Insert heart-eyed emojis here.)
Speaking of heart-eyed emojis and multimillion-dollar lottery jackpots, Marie Holmes, the North Carolina woman who walked away with $88 million dollars after winning a PowerBall prize in February 2015, is in the news again for bailing her boyfriend out of jail for the third time -- this time paying an enormous (and ridiculous; we'll talk about that later) $12 million bond. Or at least 10 percent of a $12-million bond.
I want to begin this exchange by being clear: this post is not meant to bash Marie Holmes. I don't believe in shaming Black women, even if I don't agree with their thinking or choices. We're all we got, after all. I do think, however, that Marie Holmes's story can serve as an important vehicle for multiple necessary conversations that Black women should have.
I posted this article about Holmes's boyfriend Lamar McDonald being arrested again (and Holmes posting bail for his release) to my Facebook page, hoping to spark some healthy dialogue. I wanted to know what folks thought about Holmes and her choices to spend millions bailing her guy out. Even with that inquiry, I understand that we don't have all (or really many) of the details surrounding Marie Holmes's life, including her relationship with her boyfriend. I'm more interested in talking about how people respond to Holmes's story than I am in what she does with her money, and those responses seem to vary widely.
Of course, most people's first reactions to Holmes's story is to believe she's behaving irrationally or stupidly. Many remember that Holmes and her four children were living with her mother when she found out she won the PowerBall, and that she was struggling as a single mom. Many of us were happy to see her win, because we know the challenge of raising kids with little support while trying to keep our heads above water.
We later found out that the newly minted millionaire devoted $3 million of her winnings, almost immediately, to bail her boyfriend out of prison. The alleged gang member was arrested in connection with heroin possession.
Lamar McDonald was arrested again in August of 2015 for violating his parole (seemingly for missing curfew). Holmes came to his rescue again and bailed him out for another $6 million. Just a few days ago, Holmes bailed McDonald out a third time (for allegedly violating his parole by organizing a street race). In total, Marie Holmes has potentially invested $21 million of her $88 million winnings paying, literally, for what appears to be McDonald's continued bad choices.
Although we must consider that Holmes, up until choosing those winning lottery numbers, didn't appear to be making the most sound choices herself, as Demetrius Lucus D'Oyley pointed out here.
I feel as silly as many believe Marie Holmes to be, tallying the money she's choosing to spend in bonds for McDonald. My friend Aisha (an attorney) and I debated a bit about Holmes and McDonald, and what we clearly see as abuse by the local North Carolina police and court systems. McDonald is continuously being given excessive bail amounts for minor infractions that violate his parole.
While Aisha, I don't believe, is making excuses for McDonald's behavior, she sees this case from a perspective many of us don't, which is that of an attorney well versed on how the justice system seeks to bleed poor (and anyone else) dry. It's shameful, and we cannot ignore this layer of Holmes's story. The county that continues to monitor and re-arrest Lamar McDonald will continue to assess high bail amounts for him because they know Holmes will pay them (no matter how insane), creating exceptional revenue for the county in return.
The layer of the story I am interested in discussing most is why we continuously pounce on Marie Holmes for being stupid and bailing McDonald out, even though she's sticking to the script that we teach Black women about standing by their men.
Remember the meme circulating around the Obama's wedding anniversary that implored Black women to stick it out with their struggling boos, because those boos have the potential to one day be great men and will in return give those down-ass Black women the world? No? Well, that's a message we deliver often, seemingly to Black women exclusively, and it's dangerously problematic.
What makes the message problematic is not the idea that we should love the ones we're with unconditionally, but that we should love them blindly. And it's a message we don't also deliver publicly to Black men, which makes Black women into martyrs instead of supportive partners who can expect the same support returned.
In the end, the larger message is that we should stop degrading Marie Holmes. She is caught up in a system that is abusing her. She is obviously tied to a man continuously making terrible, costly mistakes. And she is doing what Black women are socialized to do. We need to do better, just as much as we believe she does.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.