Saturday, May 30, 2009

Enjoy Feeling Uncomfortable?

That's the question Deron Bauman asks about the feeling created by this video, which I saw on ClusterFlock.

I'm still looking for evidence that this is satire. Has to be, right? Lyrics after the fold, but I just had to highlight a few.

A mildly amusing moment: A young white man who attends Dartmouth raps, "It's not the hand you were given, but how you lay down your cards."

WTF moment 1: Rapping, "Don't matter if your (sic) gay, straight, Christian or Muslim," after having said, "Thank you Miss Cali for reminding us of marriage," and after issuing the warning that "Terrorists were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Now they're in our neighborhoods, planning out doomsday."

WTF moment 2: Rapping, "Everyone can succeed, Because our soldiers bleed"

Just a little musical interlude for your Saturday afternoon.

H/T Laurie, whom you should really, really follow on Twitter

Serious C:

“Yo this ones for all the young conservatives.

I rep the Northeast and I’m still a young con,

Let your voice release, you don't have to be obamatrons.

I debate any poser who don't shoot straight,

Government spending needs to deflate,

Your ideas are lightweight,

Ya careers in checkmate

I frustrate. I increase the pulse rate

I hate when,

government dictatin, makin, statements, bout how to be a merchant,

How to run a restaurant, how to lay the pavement

Bailout a business, but can't protect an infant

Deficiencies are blatant, young con treatment

I stand one man, outnumbered at my college

Thank you Miss Cali for reminding us of marriage

Can't support abortion, and call yourself a Christian

I support life, you're a puzzled politician

Terrorists were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay,

Now they're in our neighborhoods, planning out doomsday

No such thing as utopia,

no government can control ya, baby ya,

Reap the benefits hard work, self reliant

Listen to Stiltz, my dude’s a lyrical giant

Yo Stiltz... make it two time... please”


“I'm 6'9 head and shoulder above the rest

Liberals playin checkers, I'm playin chess

My conservative view is drill baby drill

You can say you hate me but

I'm praying for you still

My dislike for thee most def is not hyperbole

Taxes are the subject and I will spit them verbally

I'm just livin life a conservative philosophy

Sorry Hilary not a right wing conspiracy

We need more women with intellectual integrity

I'm talkin Megyn Kelly not Nancy Pelosi

My main motto is you best work hard

It's not the hand you were given, but how you lay down your cards

I don't speak lies but I spit the facts

28% the new capital gains tax

Porkulus bill lacks a few stats

The more money we spend, the more mine is worth Jack

The Bible says we're a people under God,

Usin radar for radical Jihad

AIG was hooked up by Chris Dodd

A classy gift ain't an Ipod

The standards of my crew ain’t republicans dude

I'm reppin Jesus Christ and conservative views

Study history and true conservative moves

Every single time they refuse to lose

I’m starting to see a modern day Jimmy Carter

When really nothin but a Reagan era starter”

Serious C:

“Yo, We americans son

Hit ya with some knowledge

The movement has begun

Everyone can succeed

Because our soldiers bleed, for us

I said it in the verse,

now I'll say it in the chorus”


“We young conservatives son

Hard work is our motto

The movement has begun

EVERYONE can succeed cause our soldiers bleed, daily

My views are rock solid, no chance you can break me”

Serious C:

“Phase me, make me, into something that ain’t me

Serious c... can’t nobody shake me

great like the Gatsby, poppin posers like acne

Don't matter if your gay, straight, Christian or Muslim

There's one thing we all hate, called socialism.

It's loathsome, and America ain’t the outcome,

Raise taxes on the people,

And you’re gonna feel symptoms, problems

I gotta message for a young con:

superman that socialism,

waterboard that terrorism”


I fulfill the role that's inherently mine

Teaching politics through my rap and my rhyme

I'm signing off this track with a question in mind

How will this country get its precious change in time?

Three things taught me conservative love:

Jesus, Ronald Reagan, plus Atlas Shrugged

Saving our nation from inflation devastation

On my hands and my knees praying for salvation”

Serious C:

“Yo, We americans son

Hit ya with some knowledge

The movement has begun

Everyone can succeed

Because our soldiers bleed, for us

I said it in the verse,

now I'll say it in the chorus”


“We young conservatives son

Hard work is our motto

The movement has begun

EVERYONE can succeed cause our soldiers bleed, daily

My views are rock solid, no chance you can break me”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Your Community Ain't Like Mine

Subtitle: And How You Make Sure I Know That I'm Not Welcome. A recent look around the blogosphere and mental cataloguing of episodes of epic fail prompted me to think about community, and lack of community, and "exclusion" right now. These are some of my (incomplete, choppy, certainly not perfectly worded) reflections.

Part One: Realize that parents are people. Realize that parents are the same people you knew before… Realize that parents can be activists, but they are also parents. -Noemi

when you have a child
no one finds it tragic.
no map records it as an instance of blight. -Alexis Pauline Gumbs

They would chop me up into little fragments and tag each piece with a label... Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me. -Gloria Anzaldúa

I’m teaching a class this summer in black women’s history. The other night, I previewed a film about Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Commonly described as “unflinching” and “uncompromising, she was active in anti-lynching and civil rights agitation. She was also a suffragist. One of her friends was Susan B. Anthony. The relationship between the two women hit a rocky patch in the 1890s, when Wells married and began to have children.

Wells-Barnett noticed that Anthony’s attitude toward her changed. In the film, Paula Giddings, one of Wells-Barnett’s biographers, noted that Anthony began to “bite out” Wells-Barnett’s married name.

Eventually, Wells-Barnett felt it necessary to call Anthony out about it:
Finally, I said to her, “Miss Anthony, don’t you believe in women getting married?” She said, “Oh, yes, but not women like you who had a special call for special work. I too might have married but it would have meant dropping the work to which I had set my hand. She said, “I know of no one better fitted to do the work you had in hand than yourself. Since you have gotten married, agitation seems practically to have ceased. Besides, you have a divided duty. You are here trying to help in the formation of [the Afro-American] League and your eleven month old baby needs your attention at home. You are distracted over the thought that maybe he is not being looked after as he would if you were there, and that makes for divided duty.”*

Anthony was questioning Wells-Barnett’s dedication, her supposed prioritization. She had her own perception of what Wells-Barnett’s activism should’ve looked like and resented the change. What she didn’t understand, according to Wells-Barnett, was that “I had been unable… to get the support which was necessary to carry on my work [and] had become discouraged in the effort to carry on alone.”

I thought about this question Noemi asked wrt community-building:
[E]ver think why parents stop being involved in community events and meetings?

What does it mean when what you believed to be community abandons you?

I also thought about Kevin. He has, to put it lightly, been disturbed by the attacks on First Lady Michelle Obama by feminists who question her “feminist creds” and deride her dedication to family. “This shit goes way back, Kev,” I wanted to say after watching that documentary.

What I had said to him when he noted all the “Stepford Wife” comparisons, was “WoC are never supposed to prioritize our children and families.” Defined as laborers, our work is always presumed to better serve someone else's needs or goals. That other women think they can tell us how to be feminists is no surprise.

But my answer had it shortcomings. It’s not so much a matter of priorities. One thing I’ve learned by studying early black feminists is that some of those divisions are false—their activism was shaped to improve the lives of women, their families, and their communities. There was not necessarily a sense of "divided duty." Activism is not always easily divisible into neat categories. That's why those black clubwomen believed "a race can rise no higher than its women." That's why Anna Julia Cooper wrote
Only the BLACK WOMAN can say "when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me."

Susan Anthony's distress and the more spiteful critiques of Michelle Obama fail to take into account this interconnectedness. But these critiques prompt me to think also of Little Light's words, about how threatening our love and our attempts to define our lives and our activism for ourselves can be perceived:
It is time for us to acknowledge that our love is an act of war.

It seems distasteful to say. It feels wrong. Our love, our lives, our nurtured gardens and families, we say, these are not weapons. These are not acts of violence. To us, they are not.

Nonetheless, there are those who insist breathlessly, endlessly, that they are...

The very act of not getting to define everything for the rest of us is the end, for them.

Part Two: To build a community, parents and children should be welcome and not feel they can’t attend a meeting/event because of their baby(ies). ... [D]on’t you want the next generation to care about the same things you care about? When will this happen? -Noemi

[F]eminists have a choice in deciding what community they belong to. And they are implicitly choosing to stay away from and otherwise distance themselves from communities that make them uncomfortable or worried for any reason. This has consequences for the communities that they refuse to work with. Most importantly, it has consequences because WOMEN belong to those communities that they refuse to work with. -BfP

If feminism is supposed to work to improve the lives of all women, if it about forging connections and building communities for women, period, then I don’t understand this either. Oh, not so much the OP, though I think it does make some false divisions.

But the comments. At the very least, feminists should respect other women’s choices to have or not have children. But outside and within some feminist communities, childfree women are under excessive pressure to conform to what is considered normative. Those who choose not to have children are regarded as suspect, strange, threatening. Their choices are dismissed as temporary or mean. Those who don’t have children, but for reasons other than choosing not to, are pitied, regarded as incomplete and barren--which has to be one of the coldest words I’ve ever heard used to describe a human being.

As the mother of one child I get only a tiny bit of that, and it is wearying. I am routinely asked, “You really don’t want any more? What if you get married? What if a, b, or c happens?” Often, the implication is that I am selfish, both for not wanting to invest the enormous amount of time and effort required to parent a baby and because my son will be “alone” or “lonely.”

You know what my response to that is not? Attacking other women. I don’t think I have had some magical experience that childfree women are sorely lacking and will forever be deprived because of. I can honestly say that many days, I only survive motherhood. I don’t master it, I don’t excel at it.

But how do you nurture and create community when things like this stand? When women are called “moos,” “breeders,” and “placenta-brains” and their children “widdle pweshuses” and “broods?”^^ When you cast your community as one in which women who have children and women who are childfree are diametrically (perhaps, diabolically) opposed and that mothers (gasp) are taking over the movement and leaving slack that others have to catch up? When it becomes clear that some of us are not welcome into your community? When your remarks indicate that you are, in fact, chillingly “independent of community?” I borrowed that phrase from BfP and the moment she said it, my mind began clicking.

All kinds of feminists can nod when I write about the lie that is the capitalistic ideal of “rugged individualism.” They can see the cruelty and efforts at social control when I talk about the attacks on poor mothers that begin and end with “Why are you having kids and who do you expect to take care of them?” They can see the patriarchy at work in the divide and conquer strategy that is the “mommy wars.”

But they can’t see the damaging individualism inherent in their feminism. Of course, I don’t mean in choosing not to have children—familial and community obligations are commonly fulfilled by all of us, not just mothers. I mean the sentiment revealed in expressing aversion and revulsion towards women who do have children. As Noemi asks,
why is motherhood and heavens forbid, single parenthood a step back in the eyes of activists and feminists? If the choice to terminate a pregnancy is radical, why isn’t the choice in being a mother radical?
I mean feeling that it's okay to demean and dehumanize whole groups of people because they made a choice you would not or because of their age, and repudiating any suggestion that said groups can be an important part of your community.

They can’t see the analogy between conservatives saying, “Who do you expect to take care of them?” and some feminists “roll[ing] their eyes when someone brings up childcare.” They can’t see the divide and conquer so apparent in “women with children v. childfree women.”

If feminism is about meeting “our” needs and some of “us” are mothers, why is it seen as a hostile takeover if I ask about childcare? If I express concern about keeping a roof over our heads or clothes on my child’s back? If I write about how my feminist consciousness is often raised by my experiences as a mother? If that is what your feminist community is about, then to quote Noemi again, “This is not community. This is not a welcomed community.”

Part Three: What new skills and influences will single parents give their children if the community doesn’t think it’s important for them to be involved? -Noemi

you have chosen to be...
in a community
that knows that you are priceless
that would never sacrifice your spirit
that knows it needs your brilliance to be whole -Alexis Pauline Gumbs

I struggled for a few days trying to find the words to say what I wanted to say about my community of WoC, why I feel it as community, why I think other women feel it as community. Should I use the words mutuality, reciprocity? Should I use the word vulnerable--because in the loving and trusting, in refusing to hold ourselves "independent of community," we do make ourselves vulnerable, but we also make ourselves strong. "Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be," wrote Audre Lorde, "not in order to be used, but in order to be creative."

I don't know the exact words for an accurate description. I do know that I don't feel that I have to compartmentalize. I don't have to spend a lot of time developing a defense of why this or that is a "feminist issue" with clearly, neatly defined parameters. I don't feel that there are parts of who I am that I cannot discuss or bring into the community.

I do not feel the false divisions. Why?

Because if I had to choose one word to describe Alexis Pauline Gumbs, it'd be love and I am humbled by how it infuses her words and actions.

Because cripchick expresses pride in our kids as they journey to become revolutionaries. Also, I'm convinced the sun shines out of her.

Because Fabi, Noemi, Lex, Mai’a, and Maegan and others write about revolutionary motherhood.

Because I find myself wanting to take that machete out of BA’s hands and go off on people who make her feel “gunshy" and I know Donna does, too.

Because women cheer when Baby BFP speaks.

Because Sylvia virtually cheered me through that PhD and I smile each time I think about writing her name-comma-Esq.

Because Lisa writes letters to her Veronica.

Because BfP invites us to take our own journeys and come together to share the discoveries.

Because Adele always hears me. Always.

Because Kameelah writes of creating community with her students, centering their art and the way they see the world, and she invites us in.

Because Anjali answers my questions about caring for our communities on macro and micro levels.

Because BA agonizes when she wonders what La Mapu learned about the importance of WoC voices when she witnessed an event in which those voices were, once again ignored.

These are just a few reasons, a few examples of the sense of accountability, to each other, to our children, to our work on- and off-line (and thank you, Aaminah, for helping me to understand that). Maybe this isn't unique to my community. But as WoC, a community that finds us and our work and our involvement "priceless" is not common. What WoC do commonly discover in feminist communities are
real experiences of having hard work devalued – many members of a supposed community literally saying, your work is worthless, you’re haters, critique sliding off like teflon.

But back to that accountability, that rejection of "independent of community." I finally found words that reflect some of what I feel. And me being me, of course I found them in a book. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins writes,
[T]he conceptualization of self that has been part of Black women's self-definition is distinctive. Self is not defined as the increased autonomy gained by separating oneself from others. [S]elf is found in the context of family and community--as Paule Marshall describes it, "the ability to recognize one's continuity with the larger community." By being accountable to others, African American women develop more fully human, less objectified selves. Rather than defining self in opposition to others, the connectedness among individuals provides Black women deeper, more meaningful self-definitions.

Part Four: We are sistas with brown skin we knew that from jump. … [N]o one could understand what it was like… to wonder if this silence this ignoring this "forgetfulness" is planned or just the final realization that while talking about you is sufficient, privilege and entitlement means you can be ignored pretty fully and suffer no consequences, because someone is always eager to take your place -BlackAmazon

[I]f feminists can’t even be called on to point to the work that other feminists are doing... well, then there’s no fucking feminist movement. -BfP

I mentioned the example of BA and La Mapu last so that I could roughly segue into this. I’ll begin by saying that inclusion is rarely worth a damn--it is used as a substitute for "bona fide substantive change."** It’s arrogant to think it’s up to you to “include” us in feminism. We’ve been there, part of the foundation, existing as "the bodies on which feminist theories are created."

And you know what? People who think they have the power to include also often exclude.

Yes, in a specific sense, I’m talking about the Brooklyn listening party. I hurt for Mala, especially when I read this:
Pero it’s not real enough for people who said they would come to a listening party to support something that means alot to me and other hermanas that I love. It’s not real enough for them to visualize my carrying a stroller with a 30 poundish toddler up and down subway stairs, walking miles not for exercise pero so that I don’t have to buy subway fare and can afford milk, walking to change a bag of pennies, thinking of pawning some earrings. It’s real enough for me to go talk to young people about identity, media, gender and race, pero it’s not real enough for people to think it’s important to support what we do beyond a cursory pat on the head for a job well done little spic girl who we can’t even be bothered to name. I have been invited to two national conferences this summer, pero there is no money to get me there and of course the orgs who want my face, my race and my gender can’t be bothered to actually spend money. They will find another woman of color, mami of color, Latino blogger to take my place, one who they deem more worthy because they can pay their own way or because they play the game well, etc etc.

I hurt for BA and La Mapu and Ms. Poroto and all of us.

And, yes, I was angry, too, about the listening party, about the general reception of the SPEAK! CD, about how it is reflective of how the voices and efforts of WoC are regarded.

From the moment BA wrote this

with people this time being extended the olive branch and courtesy of the voices of my sisters and the hospitality of my BEST FRIEND

have not tried to help contact or even SPEAK one iota

and did not have the COMMON FUCKING DECENCY to return contact on PERSONAL INVITATIONS.

I wondered, how is it made, this decision about which feminists are important enough to support? Why do I read about this book, and that appearance, and this podcast, and yay, yay, yay when it comes to white feminists…

But everything is eerily silent when it comes to the work of WoC?

The vows of support,

the “oh, yes, ‘your issues’ are important!”, ***

the “I totally recognize how very necessary your voice and your experiences are to feminism,” it all melts away, words belied by (in)action.

Not just this time.

I am left thinking of the name of Donna’s blog and the quote from which it is derived:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

I am left wondering, like Noemi, why are we a luxury?

Expendable and interchangeable--important enough to be invited, too insignificant for anyone to develop a real idea or plan for how we are to get there.

Flighty and abstract, with all that focus on love. Or, as Nadia says,
our solutions are disregarded as being…
-too imaginative, not practical
-amatuer, short sighted
-not real organizing / change-making / “movement building”


Part 5: For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. -Audre Lorde

[T]hose tools [of patriarchy] are used by women... against each other. -Audre Lorde

Things I fully expect to happen in the aftermath of this post and this one and so many others: WoC themselves will continue to be ignored, while their words and theories are appropriated, depoliticized, made more "palatable."

There will still be attempts to define how our work, our activism, our "priorities" should look--and justifications for why our failure to adhere means we can't be part of certain of communities.

People will continue to scream "get off your ass and do it yourself, stop bitching, stop complaining, stop crying racism, stop stop stop, pull yourselves up by your boot straps and just DO IT!" while simultaneously ignoring that we have been "just doing it" forever with no need for outside motivation and admonishment.

I will from time to time, get angry, feel isolated, say, "Fuck this! What is wrong with you?!"

Then I will sigh, and take comfort in the fact that "there’s us.

it’s the best thing about being us."

I will take comfort in the fact that we know

our words are not a luxury

our love is not a luxury

we are not a luxury. We know that... and quite often, that is enough.

*Toni Morrison read this part of her memoirs in the film, but you can find it and the quote I mention a few lines later, here.

^^ETA: Clicking links led me to this critique by mzbitzca

**PHC, Black Feminist Thought, 6.

*** Wherein "our issues" are always about our victimization, never about our activism and agency--that's objectification, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

From Memory to Oral History

*This is a blending of previously published posts.*

In the top drawer of my parents' dresser, my dad keeps souvenirs of his time in Vietnam. When we were kids, we loved the money from Taiwan and the yellowed letters. We weren't so interested in the little medal in the black box. He'd tell us, time and again, to stay out of his stuff. But Daddy was a big pushover and we couldn't resist the allure of that treasure.

When I got older, I realized the medal was a Purple Heart. He'd been a Radio Telephone Operator and had gotten shot in his neck and shoulder. We used to trace the scars--not finely or precisely done, they resemble railroad tracks. They are firm lines that rise up from his skin, the result of an infection and keloids.

I moved the Purple Heart from the drawer and into my mom's china cabinet, a display that matches nothing else in there. "Why'd you do that?" he asked. "Because I don't think you should keep it buried," was my snappy answer. "Mm-hmm. Except you don't tell me what to do. I'm your father; you're not my mother," he said. But he left it alone.

My dad doesn't talk about VietNam. He used to, he says, when he was young. But then people would ask him things like, "Did you kill anybody? What is that like?" And he'd get so angry, so offended, that he thought it was better just to make the subject taboo.

So there are only three occasions on which I've been able to get a little bit of his story. I interviewed him once for a Vietnam and Watergate class I took while working on my Master's. Basically, I just let him talk. My professor, himself a VietNam vet, found the transcript riveting. My dad has a way with words that can keep you enthralled. I remember that my professor smiled and repeated my dad's words about arriving "in country." "I haven't heard that in a while," he said.

The second time was for a colleague [in graduate school] whose dissertation was about the war. He wanted to know more of my dad's story. Again, my dad opened up a little. "An RTO?" my colleague said, when I shared my dad's memories. "He had a dangerous job."

All I could say was, "Really?"

"You have to keep his story, elle," he told me. "Whenever, however he wants to tell it."

Finally, I went to DC a couple of years ago. My dad has never been to the VietNam memorial. I asked him if there were names he'd like me to shade. He thought for a while and then gave me three. One of them included an old guy that they'd looked up to. By old, my dad meant 27. So I got there, with my friend John, without paper or pencil (didn't think to bring it). In my purse, I had an envelope, that I tore open, and a golf pencil. We looked in that book, found the sections of the wall, got down on our knees and shaded the names. When I went to Louisiana a few weeks later, I presented it to my dad sheepishly. "I didn't have paper," I said. "It's okay," he said rubbing his thumbs over the shadings. "It's okay." Still, I felt badly.

When my parents moved last winter, my sister and I helped pack an old dresser while my dad supervised. There, in the top, was the money and the letters. And inside a Ziploc bag, was the envelope. "Daddy!" I said, surprised. It was his turn to look sheepish. "Aw, Ugly," he said, "I told you it was okay."

Since I first wrote this post for Veteran's Day in 2006, my father has mentioned his time in SouthEast Asia to me one other time, after hearing "Taps" on youtube, an experience that was triggering for him.

Upon hearing it, he said, "That is a sad, sad song."

I asked him was it only played at funerals.

"Oh, no. Sometimes when you get back from a battle, they play it in honor of those who died. It's especially hard on you when it's a good friend," he explained.

"I got so very tired of hearing that song in Vietnam."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Now Do Something about Bank Fees, Please!

**ETA: An explanatory video at the end of the post**

From BBC News:
President Barack Obama has signed into law extensive new restrictions on the ability of US credit card companies to charge fees or raise interest rates.
The BBC summarizes the major changes effected by this “Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights” and offers even more detail. Just a few highlights:
Creditors cannot increase the annual percentage rate (APR) during the first 12 months of opening up an account.

Creditors are prohibited from opening a credit card account for any college student who does not have any verifiable annual gross income or already maintains a credit card account with that creditor, or any of its affiliates.

Creditors are prohibited from charging a fee to make telephone and web-based payments.

Creditors [must stop] charging fees for [cardholders’] spending beyond their limits, unless the cardholder chooses to allow the issuer to process the excess spending, and restrict any "over-limit" fees.
So, good on that front.

But these damned banks!

It’s bad enough that they pay debit transactions from largest to smallest to maximize the overdraft fees you pay.* An example:
Here’s how it works: Say you have $1,000 in your account and make a series of debit transactions in this order: $25, $300, $10, and $750. Only that last $750 charge will have put you over the limit of your account (in this case, by $85). However, if the bank reorders your debits as: $750, $300, $25, and $10, you’ll be overdrawn as of the second transaction, allowing the bank to collect three overdraft fees instead of one.
If a charge will overdraw a customer's account, why don’t banks simply decline it or at least warn customers that they’re about to overdraw? Well, banks love collecting that average overdraft fee of $34!

From an article written by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY):
In 2007 alone, banks and credit unions collected $17.5 billion from overdraft fees, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). CRL has also found that the overwhelming majority of customers, 80 percent, would prefer that their debit card transaction simply be denied rather than covered for a fee.
For a few years now, Rep. Maloney has been working on legislation that would offer customers some relief from the overdraft racket. In her words:
I have reintroduced the Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act(H.R. 1456) in the U.S. Congress, which would require notice to customers at the ATM or point-of-sale terminal when a purchase is about to trigger an overdraft -- and would give consumers at the transaction point a choice of whether to accept or reject the overdraft service and associated fee.

My bill would also require banks to get their customers' permission before signing them up for an overdraft program, and it would prohibit banks from manipulating the sequence in which checks and other debits are posted if it causes more overdrafts and maximizes fees.
Debit card use is the source of almost half of overdraft fees. That is particularly costly to customers:
Debit-card overdraft loans are more expensive than overdraft loans from any other source, including overdrafts by check. Debit-card overdrafts cost people $2.17 in fees for every dollar borrowed, compared to check overdrafts, which cost $.86 per dollar borrowed.
Or, put another way:
Most debit point-of-sale overdrafts are small, averaging less than half this $34 fee, meaning that these overdraft loans cost nearly $2 for every dollar advanced to cover the shortfall.
Banks claim to do customers a favor by automatically enrolling them in “overdraft protection.” Belying their generosity is the fact that many banks don’t allow customers to opt out of the involuntary overdraft protection plans—I can’t understand why they don’t get customers’ permission first, especially given the fact that most would prefer the transaction(s) be denied.

Bankers are resistant to changes like those proposed by Rep. Maloney. Says one Fred Solomon, all you have to do to avoid the charges is know your balance! Only, in the real world, if you’re out running errands or you make a number of small transactions, it’s sometimes difficult to keep a running balance at all times. Also, some of us fallible people make errors in subtraction and addition. Balances fluctuate, particularly when you use your debit card: a transaction might appear as an authorization, disappear, then reappear days later and wreak havoc on our accounts. Sometimes, companies place a hold on more funds than we actually use, lowering our available balances and potentially causing us to overdraw while the funds are on hold. And I know I can't be the only person who's written a check, noted it in my register, but weeks later, when I'm four pages further on in the register, the long-held check posts to my account and I have to adjust my balance because I'd forgotten about it.

Overdraft fees disproportionately affect the young—who use their cards more and make more small purchases—and people with low incomes—who can ill afford to pay back the exorbitant fees. On top of the fees themselves, some banks charge a daily or weekly fee if your account is in the red. With regards to low-income bank customers, bankers’ admonishments that you can easily track your balance via text message or online banking is especially hollow. Many people with low incomes don’t have contract cell phones (which typically require credit). On the pre-paid plans** (problematic, in and of themselves), text messaging costs extra.

Online banking is not always at their fingertips. We've long noted the digital divide between "the rich and the poor." Having internet access at home could mean 1) having to have a landline,*** which requires credit, the ability to pay the monthly bill, and the willingness to increase that bill by as much as $50 or $60 to include internet service and 2) being able to afford a computer and related upkeep. I was also angrily amused by this little helpful tip (found, admittedly, in an article that is wary of banks and debit cards but only because it suggests credit cards as a better alternative):
Keep a cushion of money in your account to avoid bouncing checks or debits. Decide that you are not going to let your account fall below a certain amount, like $1,000; when you see it getting close, transfer money into it from another account. If you don’t have the money to replenish it, then you should cut back on spending.
A cushion? A thousand dollars? Multiple accounts with money in them? Umm…

A couple of years ago, my small-town Louisiana bank began to engage in an even more insidious practice. Let’s say you have $15 in the bank. You use your debit card for $6. That authorization reduces your available balance to $9. A $12 check posts to your account that night. You are charged a $34 fee for that, even though the debit card transaction is still only in authorization or memo-post stage. Now your account is in the red, -$37. Well, the next night, when the $6 actually posts to your account, you are charged for that, as well. Now, initially you had $15—shouldn’t one or the other of those transactions have been paid without fee, since they were both below $15? And if the reason the check caused a fee was because money was withheld from your balance for the debit card transaction—why do you have to pay a fee on the debit card transaction?

I remember reading an article about other banks doing it last summer, but I can’t find it! What I did find was this more succinct explanation in the comments here:
Some banks use a process called paid on available and a pending debit card transaction will hold the "available" balance before the transaction even posts to the account.

This can cause other items to overdraw the "available" balance, causing an overdraft, plus when the actual transaction goes through, it will charge an additional overdraft if still negative. Basically, a pending debit card transaction can cause 2 overdraft fees using this method.
Another description is here. In addition to the double charge the first commenter I mentioned discusses, I am also particularly troubled by the fact that this can happen with debit card purchases (not just the check example I used)--you swipe your card, go over, you're immediately assessed a fee, even if you make a deposit before the end of the banking day.

I'm not at all saying that customers should overdraw their accounts and face no penalties. What I'm asking is, with the way the practice is (d)evolving, how is this distinguishable from predatory lending--excessive rates and fees that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable customers while banks find more and more ways to assess them? I mean, while reading, I ran across articles that mentioned that not only are customers not warned they're overdrawing their accounts and being extended credit they didn't ask for, but banks that do set a number of maximum overdrafts per day set the number high, at six or seven, so that you can rack up $200+ in charges in one day. Like payday loans, overdraft fees can dig you into a hole out of which it seems impossible to climb. You don't even opt-in or get info on the ridiculous interest rates of what amounts to an overdraft loan.

So while I am glad for the Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights, please, somebody, do something about these banks!

ETA: This video explains the "Gotcha Fees" and the disproportionate effect on the young:

(H/T Los Anjalis)

*They do the same with checks. I remember years ago, my bank paid checks in check number order. Now, they pay them from largest to smallest.

**Pre-paid phone plans are something the rabid right has never heard of, apparently. God, am I glad I missed
all this.

***Poor people are among those least likely to have a landline.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Apparently, We Forfeit Our Right to Respect and Love

**Trigger Warning**

One of things I notice most, while living as a fat girl, is how often I am invisible until people want to express their disgust/pity or marvel at how ____________ I am (for a fat chick, of course). That blank has been filled by all sorts of adjectives during my life--smart, happy, well-dressed, pretty. But backhanded compliments like that are the flipside of the expressions of disgust/pity. Both are rooted in my perceived lack of self-respect. How can I have any respect for myself if I've "let myself get like this?" And, more importantly, how can I expect anyone else to have respect for me?

So, I witness disrespect expressed towards fat people in this life almost daily. For me, the cost of living under and resisting the disrespect, the disgust, the dehumanization is so high sometimes.

Especially when I realize the hatefulness follows us after death.

Teresa Smith died Tuesday in Indianapolis. Because she was a large woman, the police and the coroner did not feel the need to treat her with respect.
The Marion County Coroner's Office has come under fire after it was revealed that an obese woman was dragged from her home and hauled away on a trailer in front of family members following her death.


[T]he deputy coroner made the decision to call a towing service to remove the body from the home.

"We debated for quite a while about how we were going to get her out of there and so we finally decided, since we didn't have a van that was large enough to carry her, it was decided between (the police) department and the coroner's office to use (the truck)," said Detective Marcus Kennedy.

Smith's boyfriend and the couple's 13-year-old son, along with several neighbors, watched as Smith's body, still on her mattress, was dragged across the courtyard of the apartment complex, strapped down on the wrecker and covered with a piece of carpet.
Lest you have sympathy for the supposed dilemma faced by the police department and the coroner's office:
Former Chief Deputy Coroner John Linehan said he was shocked and dismayed that appropriate steps weren't taken to remove the woman from her home.

He said that fire and medical personnel have equipment available for handling patients up to 1,000 pounds and that moving obese individuals is not all that rare of an occurrence.

"When they scoop up dead dogs off of the street they don't treat them that way," he said. "It's just not the way to treat a human being."
But therein lies the rub, Mr. Linehan! She forfeited her humanity because she was fat.

I usually avoid comment sections at most places, but because I thought I knew how these would be, I peeked. I don't advise you to. One commenter argued that she forfeited her right to respect because, obviously, she did not have self-rspect. Another opined that her boyfriend was there just for rent--so much embedded there. How could he find a fat woman attractive? How could he have sex with her? How could he love her?

That last assumption brought me back to one of her neighbors' comments about the dirty carpet slung across her body: "I would have never let them throw that on my loved one."

It would not surprise me one bit if officials from the police department and the coroner's office treated Teresa Smith this way, in part, because they could not fathom that she was someone's loved one.

H/T to my cousin, Tren, via e-mail and to Laurie.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teh Gayz: In Ur Homes, Confusing Ur Children

Are the people in charge of advertising for NOM made of epic fail?

OK, yeah, that's a rhetorical question.

This ad rehashes the tired old lines that people who are gay having rights and living their lives, is immensely threatening to children's well-being. But as Genia pointed out, it has an added message:
The latest* anti-gay marriage commercial uses really young and really cute white kids to spread the organization’s bogus message that gay marriage is a serious threat to society. I’m guessing NOM figured people would worry more about gay marriage if the lives of cute white kids were at stake.
Emphasis mine.

Some other things stood out to me as I transcribed the video. While there are three boys and three girls, only one of the girls speaks, while all of the boys do. Instead, the girls are directed to "look scared," from what I can tell. The boy who gets the most talk time is, not-surprisingly, fair-skinned and blond. And, as Liss noted when I e-mailed her the link,
I just LOVE how the final note is the kid saying, "I'm confused!" as if the world has to be structured so that it's easily comprehensible for children
I suppose this ad is a perfect one for modern-day social conservatism.

Transcript after the break.

LB = Little Boy; LG = Little Girl

LB1: Grandma, my teacher says… if grandpa was a girl, that’s ok! You could still be married.

Shifts to image of frightened/confused looking LG1.

Voiceover: If we change the definition of marriage…

LG2: God created Adam and Eve? That was so old-fashioned.

Voiceover: Our kids will be taught a new way of thinking..

Shifts to image of confused looking LG3.

LB2: He should’ve created Anna and Eve!

LB1: If my Dad married a man, who would be my mom?

LB3: I’m confused

Voiceover: Marriage is between a man and a woman. Call Governor Lynch today and ask him to support marriage by not supporting House Bill 436.

Genia hat tips Renee.

*The NOM site dates the commercial to Fall 2007--even before the madness that is the "Gathering Storm" ad. Apparently, they dusted it off, tacked on the stuff about [NH] Governor Lynch, and voila!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nativism 2.0

Emily linked to Uniball Roller, who shares the story of:
tender2be, a college student without a credit score, a [probably-off-the-books] job on the side, and a baby on the way, [who] wants to know how to get an apartment without a credit score or a cosigner.
Another LJer, brooklynknight, puts two and two together and quickly comes up with seven. In response to her query, he posted:
I... gandered at her Journal and looking at it (she lives on cash and refuses to get credit, her LJ is russian) and I got the distinct feeling she might be here on an expired visa.


if she is indeed an illegal immigrant then I have no desire to help her, I don't want her child born here either and frankly If I could prove she was an illegal I'd forward all the information on her I could get to INS/ICE.
Tender2be denies that her visa is expired and tells brooklynknight to
send your energy in more positive direction, 'd be better for you
Now, of course, brooklynknight's concerns have already been shaped by a misogynist nativism--the belief that tender2be is an immigrant trying to get over on 'the system' and the idea that immigrant women view their children as little more than assets through which they can attain a desired status (i.e. the anchor baby argument). There's also the fact that she repeatedly tells him she's not an immigrant (here on a student visa) but he argues with her about her own status until someone explains student visas to him.

After tender2be's initial response to him, brooklynknight's sexist/nativist tirade continues. Apparently, she was not sufficiently obsequious or threatened. He is offended by her tone and reports that he has exploited the perceived power differential between them:
In any case, the tempo of your reply has further raised my suspicions.

I've just sent all the information I've found on you to my friend at the local ICE office. If you're here legally, well you've got nothing to worry about and good luck!
He believes she is an undocumented immigrant, he claims to have just set her up for possible detention and deportation, and he signs off 'good luck!' As Emily says:
He thinks she'll be A-OK as long as she's got papers. Clearly, he hasn't heard of American citizens being deported.
Of course, when he is called out on his assholishness, he claims that he has nothing against immigrants--he just wants to make sure people "do it the right way."

The douchery... it boggles!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Real Life Twitter

Yes, I'm a twitter-er.

Yes, this guy nails it... though, I have had some deep discussions on there and gotten ideas for posts.

h/t RemigioDenver

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Loud and Clear

So E Pluribus Unum thinks more African Americans are not Republicans because we don’t listen to them. He suggests to us,
“how about listening? How about listening to what Republicans have to say, instead of what the Democrats say we say? How about listening to what we have to say before booing us out of the building?”
I’d like to argue that we hear very well what you’re saying. The historian in me would like to point out how long we’ve been hearing it.

In the late 60s, when Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon* were both positioning themselves as law and order candidates, with illegality shaped by the fact that the dominant group often criminalizes what they fear, don't like or don't understand in marginalized communities, and lack of order being defined largely as previously disfranchised people pressing for their rights, we heard you.

When Richard Nixon tried to slow down school desegregation, when one of his strategists heralded the use of the Southern Strategy, we heard you.

In the late 1970s, when Ronald Reagan waxed poetically about fictional welfare queens—giving proof, you believed, to your long held beliefs that African Americans were promiscuous frauds who did not want to work—and “strapping young bucks” using food stamps to buy something other than dry beans (poor PoC, in keeping with their sackcloth and ashes attire, should never eat delicacies like steak, especially when white people were eating hamburger!!! Think about all the attention paid to Pres. Obama's "elitist" eating habits), we heard you.

And re: food stamps, welfare, public education—as you’ve engaged in rhetoric over the last, oh, million years, that equates “taxpayers” solely with white people and “taxpayers’ burdens” with PoC, we heard you.

When your hero opened his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, MS, site of the brutal murders of three civil right workers not even two decades before, talking about poor people’s "dependency" and states’ rights, we heard you.

By the way, I’m not sure if states’ right is supposed to be some sort of sooper sekrit kode, but, fyi, we knew what it meant in the 1850s and 60s; we knew what it meant in the 1950s and 60s, we knew what it meant in 1980 and we know what it means now.

When he was elected president and tried to secure tax exempt status for Bob Jones University, supported South Africa’s apartheid government as an anti-communist measure, slashed social programs that assisted the most vulnerable Americans, saw the annual income of the bottom 20% drop, hired aides who reveled in what you thought were the subtleties of the Southern Strategy, we heard you.

We still hear you downplay all that as you to try to canonize the man.

Emboldened by your successful Southern Strategy, you produced lovely ads like the Willie Horton one—support Michael Dukakis and you support scary! violent! black! men!—and Jesse Helms’s “Hands” ad—because no way could a PoC ever be equally or more qualified than a white person and plus, you’d convinced everyone that affirmative action was nothing more than unfair quotas (that's why Bush I had to veto that Civil Rights Act!) that were unnecessary since racism and sexism were things of the past (and your other beloved meme—figments of PoC’s and women’s imaginations). We definitely heard both of those.

You vowed to launch a culture war, in which all of us non-WASP-heterosexual-men were to forsake our cultures, heritage, languages, selves to support the idea that the real U.S. history (and the real U.S.) was one characterized by consensus, that since “Western Civilization” was man’s (yes, man’s) greatest achievement, the ends justified the means—the means being the systematic murder, assault, and oppression of millions of us. Nevermind that your winning the war was predicated on our silence and our invisibility. Yes, we heard you.

We heard you when you made your Contract on with America, vowing “to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement” even as it was becoming obvious how the so-called War on Drugs, with its harsh sentences and sentencing differentials, was disproportionately affecting our communities and feeding us into the emerging prison-industrial complex and when it has long been known that “law enforcement’s” role in our communities is markedly different from the one they play in white communities.

Also in that contract, you promised to encourage “personal responsibility” (which you get to define) by “cut[ting] spending for welfare programs, and enact[ing] a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements” because, damn poor working mothers, they shouldn’t be having sex or babies anyway and because you really believed the lie that most women on welfare didn’t work.** You didn’t give a damn about how those women and children survivedafter welfare” as long as you could glowingly report that the state’s caseload was reduced.*** We heard that, too.

And Lord, George W. Bush. When he campaigned at Bob Jones University in 2000, when it still banned interracial dating, we heard you.

We heard you, during Hurricane Katrina, when people were left to suffer, he was clueless, and you all were going on and on about how many people, with little money and no means of transport, should’ve magically gotten out before! The response to Katrina was not proof of egregiously unresolved issues of race and class, not evidence of what has always been a narrow definition of who is “deserving” of help in this country; it was proof of too much government dependency (as you’ve been arguing for forever!).

When his administration tried to downplay a Bureau of Justice statistics report that “found that minority drivers were three times as likely to have their vehicles searched during traffic stops as white drivers,” we heard you.

Other gems from this very century? We heard Trent Lott's plaintive yearning for the victory of the States' Rights (**sigh** here we go again) Democratic Party who left the plain old Democratic Party because of a civil rights' plank in the party platform and a desire to preserve the "southern" way of life (euphemism for segregation).

And you hit poor Harold Ford, Jr with a double whammy, warning Tennesseans to be wary of the African-descended (wherein Africa roughly = uncivilized jungle) guy who might engage in sex with a white woman! Now that one, we're tired of hearing.

And now, so many of you back claims that the first black President is not really American. In your feeble-mindedness, you posit that it is literal—searching for birth certificates and calling him Kenyan. You don’t seem to grasp that what is bothering you is mostly figurative—you live in a country where citizenship and who is “really” American has usually been the domain of whites. Having a black man occupy the highest office in the land is mind-boggling. So when you have your Tea Parties, demanding “your” country back, as if the rest of us are not American, when you hold up signs invoking slavery and images of monkeys, we hear that too.

When you are such navel gazers that you believe your party doesn’t appeal to us because we, African Americans, don’t value freedom, we hear you.

But mostly, E Pluribus Unum, when you write screeds that invite me to check off a racism bingo card—black people are emotional, sensitive, vain, childlike/easily led, angry, unapproachable, ungrateful, unable to recognize their best interests, looking for handouts or special benefits, illogical (and those are just a few of the tropes you recycled and spat forward)—we hear you.

When the comments of said problematic post further tokenize/exceptionalize black people—“Alas, there are a few intrepid, noble savages; we call them black conservatives,” we hear you.

The many African Americans who believe, like me, the words of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free, ‘til everybody’s free,” also hear other things.

We heard you positing building a fence and criminalizing people because you are selfish enough to believe that trade can flow across borders, largely to our benefit, but labor will not follow.

We hear of your exploiting them and tossing them aside, dehumanizing them by making words like “illegal” a noun, casting them as a threat to our economic well-being, our culture (which, despite your self-deception, has never been singular), and our health.

We hear you fighting to continue the deprivation of civil rights for members of LGBTQI communities and continuing to vilify and dehumanize them as well. We hear your rhetoric as members of those communities and as allies.

We hear you—and black women hear you acutely—as you continue to try to define, in the words of Stephanie Shaw, “what a woman ought to be and do” including what we “ought” to do with our own bodies.

So, I suggest you listen, if you want to figure out how to approach the “unapproachable” black strawman monolith you've constructed. This list is in no way exhaustive, and in fact, really only details a fraction of my issues with the Republican Party:
1. Acknowledge and remedy the fact that your party’s strong in the old Confederacy for a reason. Where I’m from, the Republican Party is a refuge for racists. You can dismiss that however much you want, but I’m not the only black woman who sees that.

2. Acknowledge and remedy the fact that a portion of your party’s platform rests upon “misogyny, homophobia, [and] transphobia,” as well.

3. Realize that your glorification of the individual (and the lie that successful people primarily pull themselves up, with no help, by their bootstraps) may not play well in communities with a more community-oriented ethos.

4. Stop pretending that only conservative white people value self-help and entrepreneurship.

5. Recognize why some of us are not as wary of a government that intervenes as you are—and, no, it’s not because we all secretly long to laze about on “taxpayers’ (wink, wink) hard earned money.” You know some other occasions when the government intervened? During the 1870s when the Klan was terrorizing and slaughtering us. During the 1960s, when, despite previous efforts and laws, it was federal officials who had to register us to vote in many southern locations.

6. De-center for a sec. Just look at your party from the point of view of someone from a marginalized community. Prepare yourself by purchasing Dramamine before hand, though.

7. Don’t ever, ever again write racist bullshit such as this.
I am not writing this to position the Democratic Party as the site of some sort of racial utopia.

*I think Humphrey pegged Nixon adroitly here

** Many studies done around the time of 1996's so called welfare reform, demonstrated that most mothers who received welfare worked.

*** And yes, I do criticize the Democratic President who signed the 1996 PRWORA.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Somebody Better Get Miss Millie!

My niece is a cashier at a local "casual dining restaurant." It suits her usually bubbly personality well. There's also the fact that she's 5'11", quite thin, and pretty. That draws a lot of attention paid in the forms of compliments, unexpected tips, and advice for her to model. Her manager admits she's the first black woman they've ever had "at the front" and that part of the reason she's there is because of her visual appeal. She is not monstrously conceited, but she does spend a lot of time on her appearance and is not particularly modest--I'm not offering that as a criticism of her. We know women are valued and rewarded for their physical appearance and adherence to rigid beauty standards under the patriarchy.

Anyway, she worked Thursday, and one group of her customers was a young white family. The woman, who was pregnant, told my niece that she was pretty and so friendly, then proceeded to ask her if my niece would consider babysitting for pay.

My niece was shocked, which is why she told the story to me.

And I said, "Girl, somebody better get Miss Millie!"

Miss Millie, of course, is the woman on The Color Purple who inspected Sophia's kids, determined they were clean and well-kept, and asked Sophia to be her maid.

Let me tell you how I and Sophia--given her reaction--hear that: "Random woman of color, I see the love, care, and time you invest in yourself and your motherwork. I think that such effort would be better placed in my home, with my family. I have no problem trying to change your labor of love into one of sorrow* because we both know full well that I will probably underpay and overwork you. I feel that you, who are used to it, should do the drudgework, while I do more important things."

This incident--and the fact that I'm revising the chapter of my manuscript that discusses black women's work options in the early-to-mid-20th century--started me thinking, once again, about feminism and long-standing divisions along racial/ethnic and class lines. One of the things that it has been hard for white feminists--particularly essentialists--to accept is that white women have and do benefit from the relegation of women of color to low-wage, low-status "reproductive" work. Here is a passage from a post I wrote a while ago:
From Dr. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, who expresses it much more eloquently:
White women may actually have a material interest in the continuing subordination of women of color in the workplace. To understand the contemporary divergence between the priorities and interests of White women and women of color, we must first understand the historic differences in their experiences as workers. A careful reading of the history of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women workers reveals a persistent racial division of "women's work." This division of labor has subjected women of color to special forms of exploitation, subordinating them to White women and ensuring that their labor benefits White women and their families.**
In other words, work may be divided by gender, but it's divided by race, as well, a significant factor to "overlook." From another article by Dr. Nakano Glenn:
In the first half of the [20th] century racial-ethnic women were employed as servants to perform reproductive labor in white households, relieving white middle-class women of onerous aspects of that work; in the second half of the century, with the expansion of commodified services (services turned into commercial products or activities), racial/ethnic women are disproportionately employed as service workers in institutional settings to carry out lower-level "public" reproductive labor, while cleaner white collar supervisory and lower professional positions are filled by white women.***
What has been equally hard to accept is that white women's role in the subordination of WoC's labor has not been indirect or oblivious. Even if we wanted to argue that white women didn't realize that overworking and underpaying WoC made it physically impossible for many of them to care for their own children (demands on their time meant that domestic servants sometimes only saw their kids on the weekend; low pay meant that adequately feeding, sheltering, and clothing their children was often little more than a dream), there are many times that white women directly and vocally opposed and impeded WoC's efforts to improve their working conditions and attain a decent standard of living. Two examples:

Domestic workers were left out of legislation that protected women workers in the early 20th century, left out of the provisions of the Social Security Act of 1935, left out of minimum wage/maximum hours legislation of 1938. Prompted, in part, by such exclusions, domestic workers tried to organize themselves, again and again, into unions. Their white female employers, at best, were ambivalent, and at worst, resisted unionization, refusing to negotiate or hire domestics involved in organizational activities.****

Then there was the Bronx Slave Market, where Depression-Era Black women, desperate for work, offered their services for unbelievably low wages:
Back in the 1930s one of the largest black presences in the Bronx was the women who would come over from Harlem and line up on a street corner in the Bronx looking for day work as domestics. It was the Depression, and some of the few jobs available to black women were working as charwomen, cleaning white homes. Most of these women were Southerners recently arrived in New York. One of the most populated corners for the day workers was on 167th St. in the Morrisania section, not far from where the Bronx’s original slaves toiled on the Morris farm.

There they would wait, standing around as white women would walk or drive by and eye them up and down. When they were chosen they faced a day of hard housework, for what they were told would be about 30 cents an hour, though sometimes employers reneged and paid only half that. The black women with the most callused knees would be hired first–worn knees indicated that the women were accustomed to scrubbing floors. The work was brutal, as the white mistresses would palm off on their black menials all the nasty jobs they didn’t want to do themselves.
How well "all the nasty jobs they didn't want to do for themselves" were done was absolutely crucial to the status of many middle-to-upper-class white women. Because they were under pressure to be domestic goddesses, with higher and higher standards of "cleanliness," white women demanded that WoC help them achieve and maintain that status. As Nakano Glenn notes,
We may have to accept the idea that any policy to improve the lot of racial ethnic women may necessitate a corresponding loss of privilege or status for White women and may engender resistance on their part.
Working with the example of domestic work was perhaps the most illuminating moment for me when I was trying to understand theories of intersectionality in grad school. At the root of the problem is the sexist demand that women should be concerned with and confined to the domestic sphere and that the work they do in the home and for the family has little remunerative value. But who really does that work and why it is is perpetually undervalued speaks to issues of race/ethnicity and class as well. Domestic work is monotonous, often grueling, and low status, the kind of work that has historically been constructed as WoC's work.***** It is also the work of poor women who a) have rarely been trained/allowed to develop a skill set beyond that which is determined "naturally" feminine and b)need the work desperately and can't afford to argue about hours or rate of pay. Thus, while gender privilege makes domestic work "women's work," race and class privilege make it, most often, poor WoC's work.

Something else bothered me about the woman's request of my niece, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. Even now, I'm not going to say that I can adequately argue it, but I can give you a look into it.

She was attempting to relegate my niece to a "mammy" position, an image white people took comfort in, that made them feel safe, even if it existed largely in their own minds. Mammy was fat, asexual, devoted to her white family.


And here stood my niece, in many ways, the antithesis of the mammy******--"attractive," self-confident, unwilling to blend into the background. The thing I'm wondering is, was this an attempt, even subconsciously, to put my niece in her "rightful" place and to protect her own, internalized sense of self as the "ideal" (i.e. white woman)?

* Here, I am referring to Jacqueline Jones's pioneering Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow. Jones posits that, while paltry pay and low status were real concerns for black women as domestic workers, they also disliked domestic service because white employers and the work itself denied their womanhood—their roles as mothers, wives, and community workers. It was these roles that constituted their “labor[s] of love.”

This issue is also discussed by Sharon Harley in “For the Good of Family and Race: Gender, Work, and Domestic Roles in the Black Community, 1880-1930,” Signs 15, no. 2 (1990): 336-349.

** "Cleaning Up/Kept Down: A Historical Perspective on Racial Inequality in
'Women's Work'," Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1333-1356.

***"From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of
Paid Reproductive Labor," Signs 18, no. 1 (1992): 1-43.

**** I should also mention that organized labor was often opposed to organizing women--particularly AFL unions that saw working women as threats to men. See Tera Hunter's To 'Joy My Freedom; Phyllis Palmer's Domesticity and Dirt; Donna L. Van Raaphorst's Union Maids Not Wanted . I just got Eileen Boris's and Premilla Nadasen's article, "Domestic Workers Organize!" but, given their previous work and my skim of the first few pages, I'd recommend it.

***** Which is not to say that poor white women didn't work "unpleasant" jobs, but that there have often been clear demarcations between what is white women's work and what is WoC's work.

******In the comments to
this post, for example, people argued that there weren't any racial overtones to the image of a black model cradling a white baby, because to invoke "mammy," the black woman had to be fat. I didn't agree, but there you have it.

Hey, Brooklynites! (And People in Surrounding Areas)

How apparent is it that I know nothing about NY geography except "It's Big!"

We're inviting you to a party!!

It's a listening party for the SPEAK! CD, featuring readings by contributors Black Amazon and Mamita Mala.

What is the SPEAK! CD?
SPEAK! is a group of women of color media makers. In the summer and fall of 2008, they created this CD compilation of spoken word, poetry, and song. With contributors from all over the U.S., these recordings are testimonials of struggle, hope, and love.

This CD’s purpose is two-fold. First, we hope that this CD will be an outreach tool and a resource for women of color and allies seeking to bring important issues to light. Many teachers and activists are already planning ways they can use the CD in their work. We have a free curriculum available for download underneath the Listening Party page in hopes that people will come together around the CD.

Second, this is a fundraising tool. We plan to use all profits from the sale of the CD to support single mothers of SPEAK! in coming to the Allied Media Conference. Mothers are instrumental to our work and have been some of the key advisors to the AMC’s INCITE! Women/Trans People of Color Media Track, as well as instigators and shapers of SPEAK! from the beginning. We use the Allied Media Conference as a place to come together and plan our work.
If you haven't gotten your CD, a track listing is here and it's available here.

I love the CD; it is powerful, poignant, and affirming. I'm using it this summer in one of my classes (and I'd already used the work of many of these women in my teaching before).

So go listen! RSVP to for the address and details, and remember, SPACE IS LIMITED.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Long OverDeuce Update

Deuce is practically an old man now--going on 13 months. Can y'all believe it? Anyway, I have pics from 11-12 months that I've been meaning to post forever!

Here he is, refusing to let me take something out of his mouth:

no you cannot dig this outta my mouth

With his "big" cousin:

the kid and deuce 2

the kid and deuce

I realized that he's always braided up and I wanted to see his hair down!

balcony four

balcony 3

balcony 2

Why, no, auntie couldn't braid my hair back; she can't even make a straight part!

the only way auntie elle can comb my hair

Things Deuce loves:

Drinking juice boxes (and yes, I think it's the cutest thing in the world!)

drinking my juice

Playing the scary sock-devouring monster from the black lagoon!!

the scary sock-eater



Knocking down and destroying picture frames

picture destroyer

picture destroyer 2

Things auntie elle loves:


elle and deuce

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Happy Birthday...

... mrs. o

That is us making the lovely Delta sign, probably 13 or so years ago (we both pledged in 1995).

mrs. o, we looked so young, and cute... even though it does look like I had on a bed sheet. WTF?

Seriously, one of the areas in my life in which I have been extraordinarily blessed is with my friends. Oh, we get mad, fall out, make up, etc., but the stuff I hear other people say--having friends who betray them, tell all their business, steal their man and their dog :-)--I have never encountered. mrs. o and I have been friends for 30 years this year (hard to imagine since we're only 28, but work with me) and I love her so deeply. Just as importantly, I like her.

Then there is the fact that she's always been ready to put the smack down on anyone she thinks is fucking with me. :-)

Anyway, happy birthday, darling and thank you for sharing my life.

Officer Jack Sparrow?


Do the police in Tenaha, TX, "shake down" drivers, particularly drivers of color, in what one attorney calls "a piracy operation?"
Roderick Daniels was traveling through East Texas in October 2007 when, he says, he was the victim of a highway robbery.

The Tennessee man says he was ordered to pull his car over and surrender his jewelry and $8,500 in cash that he had with him to buy a new car.

But Daniels couldn't go to the police to report the incident.

The men who stopped him were the police.
This story caught my attention because my family and I routinely travel through Tenaha on our way to and from Louisiana. I have my own stories about East Texas police:
My experiences with the police have included:

My father and I being pulled over while I was an undergraduate, separated, and questioned. We were in Texas, our car had Louisiana plates, and the cops admitted they suspected drug trafficking.

Similarly, I was tailed closely by a cop for a while in a small East Texas town who didn't turn on his lights, initially. He was following me so closely that I put on my signal and got into the next lane. Then he turned on his lights--said I was supposed to wait until I'd traveled at least so many feet after turning on my signal to switch lanes. The problem, again, was my Louisiana plates in a Texas town. He wanted to know where I lived currently, where I was traveling to, and why. I answered, simply because I didn't know if I was allowed not to answer and I had no intention of disappearing in East Texas.
More recently (several weeks ago), my sister and her fiance were pulled over in East Texas after meeting me in Houston. Her description:
The cop pulled out behind us and trailed us for five minutes before turning on his lights. He made [my fiance] get out and come to the back of the car and made me stay in. He shined the light directly in my baby's face, woke him up, and wouldn't move the light. Of course, he started crying and I was digging for the insurance papers and wanted to cry myself.

He kept asking the same questions over and over, trying to find inconsistencies. Then he asked for permission to search the car. I told him yes because he wouldn't find anything and offered to show him all my prescription medicines. When he realized we were telling the same story, he didn't want to search the car anymore. I'll be honest, I definitely felt like it was racial profiling--he saw a black man who didn't live there, driving through town late at night. But, I threw him off by agreeing to let him search the car.
My sister's experience and one of mine occurred in Diboll, TX, 70 miles from Tenaha.

There seems to be some element of racial-profiling in the Tenaha cases, as well.
[Attorney David] Guillory, who practices in nearby Nacogdoches, Texas, estimates authorities in Tenaha seized $3 million between 2006 and 2008, and in about 150 cases -- virtually all of which involved African-American or Latino motorists -- the seizures were improper.
Emphasis mine.

You might wonder, if the stops seem suspect, why people sign waivers forfeiting their property. There is of course the very immediate fear of what can happen to you, particularly as a person of color being pulled over in a rural town by the police. Then there are the threats. According to the article, the officers routinely threaten people with jail time and the loss of their children.*

Of course, town officials deny all wrongdoing. I scoffed while reading that. Stops like this are often the result of the so-called war on drugs. You know, the "war" that disproportionately targets people of color and takes away their liberty, property, and rights. It feeds into racial-profiling which 1) encourages cops to conduct searches of people of color and their vehicles more often when they are stopped (and treat them more harshly) 2) perpetuates the stereotype that all African Americans and Latin@s with large sums of cash must be drug dealers or doing something illegal 3)justifies the intense focus on communities of color which contributes to the disproportionate numer of arrests and convictions.**

I also scoffed because the racial disparities in arrests and convictions, and the concurrent violation of PoC's rights, have been particularly well-documented in small Texas towns.

We'll see how this plays out, though I can already here the faint cries of the coming, "It's the damn outsiders trying to make something racial outta this!"

H/T Bint via Twitter

*This is a particularly salient threat--the state intervenes disproportionately in families of color, a fact partially attributable to both racism and classism--as Dorothy Roberts said in Shattered Bonds, "the public child welfare system equates poverty with neglect," (p 25).

**For statistics about the claims I made in this paragraph, I referred to a fact sheet I put together for my class's discussion of the prison industrial complex. The fact sheet was culled from these sources.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...