Monday, August 23, 2010

Jail Is Preferable

File this under continued vilification of poor people:
Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino said he would transform some New York prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in "personal hygiene."
I don’t think I can fully break down the classist, sexist, and racist stereotypes/myths embodied in sentiments like these, but just to start:

1. Welfare recipients don’t work outside the home and don’t want to do so. Even before welfare “reform” back in 1996, most recipients worked or sought work. I always wonder if people like Paladino have any idea how paltry benefits are.

2. Being poor/needing assistance is some sort of moral failing that requires institutionalization and constant shame. That people seek welfare assistance is particularly “bad” to people like Paladino—the poor are supposed to suffer nobly and silently. As one commenter romanticized:
[B]ack in the thirties young men were ecstatic to get a job and to develop new skills via the Civilian Conservation Corp. But back then, the poor were tough, honorable folk with intact families… Today's poor aren't poor due to the economy, but the result of hand feeding that created and now sustains society breakdown.
Recently, problemchylde commented on this mindset:
All rags-to-riches (or rags-to-bitches, if you want to get all Boondocks about it) stories start with people who are poor but industrious. Tales of kids eating cigarette ash sandwiches to survive. Tales of people saving mustard packets so they have food that stretches through the whole year. Bonus points if your parent proudly refuses government help, or if you suffer through and survive a vitamin deficiency. You’re a rock star if you live many years out on the streets and still pull down a 4.0+ GPA. You have done poverty correctly.

However, if you take what little disposable income you have and buy sushi, you are doing wrong. Poor people do not want things like smartphones (you’re poor; who are you calling on a smartphone?), televisions (you’re poor; what do you need entertainment for?), nice cars (why wouldn’t you get a modest car to get around when you’re poor), or delicious food (do you know how much ramen you could have bought for the cost of that scone?). Poor people should not take any windfalls or nest eggs or scraped together pennies and expose themselves to luxuries. After all, isn’t that just a brutal reminder of how poor they are any other time? Why not just face the fact that poor is what you are, poor is what you shall be, and poor means that you cannot have nice things?
I’d advise you to read the whole post.

3. Motherwork is not "real" work/not valuable. The only work that is important/deserving of remuneration occurs outside the home. The article quotes Paladino as saying, “Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we'll teach people how to earn their check.” (Emphasis mine)

4. The mothering of poor women, especially poor women of color, is insignificant/not necessary for their children. As I said at that link,
A discourse has developed in this country to support stealing our children away from us that attacks us as immoral, "illegal," or uneducated. [Remember] black children sold away from their mothers and Native children forced into "Indian schools" so they could be "properly" Christianized and Americanized. In fact, Americanizers of the late 19th/early 20th century spent inordinate amounts of time threatening to take immigrant children from their parents, telling immigrant mothers how their methods of child-rearing were substandard to those of more WASP-y Americans, probably as much time as 20th century welfare critics spent convincing themselves that poor black women did not really love or want their children--they only had them to get more out of the system--and as much time as 21st century anti-immigration proponents spend convincing themselves that Latinas don't really love or want their children--they just want anchor babies.
If most welfare recipients are single moms and you move them into dormitories, who takes care of their kids? Or do you institutionalize the children as well, under the blanket assumption that the state will do a “better” job of rearing them? As Dorothy Roberts said in Shattered Bonds, "America’s child welfare system is rooted in the philosophy of child saving—rescuing children from the ills of poverty, typically by taking them away from their parents," (p 26). Which brings me to another problematic idea…

5. Poor people need to be institutionalized/under constant government oversight because of their deficient character and abilities. We already know that the state intervenes disproportionately in poor families of color. According to Roberts, "the public child welfare system equates poverty with neglect," (p 27). And as the article noted:
the suggestion that poor families would be better off in remote institutions, rather than among friends and family in their own neighborhoods, struck some anti-poverty activists as insulting.
I think “insulting” is too mild a word.

6. Poor people are unclean, all come from disordered homes and, thus, lack social skills. I mean, he’s going to give them lessons in:
“personal hygiene… the personal things they don't get when they come from dysfunctional homes.”


“You have to teach them basic things — taking care of themselves, physical fitness. In their dysfunctional environment, they never learned these things”
Related to the belief in the disorder/dysfunction of all poor homes and communities, Paladino asserts, "These are beautiful properties with basketball courts, bathroom facilities, toilet facilities. Many young people would love to get the hell out of cities." To live in... jails. And see how he emphasizes the bathroom/toilet facilities? As if this is 1910 instead of 2010 and people aren't used to them?

As an aside, that comment reminded me of Barbara Bush's assertion, after talking to Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston, "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." The idea that poor people don't have "real" or worthy communities or family and geographic ties is infuriating.

7. Poor people deserve to have their labor exploited. He’s using prisons to house people to extract low-cost labor. I don’t think this idea is so original.

I'm sure there is more that I could highlight in this disaster of a suggestion, but I think you get the idea.

Friday, August 13, 2010


From the Florida AP/Miami Herald:
A candidate for the Florida House of Representatives says "camps" should be built to house illegal immigrants in Florida until they can be deported.
Yeah, let that sink in. Said candidate seems woefully unaware of how similar ideas have worked in U.S. history. Or, you know, maybe she is.

As if that isn't enough:
Marg Baker, who is seeking the Republican nomination for House District 48, says officials could "collect enough illegal aliens until you have enough to ship them back."
The dehumanization in that sentence--as if referring to people as "illegal aliens" is not a clear indicator of her mindset, she actually makes the suggestion that the government "collect" them and "ship" them as if they are cargo.

Baker even threw in a little classism* for good measure:
Baker added the housing would be "regular homes like a lot of poor people live in."
Then, just to be sure the us vs. them sentiment came through (minus words like "undesirable" and "dangerous"), Baker warned:
"We need to have camps because there are a lot of these people roaming among us."
Emphasis mine.

Ignorance hers.

H/T Quaker Dave He found video (that I just saw this morning and as I am on my way out for a while, I can't transcribe right now). Scratch my idea that maybe she doesn't know about historical precedent. She actually says:
We can follow what happened back in the 40s and 50s. I was just a little girl in Miami and they built camps for the people that snuck into the country because they were illegal. They put them in the camps and shipped them back... we must stop them.

Ms. Baker... while you're reminiscing about history, please remember someone else used camps in the 40s.
*Of course, much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly anti-Latino immigrant rhetoric, is classist already.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Write Letters

(edited below the fold: h/t
ajoye and The Chemist at Shakesville)

Dear Allstate,

Despite what your advertising people may have told you, this is not a commercial:

(Transcript below the fold)

This is a twisted conglomeration of stereotypes. In 15 seconds, you perpetuate and reinforce the ideas that the “typical” teenage girl:

likes pink,

is distracted by sparkly things,

is careless,

is a dangerously poor driver,

is selfish.

Who is this girl? I'm not sure she's typical. And, as if the commercial isn’t insulting enough, you have the nerve to refer to this mysterious girl as “Mayhem?”

Who’s “in good hands” with you, Allstate? Certainly not young women or the image of them.

Exasperated and insulted,


And this:

Because women out performing their daily routines are a danger to men who just can't help themselves. Here is the same sentiment present in so many rape apologists' arguments: "It's the woman's fault for wearing certain clothing/being attractive/taking up (public) space)."


Transcript 1:

A pink SUV makes its away across a parking lot. The camera then switches to the inside of the SUV where we see a disheveled man (Mayhem) driving and clutching a cell phone with a sparkly cover.

Mayhem: "I'm a typical teenage girl."

The phone chimes and Mayhem looks down at it. In the process, he hits the front fender of a car and knocks it off, damaging his own car, as well. He continues to drive off and tosses the cell phone into the back seat.

Screen fades to black and the words "Are You in Good Hands" and then "Allstate" appear.

Transcript 2:

Commercial opens on Mayhem jogging with requisite pink headbands and weights.

Mayhem: I’m a hot babe out jogging. I’m out making sure this (gestures towards his upper body) stays a ten when you drive by.

(Guy drives by in black car and ogles Mayhem. Mayhem smiles and winks because we all know how flattering it is to be ogled.)

Mayhem: You’re checking out my awesome headband when…

(Guy crashes into light pole)

Mayhem: Oops.

(Light pole falls on car)

Mayhem: That’s when you find out, your cut rate insurance… it ain’t paying for this.

(Guy gets out of the car to survey damage)

Mayhem: So get Allstate. Save cash and get better protected from Mayhem like me.

Allstate logo appears along with voice of Dennis Haysbert: Dollar for Dollar, nobody protects you from Mayhem than Allstate.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Well, This Might Be a New Angle

Did you know black women are in a crisis? A marriage crisis? Forty-two percent of us have never been married and that spells OMG!!! DOOM!!!

Seriously, how could you not have heard about it? It's been a hot topic for the past few years now (And here's a timeline from just the last few months!). Media outlets have been all over it. Scholars at Yale even did a study and Oprah got in on the hype.

Yesterday, Liss sent me an article that captured an argument that was new to me. It poses the question: Does the black church keep black women single? "A-ha," I thought (after I picked up my jaw) "yet another way to keep this largely manufactured crisis going."

Why am I so aggravated, you might ask, if all these articles are simply stating a true fact? I'm not bothered by someone saying 42% of black women have never been married. I am bothered by how the tone and content of these articles often play into old tropes of black women as undesirable and of black communities on the verge of collapse.

They're also plain old sexist for a number of reasons. For one thing, this is always a crisis for black women. As one of my colleagues pointed out when we did a presentation on this, the percentage of black men who have never been married is quite similar (43% maybe--I need to find the number she unearthed) but we never hear about the black man's marriage crisis. The "problem" is quite often cast as black women having the nerve to get educated/be successful. This crisis also presumes that women are incomplete without men and marriage, that nothing we've accomplished matters, that contentment and happiness cannot exist for single women.

The "marriage crisis" is also used to obscure systemic/institutional causes of larger problems like poverty and lack of equal access. As I wrote in my half-hearted review of CNN's "Black In America"
After watching parts and pieces of CNN's Black in America: What's Wrong With The Black Woman and Family last night, I was worried.

I mean, I'm single, educated, and a mother. I felt practically doomed.

But! CNN has the solution for the problem I didn't even know I was: marriage. Yep.

See, marrying would mean that I wouldn't be a single mom anymore. And, it would magically mean no more poverty for single moms! Never mind that

1) Many single moms (like me) have arrangements that work for us and our children. I am single because I'm not married, but I'm not raising my child alone.

2) We refuse to adequately address pay equity and the devaluation of women's work which contribute to the impoverishment of women and children.

3) We've stigmatized and rendered thoroughly inadequate any system of social provision.

4) Marrying a guy who does not work or who works in low-wage labor won't solve much of anything.

5) What about single moms who don't want to marry? Is that not a valid option when you're poor?

6) What about single moms who don't want a heterosexual marriage because they're lesbian or bisexual?
I'm also irritated because no matter how much we analyze, challenge, and try to debunk the crisis, the news organizations proceed willfully unaware with these stories.

The other major source of my irritation/aggravation? So often the solution to the marriage crisis is presented as black women's need to settle/compromise. Our standards are too high, apparently. In that sense, the argument that "the" black church "keeps black women single" is not new. From Debborah Cooper (the article is based on a discussion she began):
"Black women are interpreting the scriptures too literally. They want a man to which they are 'equally yoked' -- a man that goes to church five times a week and every Sunday just like they do," Cooper said in a recent interview.

"If they meet a black man that is not in church, they are automatically eliminated as a potential suitor. This is just limiting their dating pool."
Now, I can understand Cooper's critique on some other points--she writes, for example, about how black churches are structured around "traditional gender roles which make women submissive to and inferior to men." But if a woman has made up her mind that it is important to marry a man who shares her beliefs and values, why all the demands that she compromise? Is that unreasonable? Don't women other than black women have similar desires?

My jaw dropped again when Cooper suggested that church-going black women should give up their Sunday morning habits to "leave-and go where the boys go: tailgates, bars and clubs."

Cooper says she is trying to empower black women. But what is empowering about giving up something to which you are dedicated to linger around places you might find questionable or unpleasant in effort to "get" a man?

To me, this sounds like more of the blame-the-black-woman-for-this-imaginary-crisis. What do you think?
I should really, really do another post on one magical solution that's been posited as the "crisis" has grown--interracial marriage. Of course, the issue is not interracial marriage itself, but the portrayal of it as an easy cure-all.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Signs and Such

Since my father's death, I've been in this space--the spot where tangible things are so important--his truck, his clothes, the last thing he may have worn. And I have been battling guilt because I was so sick the last weeks of his life that he was consumed with worry about me. He'd just come sit in my room and look at me quietly. Sometimes he'd knock on the door and I'd be too sick to say anything, even when he'd ask if I was ok. I feel horribly about that now.

Yes, I tell myself not to reduce my 35 and a half years with my dad to those last two weeks or so. Yes, I tell myself that the memories I have and the lessons he taught me are things that are more important, more lasting than anything tangible. But right now, so early on, I still have regrets.

People have told me to perceive so many things as signs. A song on the radio, the birth of two new babies to my family so shortly after his death, fleeting scents or feelings. But I'm not that type. I always search for the "logical" explanation.

Back to my need for tangibles. When I finally made it home from my hospital stay, my sister presented me with one of the silicone bracelets he'd been wearing when he died. She had one on her wrist and she gave me one that they'd had to cut off him because his congestive heart failure often made him suffer from edema. I put it in my coin purse until I could glue it together.

Sometime shortly thereafter, I opened the coin purse somewhere and lost the bracelet. I looked for it desperately to no avail. I was heartbroken, but tried to convince myself that it was just a thing, that I didn't need it because I had so much more of him.

And still, I felt horrible. It was one of the last things he'd worn and I planned to always keep it close to me. How could I be so careless?

Last night, my oldest nephew emerged from my father's room with a ring. I recognized it immediately. It was his wedding ring, one he'd refused to take off until the edema made it impossible to wear. Once he'd taken it off, the kids had meddled and lost it. And now, little more than a month after his death, here it was.

I slid it on my finger and went to my mom. She confirmed that it was his wedding ring. She reached for it and I began to take it off. Then she shook her head.

"It fits your finger," she said.

It does, quite well. Never in my life had I been happy that I'd ignored my mom's warnings that cracking my knuckles would make me have "big ol' fingers" with an "embarrassing" ring size. As always in my life, I was happy I have a mama who knows when I need something.

And I needed this ring. I know that one day I probably won't. One day I might be able to look at it fondly in a jewelry box or return it to my mama or be content with memories, but not now.

I don't know if this is one of those elusive, ethereal signs, but I am so grateful for it.

No Place Safe

(Wrote this a month ago. Forgot that I didn't publish it here. Will give you some idea of my summer before I start writing more)

Today, I am on the bright side of the sickest period, physically, of my life. And days ago, while I lay on my bed, thinking I might be slowly dying, my darling father actually did. To say that I am not well is an understatement. My family and friends banded together to bring me back to the city to better care and I am feeling the effects.

The nausea no longer turns me inside out.

I no longer have to close my eyes while my best friend or my mom or my sister bathes me.

I can actually make tears and jokes and dear God, words.

But just now in this hospital, the sickness has rebounded in away. I feel assaulted, so shaken, so fucking tired that I can only do the one thing I feel that I know how sometimes--write.

The other day, long dark hours ago, when I couldn't speak and my mother was telling one of the aditting doctors that I was a professor, and of history no less, I should've felt the warning come of him, but Lord I was so ill. He said something like, "A-ha! Is she ready?"

He came back today. I was not ready. He pulled his chair up in the middle of this room where my mother and I sit now and began with the questions. What did I teach? Surely I realized the broad scope of my fall classes? Had there been black films made in a protest tradition? Could I find copies of them?

Did I get the Amazon suggestions he left at my bedside table the other night while I was vomiting--books I should read as a historian, he assured me. My mom asked had he been a history major. "No," he said imperiously, "I just read."

Because of course she doesn't.

And then came the heart of his argument. Could I understand the position of white people like him who respected black people who had seen real racism in the 1940s and 50s but now had to deal with the anger of black people for whom racism was rare, and mostly a memory?

A memory of resentment, I think he said. No black person born after 1970 has really encountered racism--well, maybe me from Louisiana, but here? Oh no. No, we want to preserve our racial preferences without acknowledging our racism. We too often assume racism.

As an example, he'd grown weary of his black friend who often wondered if poor service was a result of her race. Anyone could be served badly in a Texas city by the end of the 20th century.

And yes, he understood the feelings of (black) nurses' aids who cared for (white) patients who were subjected to racist abuse. BUT alzheimer's... delirium... old memories... and couldn't I understand that one of the greatet fears of old white women was thata black man would come do something to them into the night?

Also, when would I teach about the Palestinian-Israeli comflict? Wasn't Israel as guilty as South Africa? Step outside my comfort zone--it was as easy to teach about others as ourselves.

Finally, he prepared to leave after telling me I didn't talk enough for him. Me with the nausea and the phlegm and the cracked lips.

He doesn't see racism (or sexism I'm sure)

but he

came into my room

turned down the TV my mama was listening to

disregarded my recently delivered dinner

ignored my signs of discomfort and final outright silence

advised me on what to teach--though he never asked my specialties

gave me homework

had a history of dismissing black women's opinions and experiences

planned to challenge me and my authority from the moment he knew my title.

Before he re-situated his chair and left,

He said, "I feel better now."

My blood pressure when they just checked it?


and all I can do

is write.

Will this be my life?


I don't want it right now.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...