when the status quo frustrates.

A Story of Privilege

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

For a couple of months now, I have been driving a young teenager from her home to her high school and back again (about 22 miles one way) for 15 dollars a trip a. Recently, I have also started doing laundry for $12.50/ hr. at the same house. So, at the end of the month, this family pays me a little under a grand. The girl has had almost all privileges a young girl can have- her parents are both corporate attorneys, she has traveled the world, she lives in a lovely McMansion, she has been exposed to culture and goes to one of the best local charter schools. For the most part, she is quite blessed.

This family would be easy to point to and say “Look how easy they have it! Of course this girl is going to succeed, she’s going to have ample opportunity too!” But this is not a story about her, or her family. This is a story of my privilege.

It is harder to look at the things that you have that you don’t deserve. It’s easier to go “I deserve so much more because I work so hard” or talk about all the difficulties but you have had to face. But, even people who have had legitimate difficulties (and I imagine there are quite a few of them) mixed in was all the stuff that institutions have favored about you, the headache that you don’t know that you don’t have*, and sheer dumb luck. I’m female, bisexual, poly and I’m currently lower-middle class. I’m also white, cis-gendered, grew up middle class and grew up in the United States. Your life is always going to be intermixed with what you do, and what happens to you.

I was reminded of that, very strongly, when reading this post from “Forever in Hell”. The post talks about a poor business owner who’s 2 miles away from the nearest bus station, and because of it can’t find anyone to work for him because he needs people to have a car. The relevant part here:

But you have to be able to drive. That’s an odd way of putting it, isn’t it? Why would you need to be able to drive to be a metal fabricator or a welder? What Mr. Isbister means to say isn’t that you need to be able to drive, it’s that you have to be able to afford a car.

Where I live, bus riders are divided fairly evenly between three groups: people too young to drive, people too old to drive and people too poor to drive. Mr. Isbister isn’t talking about the first two groups, he’s talking about the third group, and all of those people are fully able to drive. I have a driver’s license. I know how to drive a car. I just can’t afford to own, maintain, repair and gas a car. That’s expensive and I just don’t get paid enough.

Neither, I would guess, do Mr. Isbister’s employees. And that’s the problem. Henry Ford was a racist asshat, but he did get one thing right: he paid his employees enough to afford the product they were producing. He was only doing that to create a demand for his product (can you imagine a time when you had to create a demand for cars?), but the point still stands.

In order for businesses to be able to pay low wages, they depend upon our tax dollars to provide services to their employees that their paychecks just won’t cover. Low wages won’t cover the cost of owning a car, so your tax dollars pay for public transportation to get employees to work. Low wages won’t cover the cost of food, so your tax dollars pay for food stamps and WIC*. Low wages won’t cover the cost of housing, so your tax dollars pay for housing assistance*. Low wage and part time jobs don’t cover, or even offer, health insurance, so your tax dollars pay for health insurance for their children. And on and on and on.

My job is to drive a kid back and forth. I got this job, because I graduated with honors from high school, and this was my parent’s gift to me, so while I have been paying for the insurance and upkeep on it for the last 7 years or so, I never purchased it. Last month, my car which hadn’t had any problems before, suddenly had the timing belt break on me. The mechanic told me it would be at least $600 dollars to repair**. This is the third major expense on it, and Hubby and I had already decided before this happened that if there was another, that we were just going to junk it for it’s pathetic $200.

$200 dollars is not enough to buy a new car, and my job, it should go without saying, requires me to have a car. Had I not had my husband’s car to fall back on, I would have been flat out screwed. Did I do anything to deserve this luck? No. It’s just what my situation had available for me. We went with one car for awhile, and we could have stayed a one car family, but it was turning out to be really difficult with our wildly divergent schedule. So, Hubby’s family lent us their second truck, a manual. Did I do anything to deserve this? No, it was luck that’s Hubby’s family is wealthy enough to do that and that they could offer it to us. Now, Hubby’s car is starting to sound funny, so we’re taking it in to the mechanic’s. The second truck is a stick, which I of yet don’t know how to drive, so Hubby’s grandparents are lending me one of their vehicles for the couple day’s it’ll be in the shop. Again, did I do anything to deserve this? Did my hard-work lead good things to me? Did I even pay for it in any way? Absolutely not.

If someone else would have been in another situation, they would be flat out screwed. They’d have to quit this job, and lose the painfully meager salary. I have the privilege of a) having a car to get the job b) having a back-up when that fell through c)having in-laws that were in a position to, and willing to***, help me out when this car needs preventative maintenance. This is a privilege that I have that others do not, and one that I’m going to be taking advantage of. And I wish people who say things like “I’ve worked for what I have” could recognize where they didn’t work.

It is more than likely that Hubby and I will eventually be middle class, and probably upper middle class, at least if our parents and grandparents life-path’s are any indication. And I just hope, when and if that happens, that we can keep the knowledge of our assistance, and apply it to everyone else, not just who we know.

*Ani Difranco “Shroud”
**And already had called a couple junk yards to give us quotes on how much we could get for it, demonstrating that he didn’t think it was worth fixing.
***My in-laws confuse me. When it’s everyone, it’s “people should rely on themselves, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” conservative tripe. When it’s their friends and family suddenly it’s “Everyone needs a little help in the beginning”. I’m not sure how they live with the disconnect.


Monday, February 1st, 2010

An interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom.

A restavec (or restavek; from the French reste avec, “one who stays with”) is a child in Haiti who is sent by their parents to work for a host household as a domestic servant because the parents lack the resources required to support the child. (wikipedia)

I came across this article today, about a 9-year-old restavec named Sende Sencil.

Beaming, and in clean clothes for the first time since the earthquake, Sende, who was thought to be an orphan, returned to the hospital’s tents with the doctors.

As they walked, a man approached them on the street and reached out to grab Sende.

“I’m looking for her. She’s my family,” the doctors remember the man saying in broken English. “I’m taking her home.”

Pediatricians Tina Rezaiyan and Liz Hines, had been looking forward to the day when Sende’s parents might come to claim her, but this was not what they’d anticipated.

“She was trembling and hiding behind us. She was so scared of him,” said Hines, a second-year pediatric resident at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Flashback to 1982: Walking home from school with my best friend, Sheila.* We’d been best friends since the first grade; we walked home from school every day together, hand in hand–though not that day, because one of her arms was in a cast and she needed the other one to carry her books. My eight-year-old self didn’t even notice the cast; it had been there for a few weeks, it was part of the scenery. Only my thirty-six-year-old self stares at it, remembering how Sheila got it.

“So can you spend the night tonight?” Sheila asked me.

I could, and I did, though even my eight-year-old self dreaded it a little. Not a lot, because Sheila was there and she was my best friend and we always had such fun–putting her mom’s 45s on the plastic record player upstairs and setting it on “78″–who needed an actual Alvin & The Chipmunks record when you had a stack of 45s and a record player with a “78″ setting? And eight-year-olds think that what they see and live is the way it is for everybody–they don’t resist the system because they aren’t even aware that there is one. But the night Sheila’s stepdad broke her arm was still fairly fresh in my memory, and I had no cozy feeling that I was entirely safe from him either–he’d hurt me before too, though nowhere near to the degree he hurt Sheila.



Monday, December 21st, 2009

I went to a wedding of a friend of mine’s this weekend. The party was fun, the bride and groom looked gorgeous like they always do.

But, this is not about the wedding. This is about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Because racism’s dead. You knew that, right?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Interracial couple denied marriage license in La.

NEW ORLEANS – A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have. Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”

Yep, children from those marriages, even the ones that don’t last, I mean it’s not like they could e-v-e-r grow up to become President of the United Sta—

“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

Mostly I think of “piles and piles” as describing my laundry. And did he seriously just brag about letting black people use his bathroom..?

I sure love living in “post-racial” America!

Meghan McCain Has Tits- Conservative Community Shocked

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

This morning, I woke up and opening my eyes to the thin amount of light in my room caused shooting pain to go down my temples. Every cell of my body was crying that I needed more sleep, dammit, and they were not getting up for sex much less for working at the thrift store. Naturally, I appeased the demands of my oppressed body and called in sick to work.

A few hours of sleep later, and a couple tylenol with codeine, and I’m in a state where I can comfortably look at a computer screen while sitting (though not much else). My friend jumps up to send me this conversation(typos kept in because, fuck it, that’s why):

Equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states–it’s the 21st century, don’t you think it’s about time?

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I haven’t marched on the Mall since 2004–you know I’m gonna be there! Let’s have a show of support, folks!

Oh, My Favorite! Yes, Please, a Double Helping of That Fatophobia Would Be SO Nice–

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Maybe I should just go back to being a hermit…

Regina Benjamin’s Country Credentials: What Rural Medicine Taught America’s Next Top Doc

Since starting her practice in 1990, Benjamin, 52, has become an advocate for patients everywhere. She became the first African-American woman to lead a state medical society and has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” and a Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights. Still, she never strayed far from her roots, and currently serves as the CEO of Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, which she founded. This week, President Obama tapped Benjamin to serve as surgeon general.

Well, that’s cool, I thought to myself. We are living in historic times…the first serious female Presidential contender…the first black man elected President…the first Latina soon to be confirmed to the Supreme Court…not that Regina Benjamin would be the first black woman to be chosen as Surgeon General, but she would be only the second one…

So I’m feeling a mild warmth towards humanity in general as I scan down the story…til I get to the very, very end:

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Member Comments
Posted By: pdskep (July 16, 2009 at 12:51 PM)

Well, it didn’t help her put down the Hagen Dazs. Should the government spokesperson for public health and healthy living be so grossly overweight?


So I scrolled rapidly back up–I had noticed a picture of the Surgeon-General-to-be at the top of the article but had given it only a cursory glance, and honestly couldn’t remember having noticed that she weighed 1000 pounds–


…er, not. Well, I thought, maybe that’s a flattering picture of her and she’s somehow managing to hide the other 750 pounds below her neck. Let’s look for a whole-body shot–

…er, still not.

Aside from the fact that she’s not “grossly overweight” (hello?), why does her weight really matter, exactly..? Her weight specifically. Is the concern that the kids of America will look at her and go oooh look, the Surgeon General’s fat, that means it’s okay for me to be fat too! Yeah, because that’s what kids tend to base their eating decisions on…the Surgeon General’s weight. (Like the vast majority of kids, and adults if it comes down to that, even know who the Surgeon General is at any given moment.)

Is the concern that, because she is physically clearly not perfect, then her brain and her conscience and her dedication (which are presumably the things she was actually chosen for) are also not going to be perfect? (That raises the interesting corollary that someone whose weight is perfect, is more likely to have a perfect brain, conscience and dedication as well…oh really…?)

Because people with the magic BMI number are SO much more likely to be both smart AND saintly!

I am not the only one who has noticed this trend and commented on it–no indeed:

Since President Obama announced his pick for the nation’s Top Doc, Internet message boards have been atwitter with the observation that Dr. Regina Benjamin is fat.

Critics seem to believe it’s ironic that the nation’s top doctor would be overweight, and it’s led the most nattering of nags to conclude that she should not be picked for prom queen, er, I mean, surgeon general.

Thank God, too. C’mon, people, let’s make some noise–this is fatophobia at its most disgusting, and most ignorant as well. Spread the word.

Juanita Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Or something like that. All them there Mexican* names just blend together, don’t they? Something I’ve just never understood–why all those furreigners with their funny furreign names don’t just change ‘em to a real American name like “Betty Brown.”

She has more qualifications than any of the other justices currently serving on the Supreme Court did at the time of their nominations, which really is the only acceptable standard for nominating a female minority–I think we all know this.

So far I’ve heard both that she once saved baseball and also that she has a personal vendetta against white firefighters. (Now that’s one of the most specific prejudices I’ve ever encountered anyone being accused of.)

Naturally Michelle Malkin is weighing in on this–nobody could ever accuse Michelle of being able to even remotely stand her own status as a woman of color, which since Sonia Sotomayor seems to think that both having and considering having experiences other than that of white men is okay in a judge, means that these two ladies will probably never even get close to the recipe-exchanging stage of friendship. What a shame!

*Puerto Rican, but whatever, six of one, half-dozen of the other, right? (Thank God my Colombian and Salvadorean friends don’t read this blog! or if they do, I bet I’m about to find that out.)

I Need to Go to a New Law School

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

In my Constitutional Law class, we are currently going over racism and Supreme Court cases having to do with eliminating it. On our school’s website, we have a discussion board where people are encouraged to post things to facilitate discussion. Imagine my surprise when I discover this in the website today (horrible formatting included)

Group 2 thought this was on topic for the “social aspect of racism today” in our last assignment… This was attributed to Michael Richards after he made racial comments during his comedy act.

“Proud to be White”: Michael Richards better known as Kramer from TV’s Seinfeld makes a good point…………..
“Someone finally said it. How many are actually paying attention to
this? There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans,Arab Americans, etc.

And then there are just Americans. You pass me on the street and sneer
in my direction. You call me ‘White boy,’ ‘Cracker,’ ‘Honkey,’
‘Whitey,’ ‘Caveman’… and that’s OK.

But when I call you, Nigger, Kike, Towel head, Sand-nigger, Camel
Jockey, Beaner, Gook, or Chink .. You call me a racist.

You say that whites commit a lot of violence against you… so why are
the ghettos the most dangerous places to live?

You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day.

You have Black History Month. You have Cesar Chavez Day.

You have Yom Hashoah. You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi.

You have the NAACP. You have BET… If we had WET (White Entertainment Television), we’d be racists. If we had a White Pride Day, you would call us racists.

If we had White History Month, we’d be racists.

If we had any organization for only whites to ‘advance’ OUR lives, we’d
be racists.

We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce, and then we just have the plain Chamber of Commerce. Wonder who pays for that??

A white woman could not be in the Miss Black American pageant, but any color can be in the Miss America pageant.

If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships…
You know we’d be racists.

There are over 60 openly proclaimed Black Colleges in the US . Yet if
there were ‘White colleges’, that would be a racist college.

In the Million Man March, you believed that you were marching for your
race and rights. If we marched for our race and rights, you would call
us racists.

You are proud to be black, brown, yellow and orange, and you’re not
afraid to announce it. But when we announce our white pride, you call
us racists.

You rob us, carjack us, and shoot at us. But, when a white police
officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug dealer
running from the law and posing a threat to society, you call him a

I am proud… But you call me a racist.

Why is it that only whites can be racists??”

The response I posted is below the fold:

I’m Not Happy

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

“My”* guy won last night. We have elected our first black president in the United States; a date that will go down in history and I am predicting might be one of our generation’s “Kennedy moment”**. We will be asked by our children where we were when we heard that the first black president was elected.

Anti-choice measures all across the country failed tonight (including the 3-peat “Parental notification” measure that failed in California). Children won’t have to worry about being thrown out of a house or beaten because of an unwanted pregnancy.

Dole, the atheist-baiting bigot, was defeated in Nouth Carolina.

But, like getting an A on all of your classes but failing one, my disappointment today is about Proposition 8 in California. I was hoping against hope that people wouldn’t want to take away people’s right to marry. I was hoping against hope that even though they wouldn’t give the rights to people, that they would recognize those self-same civil rights when the courts were forced to step in.

But they didn’t…

And now, after a major stepping stone forward for the civil rights of one group, all I can think of is the civil rights lost to the ones who tripped and fell. They lost their right to legal recognition of their love, and all of the privileges therein. All of the rights of marriage: the health care from the partners insurance, the community property, the tax break, the visitation rights; all of the things that took me and my Hubby 15 minutes and 65 bucks; are being taken away from people who are my friends and loved ones.

All so people don’t have to tell their children that gay people exist. All so people get to keep the magical word “marriage” to their happy little heterosexual selves. All so “traditionalists” who don’t what the hell the word “tradition” means can stay stuck in their backwards, bigoted world, afraid of how fast the world is changing, and too lazy to want to keep up with it. And this is bigotry; plain and simple. This is not wanting homosexual people to have the same rights as heterosexual people, because some pastor said that a 2000-year-old book written by a bunch of bronze-age, nomadic goat herders about a megalomaniac, sadistic sky fairy that had been translated and re-translated a bunch of time through the centuries had a few, taken-out-of-context phrases that meant to literally say that “gays are icky”.

I’m disappointed, and I’m furious. I’m angry because I’m now going to be told that the gay rights movement just needs to ask nicer next time, and if they wouldn’t be so in-your-face about it, and just wait nicely, then they would have won. I’m angry because people are proud in their bigotry: they are CELEBRATING it under some sort of fuzzy definition of “values”. And I’m angry because anger is a much more productive emotion than sorrow.

*Technically, I would have preferred McKinney. But, Obama’s the one I voted for.
*That and 9-11.

Michfest, and why you shouldn’t go

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is, strictly speaking, not really any of my business. It’s been a few years since any artist I particularly like performed there, and I have an allergy to alternative spellings of “women.” This said, as a feminist, I do feel it’s my right to criticize gender essentialism and transphobia and take issue with people who attempt to use feminist language to exclude already marginalized people.

As you know, Bob, MWMF has always called itself a women-only space. That’s cool; the world being what it is, there’s a place for women-only spaces, and POC-only spaces, and so on. But the organizer and many attendees get squicked when it comes to transgendered women. (Transgendered men, for some reason, are welcome to attend.) So they’ve set up a “NO TRANSWOMEN ALLOWED” fort and used the academically problematic term “womyn-born-womyn” to exclude certain undesirable sorts of women from the event. (I always wonder how they check these things, but anyway.)

Here’s a great post detailing why MWMF is problematic, and what you can do to fight transphobia there, and in your own life.

In the age of analyzing oppression and owning up to our own privilege, MWMF is an anomaly time-warped from the 70s. Defining a women’s space that excludes trans women in effect defines them as other than women. Denying their common experiences, challenges, struggles and triumphs as women serves to further limit their access to community, health, well-being and dignity. It creates a class of disposable women.

Go read the whole thing.

Another taser horror story

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Mounties use tasers to sexually assault an aboriginal child. And get away with it.

Predictably, the article doesn’t call it sexual assault. But what does this sound like to you?

The girl, who was 16 at the time of the incident, said she was held down by four officers, one for each limb, while a taser was used on her legs and groin area. She said the third shock lasted between five and eight seconds and left her screaming in pain.

This is after they stripped her naked and threw her in a cell. It gets worse:

The girl, who is a high-school student, said her wounds were painful for days. The taser broke the skin, leaving red and bloody circular marks on her thighs. The police didn’t tell the girl’s mother about the incident when she picked her up the next morning, and the girl was too ashamed to tell. As a result, the wounds became infected.

Anyway, as is usually the case with these sorts of gross human rights violations—particularly in cases that involve racialized youth—the cops investigated themselves and found themselves innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Globe and Mail‘s pathetic excuse? She was “behaving badly.” Sickening.