Friday, January 30, 2009

another trip to the welfare office...and off goes my brain.

Last wedensday, I had a 2pm appointment with my CALWORKS worker. After 1 hour and 15 minutes of waiting, I grabbed somebody with a badge and pleaded with them to find my worker. They came back 20 minutes later and told me that he had taken a "late lunch."

I left.

I had to go back there today. This is the "reaffirmation" appointment. Every year we have to fill out the volumes of paperwork that we had to fill out when we first applied. 99% is monitoring, because you know how we welfare mothers are. Greedy. Pathological. Dirty. Spreading our legs and pooping out babies because it gets us so far. Ya. We get off on screwing the system.

Ahem. Anyway, this time I spotted my worker on the way in, so I ran up to him and tugged on his sleeve like I was a 6 year old child. "I'm here! I'm here!" I squealed.

He told me to sign in and pointed me to the huge line consisting of moms, dads, babies in strollers with toddlers hanging off the sides, and seniors. I reluctantly took my place.

I began to eves drop on a conversation taking place close by where I was standing. An African American woman, mid/late 30's robust, wearing a grey sweatshirt and camo pants asks an African American man, early 20's, long legs stretched out and crossed, sitting next to her if he would like to hear a joke. He nods his head and shrugs. I imagine he's thinking there is not much else to do while waiting.

"A black kid asks his mom for a cell phone. She looks at him and says, 'well then, you better go out and get yourself a job, then.' "

The young man nods and furrows his brow a little. He doesn't know where she's going with this and I don't either. I'm trying to not look totally fascinated while straining to hear every word.

"And then a white kid asks his mom for a cell phone. And you know what she says?"

No! Please tell me.

"which one?"

At that, both of them burst out laughing and so does another African American woman sitting across from them. I stood there swimming in my head. Holy shit! Does she realize what a profound statement she has just made? The fact that that is the funniest joke ever and that a white person would never get it. The fact that it is a racial joke, but while African Americans get "Drunk Negro Cookies" served at the local bakery, the joke about white people is that they are privileged.

the woman went on to say that she has a 17 year old, and 11 year old, and a 7 year old. They all know the value of hard work because when they want something, she only gives them 50% of the cost and they have to make up the rest. And this is for Christmas presents. She says they've gotta know the pain, sweat and blood that she expends to give them things.

"Which one?"

I thought about my own daughter. I got her a Nintendo ds, she's had it for a year, and it's already broken. I overdrew my account to get it for her. She drew all over it with a marker. I promised her today that if she got 10 out of 10 homeworks, I would get the brand new Mario Brothers Game for her after school. It costs almost forty dollars. I wondered how hard that woman would have laughed if I told her that I reward my daughter with expensive gifts for doing her homework.

This Christmas she wanted a lap top. At my sharp look, she exclaimed, "But Adela has one!" I told her that I didn't even have a lap top. She still asked Santa for one. I told her that I told Santa he's not allowed to give her a lap top. She told me that she didn't like me anymore.

My daughter passes for white. The only thing mildly Philipina about her is her slightly, almond shaped eyes. Otherwise she is pale skin with freckles and reddish/auburn hair. She feels fully entitled already as a white person at 5 years old.

They must have taught her about race during Martin Luther King day, because she came home every day for a week talking about how her skin was white, and most of the other people in her class are brown, and did I know that they used to make the people with she stops and looks at her arm....Which one is good, and which one is bad? Oh yah, brown is the bad one...did you know mom that they used to have to work for white people? They were slaves! Oh and we played "slave" today at recess.

I was disturbed. I asked her who she played. She told me that all the kids took turns being owners and slaves. I asked her if the teachers knew that they were playing this game. At this point, I think she sensed my discomfort and so shrugged off the question, asking me instead for ice cream in the most annoying, whiney voice she can muster. I don't want to push these things, because other wise she won't tell me anything, so I act nonchalant, hoping to get more information later.

Over fresh, strawberry, organic ice cream at the local shop for three bucks a scoop, she compares her skin to mine. "You're kind of brown, mom," She tells me, "but I love you anyway." But I love you anyway! How the hell is she learning this? Is society's white supremest message so slithering and subtle that it is able to permeate my own daughter, the daughter of a feminist woman of color, that it could penetrate into her being already? Have I raised her with white privilege? I do buy her a lot of things. In my defense, I think that I am trying to make it up to her for her dad not being around. Kids are pros at exploiting any kind of guilt that they know their parents have.

I am not really sure where to go from here.

Oh yes. Sitting at the welfare office today, I realized a few things. I am mostly marginalized, low socio-economic status. I am fat, so I get no societal koodos for being hot, I'm a single mom, I'm on welfare, so I'm stigmatized. I'm a woman of color, so I'm stigmatized. I'm a radical feminist, which is not so cool with the dominant culture. On top of that, I'm a smoker which is now looked upon the same as being a heroine addict.

But in that office today, the one thing I wasn't, was black or mexican. And that is partly the reason I was able to get in and out of there in less than an hour. Less than an hour. There was one woman there who had been waiting for two hours. Finally, she stood in the line again just to ask the receptionist where her worker was. The receptionist told her that her worker never came in today. They couldn't tell her that 2 hours ago? Her eyes filled up with frustration and tears.

Most of the workers are immigrants. Not white. There are very few white people I think who go to or work in the Department of Social Services. However, the majority of the workers that I saw were armenian or persian, and were old men. My worker is an old, armenian man as well. Even though I'm more robust than I used to be I still no how to charm an old man. I owe that to my years working in a bar and working in strip clubs. I projected the image of the damsel who would be in distress if it weren't for her hero, mr. social worker. Seduction and manipulation are both arts of war. Ones that every girl learns before she reaches 12, I imagine. Women have survived extreme oppression for thousands of years because of those concentrations. Those arts of war.

Oh, I only have one child? I'm asian? I think the "model minority" stereo type is working in my favor here. Well I must not be trying to defraud the system. I don't fit the bill for that. I'm not black or mexican. How proud he is of me for going to school. How proud he is of himself. He takes credit for my decision to further my education. He tells me that he loves to help people. My face beams appreciation that floats over a dark sea of resentment. Is that why you took a lunch during that appointment you booked with me last week?


INTPanentheist said...

Heh - if it makes you feel any better, depending on where you are, if you're white and on welfare, they think you're just white trash, too.

However, there's a stigma there with POCs that I've never experienced, and that I have a hard time wrapping my head around precisely because of the privilege I was raised with unconsciously. "White trash" just doesn't have the same vitriol as the "n" word, yanno?

And, if I were you, I'd talk to the teachers at your daughter's school, because it sounds like, whether it's because of misunderstanding of the lessons, or kids coming in from racist households, some nasty shit is getting internalized. I'm so sorry; that's horrifying.

Sloth Womyn said...

I really think I do need to speak to the teacher. My kid's in Kindergarten and in the few months she's been in school, she's not only learned how to spell a few words but plenty of other things too.

but she isn't in a white/upper middle class school either. Most of the kids are Hispanic or African American. The principal is an African American woman. I think the slave game was something the kids made up as they were trying to process the information of race/class and the history of slavery and racism in their 5 year old minds.

thanks for taking the time to read my rants!

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Oh Robin, the larger society sees you as small and your daughter as small when you have an amazing and beautiful spirit. Unfortunately capitalism and the welfare system see you as a number and as small. They do not see your light, inner beauty and wisdom. As someone who has struggled monetarily for the past three years I can totally resonate with what you write.

Also, sadly the welfare system is a perfectly maintained by capitalism. As you know welfare is a part of capitalism. If welfare did not exist McMansions and everything excessive would not exist. Of course it is women, single mothers like you and people of color. The system has not changed that must and I am surprised by the lack of compassion that emanates out of people such as welfare workers, in our great depression of 2009 that we are in.

Being a medicine womyn is also challenging. People want to turn you down because of your power, wisdom and strength.

If our society was more pro-woman then you would be lifted up for raising a child. You would not be shunned for being human and having a child as a single person. In a pro-woman society you would be truly supported by the community.

I hope you CALWORKS worker can be more respectful of boundaries and time for you in the future. This was quite rude of him.

You are not alone and you can create a space where you are protected from the larger part of society's plan to destroy you. You are strong and are great!

dollyspeaks said...

Oh my goodness... I read this a few days ago Robin and I just had no fucking clue what to say then and I still don't know what to say. I mean, courtesy of middle class/white privilege, I've never had to go through any of the shit you just described. I just know that when I read it my heart kept opening to you and I really tried to feel your pain. I'm 100% with you in spirit. You've done so many good things for me, and I wish there were something I could do for you in return.

And I'm just fucking pissed at racism and sexism and classism and every thing that's hurting this world right now. I can't believe your welfare guy was such an asshole to you. I can't understand how kids would play that game. Or that your daughter would say she loves you despite your skin color. (I'm sure deep down she loves you because you're her mom and you do all you can do to support her and help her reach her potential; from all I've heard from you, I can't believe you're anything less than a completely loving, devoted, nurturing mother).

I guess the best I can offer is my heart as your friend and an ear to listen. My screenname's missdollychan if you ever want to IM. My family has a few old gameboys too that we don't use anymore. If you'd like I could try and find a way to send them to you for your daughter as a gift? Let me know if there's anything I can do to help, Robin!

I'm hoping things get better for you!!!

Sloth Womyn said...

Thanks, Dolly and Cecilia!

It's good that I experience these things because then I can voice it and raise awareness.

I'm so sick of the system, though. I just might be through with trips to the welfare office. I'd rather just take out a bunch of student loans to pay for my life than do that anymore.

Otherwise things are really great!!! And I intend on them staying that way (for at least a while) so don't worry about me!:)

i_muse said...

I cried the day my boys became aware of the cultural construct of race and the very real racism they were experiencing.
Your daughter will fight the ignorance she encounters when she becomes privvy to white racist comments as she grows up. She'll be there defending color and culture because she will know better, just from your example of be-ing.
For now though, my goodness that must have cut you a bit, hearing that "love you even though" thought come from your babe.
I suggest you turn the teachers at your daughters school on to Bell Hooks and Angela Davis.

I'm glad you're writing out the absurdity and the offensiveness of the system.
It's worth what you're going through as you're part healer, part educator, etc.

I could have qualified as disabled and could have gone the welfare way, but, I found it to be more work and more soul damaging that it was worth (for me) at the time.
I just couldn't stand it.
Sometimes I regret the struggles that may have been alleviated a bit with social help, and other times I know what I did was right for me.

carrot quinn said...

This post is so f-ing profound and amazing! I love your tale of the welfare office, and I LOVE the woman telling the joke, and I love your analysis of everything! It's so right-on and clearly written and TRUE, and I'm so freakin glad that you wrote it. Thank you!

ShanaRose said...

This is one of the best accounts of privilege I've ever read.