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 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.
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.
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 the...here 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?