the philosophactivist

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Overworked and Underpaid...what else is New?

It is no coincidence that many of the QPOC you know might have 2 or 3 jobs (paid or unpaid) and don’t have a lot of free time. I’ve been thinking about this as the first production/reading of my play, GenderqueerFiles: La Qolectiv@, is coming to a close. With an all QPOC cast and crew, practices were difficult to have since all of us were on the grind and had very little time for run-throughs. I’ve thought about this "time situation" throughout my life. I thought that my mom, aunts and friends’ mothers who were all women of color working themselves into the ground was normal. Everyone’s parents didn’t have time to kiss them goodnight, take them to a park, or put them in girl or boy scouts, right? Wrong.

Time is one of those resources that folks living in poverty can never afford. We pay and pay and pay for it. What’s a little time worth to our community?

Queer folks of color at the intersections of race, gender and sexuality are up against multiple layers of discrimination based on appearance and something as small (or large) as other’s perceptions. Like many POC, we work extremely hard and get paid astronomically less. Many times we are expected (consciously or unconsciously) to work 10X harder by our white (and sometimes even brown) supervisors. Many times we are seen as mere work horses. This is all tied to perceptions of people of color as lazy, underachievers. People (maybe not even people) to bear the brunt of hard labor like we've done for centuries. Sometimes these perceptions are even tied to beliefs that we should be grateful that they’ve hired us or let us work there instead of a white person. And essentially they’re doing us a favor by working us into the ground. We should definitely thank them.

A lot of times we internalize this. We carry these toxic beliefs within ourselves. These beliefs that we have a horrible work ethic and that we must work like a dog and be underpaid and be appreciative for whatever scraps we can get. Sometimes we even feel that it’s normal to be constantly depressed with chronic pain. As a person with lupus, I must say that I know what this is like firsthand. As a person who has worked in a number of predominantly white corporate and non-profit environments, I can vouch for many of these sentiments. 

Even at 16 working at this ice cream place, I remember how my supervisor remarked to my mom “Oh, Toi is such a hard worker.” Back then I was proud. Who wouldn’t be proud of being called that? Later in my adulthood I began to understand the implications of that sentence. Was she saying this because she had a belief that as a brown person that I wouldn’t work as hard and she had been pleasantly surprised? As I saw how hard I was expected to work as compared to my white or male co-workers, the meaning began to dawn on me.

Basically, in the eyes of the “dominant”, we’re still chattel. No matter how far we pretend or wish we have progressed…we’re still in the fields with the cotton and the overseer in many ways. Many of us still don’t own land. Either we never did or we’ve been displaced. We’re having to go back to “folk remedies” because the health care system is not only broken but many times we opt out of much needed care so we don't have to deal with racism, classism and homophobia among other –isms and –phobias. As our country slinks into more and more of an economic depression- we are egregiously backsliding with civil rights.

This false Ameritocracy kills. Do people really get what they deserve? Earn their keep? Are folks living in poverty in that situation because they haven't worked hard enough?People of color are working themselves into early graves. A lot of us are not emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually well because we don’t have time to take care of ourselves and many of us are also putting others needs before our own. Many of us live our lives on the grind til we’re in the ground. People are not meant to live their lives this way. Our nervous systems are blown out before middle age because of all that we’re up against. Our bodies give out on us a decade before those living the good life, with resources and power.

Yea, maybe it’s hard to hear- but many of us already knew this…
If you don't believe me or need more facts about the inequity- or just want cold, hard facts for those in disbelief, here’s more:

Important facts to note from Queers for Economic Justice's report “Tidal Wave: LGBT Poverty and Hardship in a time of Economic Crisis:

  • White gay men in same-sex couples have poverty rates of 2.7%, compared to 4.5% of Asian or Pacific Islander, 14.4% of black and 19.1% of Native American gay men. While just under 6% (5.7%) of non-Hispanic lesbians are poor, that rate is more than tripled (19.1%) for Hispanic lesbians in couples.

  • African Americans in same sex couples have significantly higher poverty rates than black heterosexual couples and are roughly three times higher than those of white people in same-sex couples. Poverty in LGB communities is raced.

  • Home ownership rate of black individuals in same-sex couples raising children is 20 percent compared to 63 percent of those in different-sex marriages raising children.
  • 12 percent of Black LGBT people in the survey had a household income of less than $15,000.

  • In San Francisco, about 10% of Asian same-sex households earned less than $25,000; there was not a large difference between what lesbian and gay male households earned

  • Large percentages of the transgender population are unemployed and have incomes far below the national average. While no detailed wage and income analyses of the transgender population have been conducted to date, convenience samples of the transgender population find that 6%-60% of respondents report being unemployed, and 22-64% of the employed population earnsless than $25,000 per year.

  • 59% of transgender survey respondents were clearly living in poverty, with the actual number estimated at closer to 65%.When the official unemployment rate in San Francisco stood at 4.7%, more than 35% of the trans community in the city was unemployed.

  • Nearly 60% of respondents to a Good Jobs NOW! survey earned under $15,300 annually and only 8% earned over $45,900. 40% did not have a bank account of any kind. Only 25% were working full-time. 16% were working part-time, and nearly 9% had no source of income. Over 57% reported experiencing employment discrimination.

  • In a survey of 165 low-income LGBT adults in New York, 35% reported living in homeless shelters, 7% on the street/subways, 3% in SROs (Single Room Occupancies) and 26% with friends/relatives or in temporary living situations

     For the full report you can go here.

Sometimes queer folks of color, in order to feel we can be ourselves or to feel comfortable in a work environment, have to accept less pay. Maybe because we’re at a non-profit or just starting out working for ourselves. If we are doing anything in the arts and expecting support from our community- that’s tough to get sometimes because 
a) our community doesn’t necessarily have the most capital and b) there’s are a lot of internalized -isms that go on (i.e. “shade”) that might keep our projects from getting off the ground for some time. Newcomers usually lack an extensive network of support that queer "veterans" have established. 

If we're going to thrive and not just survive we've got to support each other and continue to build sustainable communities. We've got to create our own jobs and employ ourselves and our community members. We've got to call out these dynamics and hold folks with positional power accountable for their erroneous expectations, ideas, and actions. We've got to address our own internalized oppression and support each other as a community in doing this healing work. We have to continue to wake up and not continue to expect this broken system to be fixed solely by the government. Though it'd be great if they'd acknowledge (and actually do something about the fact) that a lot of us don't earn a living wage and have a poor quality of life because of it. Working ourselves into the ground for less and less pay is obviously not the answer. We've got to continue to be creative with our solutions and we can't let people continue to pretend as if the system is going to change with the "usual" people using the same ineffective tactics and promoting the interests and working for the interests of a very privileged few.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Food. Justice. Part 1: The Color of Food Justice

People's Grocery- West Oakland, CA

Working as a food justice organizer, one of the first actions I took was to scour the internet, libraries, bookstores and organizations for faces like mine. I knew there had to be brown faces in the food justice movement somewhere and it was vital to my survival as a person dedicated to food, health, and economic justice to find people of color who “got” it. Folks who didn't overuse “vote with your fork” and think that everyone has “time” and resources. Folks who saw the reality and spoke to systemic issues that made it all the more difficult to be “green” and “sustainable” and a “locavore.”

Which systemic issues, you ask? Not having enough money for some organic food. Not having access to healthy foods because you live in a neighborhood with only convenience stores and fast food restaurants and no grocery stores. Not having a backyard to grow food in or a community garden in your neighborhood. Not having time to buy and cook healthy food let alone grow your own food. Not being told that your ancestors diet was healthy and not being told the truth behind our behaviors today and the way that capitalism has bred our community's sickness and contributed to an obscene amount of preventable deaths....genocide.

The narrative that we frequently hear obviously comes from mostly privileged white folks who seem to omit race and class from their conversations. It's convenient and comfortable for them. All the work our ancestors did devoid of labels such as “local” and “organic” seems to also get left behind. Which predecessors? Great black agriculturalists such as George Washington Carver who may have been one of the first to have been concerned with sustainable agriculture. Great brown farmers and activists like Cesar Chavez who saw firsthand the toxic affects of what was being put on the crops farmworkers harvested (and continue to harvest).

In the dominant narrative it seems like black and brown folks are ignorant about health and healthy food. Perhaps we're “too lazy” to start a garden and grow our own food. We don't want to just spend the extra money on the “front end” instead of on hospital bills due to our eating “habits” on the back end. It seems much easier for food activists to focus on our behaviors and glaze over issues of time and employment (working two and three jobs), space (maybe we don't own land or don't have access to community gardens or live in food deserts full of fast food restaurants and corner stores with unfresh and processed foods). There's an overall assumption that we just don't want to be healthy and that we don't care about our family's health. Very little is said about discrimination within the health care system, decreased access to health care, limited access to healthy foods and land, and other issues that communities of color haven't had a lot of control over.

It's easier to play the blame game. It's easier not to check detrimental and erroneous assumptions and to be guided by stereotypes and biases. It's easier to be exclusive and not include brown folks into the food movement. Race talk just ruins things. There are tokens to report back about what's going on in the community. Even though the reports aren't needed because it's all the community's fault. Obviously they like to eat that food, live that way. Quick get together a brigade to get them all to Vote with their Fork...

even if they can't afford one.