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.