Category Archives: poverty

An Open Letter To Kal Penn On Stop And Frisk

"The Time Machine" PremiereBy Guest Contributor Bridget Todd

Dear Kalpen Suresh Modi,

I’ve been a big fan of yours for some time.

Even though I don’t know you, you always struck me as someone who was thoughtful about race.

When I heard your stage name Kal Penn really came from your wanting to see if white casting directors would be more responsive to “Kal” than to “Kalpeen,” I found it was so hilariously insightful that I couldn’t help but become a fan.

For whatever reason, I assumed you and I were similar. But on Tuesday when you tweeted that you were supportive of Stop and Frisk, I knew we weren’t as similar as I once assumed.

We had a brief back and forth about the policy on twitter, and while I appreciated you taking the time to share your thoughts, 140 characters isn’t enough space to adequately tell you misinformed you really are on Stop and Frisk.

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Six Things You Can Do Instead Of Shaming Unmarried Women For Having Children

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Image Credit: AfroDad

By Guest Contributor  Deesha Philyaw

A few years ago, there was an orchestrated online blogging effort to shame black women for having children outside of marriage.  This effort masqueraded as a movement of concern seeking to reduce poor socioeconomic outcomes for black children.  Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As a co-founder (along with my ex-husband) of co-parenting101.org, I was asked to participate in this effort.  I took note of the fact that my invitation to participate came after the movement launched and was found to be wanting.  I mean, after you castigate women and call their children “bastards,” and critics are calling you out for it, it’s definitely time for Plan B (no pun intended).  Well, I wanted no parts of it, and I made my reasons clear when I declined the invitation.  Co-parenting101.org was created to support and encourage parents and their children, not demonize them.

Further, I refused to participate in something that I felt would dishonor the struggles of my single mother, who did not raise me to be ashamed of the circumstances of my birth nor of her marital status.  But for a variety of reasons, I did grow up feeling ashamed about it.  And I know that I’m not the only child of unmarried parents who experienced this shame, or the shame that’s heaped upon people simply because they are poor.  It’s a shame that predates blogging and the internet. Shame clearly isn’t effective birth control.

I also chose not to participate out of respect for my relatives and grade-school classmates who later became young, unmarried mothers unexpectedly.  Because I know that on several occasions, I was just one day in my menstrual cycle or one broken condom away from that same situation. We went to the same free clinics together in 8th and 9th grade, got our “foam and rubbers” to use until the birth control pills were reliable, and had sex while holding our breath.  Nobody said a word to us about HIV and AIDS in 1985.  A lot of them got pregnant before they wanted to; I didn’t.  I don’t feel superior.

That said, I absolutely care about the fact that half of all children raised in single-mother-headed households grow up in poverty.  But shouldn’t we be attacking poverty, instead of attacking people who live in poverty, if that’s really the concern?  Imagine if even a fraction of the $1 trillion in resources and public support for the failed “War on Drugs” of the past 40 years had funded a “War on Poverty?”  But that didn’t happen, of course, because it’s easier to simply blame poor people for being poor.  In the absence of actual solutions comes blame, shame, and the politics of respectability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six alternatives to shaming and blaming unmarried women for having children:

1. Get Your Stats Straight

Here, here, here, and here are some statistics that are often mentioned to highlight concern for children raised by single mothers in the U.S.:

*While half of all children raised by single mothers grow up in poverty, only one in 10 of their counterparts in married households grow up poor.

*Nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born outside of marriage.

*Most babies born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage, and in the last 20 years, the fastest growth for this trend has been among 20-something white women who have some college education.

However, a statistic that’s far less widely known is that most single mothers in the U.S. are separated, divorced, or widowed.  And these moms have higher poverty rates than single moms in other high-income countries, despite working more hours.  Across the board, single US mothers’ employment experiences and support from the social safety-net lag behind that of their counterparts abroad.  

2. Support Public Policies That Support Women And Children

Why are US single working mothers and their children faring so poorly? And why is marriage put forth as a cure-all for their predicament?

Writing in The American Prospect, Amanda Marcotte observes, “To justify obsessing over non-married-ness—at the expense of, say, asking why a single income isn’t enough to be middle class, as it was for huge percentages of the population in the 1950s—requires believing that single women need a bit more scolding…”

And if single women need more scolding, single black women–with our wanton baby-making selves–need 10 times more.  But, oh, right…it’s about the children.  Our children face a harder row to hoe than their white counterparts, hence the urgency of the situation…and the extra heaping of scorn.  

Except scorn never fed a child’s mind or empty belly the way, say, early childhood education and his mom’s equal and higher wages could.  Scorn doesn’t enact better family- and sick-leave policies, and it doesn’t protect the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps (SNAP) from Republicans hell-bent on destroying the social safety-net.

And scorn never gave a woman or girl access to birth control and abortion when politicians on the right want to eliminate access to both…at the same damn time.  

3. Ditch The Marriage Myths About People With Low Incomes

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, people with low incomes subscribe to more traditional values with regard to marriage and divorce than those with moderate and higher incomes.  Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow in psychology and the study’s lead author, notes that lower-income partners “have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples.”  But, according to the study, they may still choose to remain single because they recognize that sustaining a marriage is particularly difficult when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and they don’t want to end up divorced.

The study also concluded that unmarried women with lower incomes have children because while they may have no role models for successful, healthy marriages and may not trust the men they know with their “financial and family future,” they do feel capable of raising a child because they have role models for successful single motherhood.

Unfortunately, government policy is based on false assumptions about what people with lower incomes value and how they relate.  The result? A billion dollars spent on educational curricula to promote marriage to people who already believe in it.

Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and senior author of the study, says increasing social mobility, through educational and career opportunities, is the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates.  In general, government money is better spent helping people with the “day-to-day challenges in their lives” such as transportation and affordable child care, not on relationship education.

4. Remember that Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

Relationships and marriages fail.  Birth control fails.  Some women choose not to marry people they deem to be unsuitable mates, while still choosing to have a child. Things happen that we don’t anticipate.  Punishing ourselves or teaching our children that they should feel less-than when life doesn’t go as planned isn’t productive.  As parents, our job is to help our children make wise and healthy decisions.  But it’s also our job to raise resilient children who know how to be resourceful, how to cope, and how to bounce back when bad, difficult, or unexpected things happen.

5. Stop Talking About Single Moms…and Start Listening To Them

Stacia L. Brown, founder of BeyondBabyMamas.com, makes so many excellent points about the diverse social, personal, and economic experiences of single moms in her piece for The Atlantic Sexes, “How Unwed Mothers Feel About Being Unwed Mothers,” that I’m just going to link to it here.

6. Remember That Not All Single Moms Are Parenting Alone

Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain old common sense bear out the fact that children can thrive when their fit and willing parents play an active role in their lives, even if their parents aren’t married to each other.  If the government wants to spend on curricula for parents, then funding ongoing, quality co-parenting classes–not just the handful sometimes required by family courts–would be a wise investment.

Someone can make a terrible mate, yet still be a great parent to their child and a great parenting partner to their ex-mate.  This isn’t always easy, to say the least, and our cultural expectation is that exes will be hopelessly combative.  Yet some co-parents manage to put their animosity side and put their children first.  Some previously absentee fathers do the hard work of re-engaging in their children’s lives.  And some single moms parent with the support of a “village” of extended family, other moms, and friends.

~

Children born to unmarried parents are not a foregone conclusion. Condemnation of single parents doesn’t allow for the myriad of possibilities of their children’s lives.  But for black folks, embracing these possibilities requires us to let go of cultural presumptions about deadbeat baby daddies, child-support-misspending, promiscuous baby mamas, and their “illegitimate” children.  Our children deserve better.  They deserve our advocacy and our activism–not our contempt.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author (with her ex-husband) of “Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce” and the co-founder of co-parenting101.org. She is a remarried mother of four girls–two daughters and two bonus daughters.

 

Meanwhile, On TumblR: The Non-Fiction Flick And Vid Edition

By Andrea Plaid

I think I’ve been a bad influence on the R’s Senior Editor Tami Winfrey Harris because I’ve been talking her into watching documentaries for our Table for Two posts. We have another one lined up next week (with a special guest breaking the proverbial bread with us), but I want to hip y’all to some other non-fiction flicks and vids…

…starting off with Youth Speak‘s and University of California San Francisco’s collaboration on this great PSA about Type 2 diabetes. Instead of fat-shaming–as too many food-justice docs do when discussing the links between body size, physical condition, and health–this video gives a structural analysis on who’s to blame and how to hold them accountable to the rest of us. (H/t @newmodelminority)

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Meanwhile On TumblR: Come Get The “Accidental Racist” And Wage-Gap Realities For Women Of Color

By Andrea Plaid

Via thenewestrant.com

Via thenewestrant.com

To paraphrase bell hooks, like feminism, allyship is something you do, not who you are. And Racializens gave a lot of love to Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan, who wrote one of the smartest come-get-your-people responses to “Accidental Racist” (and, btw, wrote a great post on allyship itself):

It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a fucking accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.

Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.

If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves fucking trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo fucking hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the fuck outta Black people.

That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.

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Racialicious Review: Who And What Really Has A Place At The Table?

By Andrea Plaid

Via jonathanjphalperin.com

Via jonathanjphalperin.com

 

Taking a break from the Crush column to review one of my favorite kinds of movies–documentaries–but I promise to include a Crush alum to keep some continuity!

So, let me keep my promise: I saw CrushR Raj Patel in a celebrity-powered version of Food, Inc., the well-regarded exposé on the effects of agribusiness and the US government subsidizing it on people living in this country and Latin America, the other night. The documentary, called A Place At The Table–as powered by Top Chef‘s Tom Colicchio (and co-directed and produced by Colicchio’s spouse Lori Silverbush), actor Jeff Bridges, and musicians T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars–takes Food, Inc.‘s initial nugget of criticism on how agribusiness and its federal subsidies helps create food insecurity to create a solid framework on exactly how it’s done, from the Reagan-era dependence on food charities to fill in the needs of food-insecure USians as the administration cut federal spending on food programs (the film states that the US had 200 food banks in 1980 but now there are 40,000 food banks, soup kitchens, and pantries) to pricing many people living in this country out of being able to get healthy food (according to the film, the relative price of fresh fruit and vegetables has gone up by 40% since 1980, while the price of processed foods has gone done by about the same percentage) to business policies (like the fact, says the documentary, that we subsidize the basic ingredients in processed foods but don’t subsidize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains because the producers tend to be small producers as well as food suppliers and business owners determining that it’s simply not cost-effective to make fresh produce available to certain locations because they’re considered “out of the way”).

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Anita Hill

By Andrea Plaid

Professor Anita Hill. Via gazette.gmu.edu

Professor Anita Hill. Via gazette.gmu.edu

Professor Anita Hill lifted my feminism from my soul and inner circle of cohorts and into a public place.

My old hometown newspaper called the women’s center where I served as co-coordinator during my undergrad days to get a quote about the Judiciary Committee’s fooliganery regarding Professor Hill testifying against then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas.  Since I answered the phone, I told the reporter exactly what was on my heart to say: I wanted to give Hill a bouquet of roses for speaking out, for steadily speaking her truth about the sexual harassment Thomas inflicted on her.

The reporter used my quote in the story.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Strong Families’ “Still Wading: Roe At 40″

By Andrea Plaid

Forward Together‘s Strong Families Movement curated a superb commemoration of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary this week. Of course, the organization showcased fantastic work by artist-activists like Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler

Still Wading DRKRZ Design

“Still Wading” by Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler.

 and Favianna Rodriguez.

Share Your Abortion Story by Favianna Rodriguez.

Share Your Abortion Story by Favianna Rodriguez.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United’s (ROC United) Videos

By Andrea Plaid

You know I love the hell out of something or someone when I have to write a second post about it/them.

In my interview with Crush alum Yvonne Yen Liu, I posted this video ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman showed at Facing Race’s “No Justice, No Peas” panel that Liu moderated:

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