What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

Like a Wheel Within a Wheel: The Kyriarchy Economy

Kyriarchy is a way of understanding the interwoven systems of oppression and hierarchy – those of patriarchy, classism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism. It is one – albeit shortened – way to understand how solidarity can happen under such varied and disparate circumstances among people who are not supposed to get each other, let alone work together to dismantle specific oppressions. If the main tool of patriarchy is misogyny, though, I’d like to suggest that a main tool of and reason for (its MacGuffin, so to say) kyriarchy may be the economy – as it largely has existed, but particularly through capitalism. And a main tool of and reason for most economies is, in turn, the kyriarchy.

To not recognize that the capitalist economy and kyriarchy need and feed each other is to not recognize how either capitalism or kyriarchy exist and operate. It is to erase the impact and wealth that slavery, Jim Crow, and underpaid/unpaid domestic labor have been producing while managers and capitalists – those who have enough money to gamble on ventures and profit from those – are praised and rewarded for the work that others produce. Kyriarchy is both funded by and is skewed towards a warped economic reality in which those who work hardest and produce the most benefits have the least amount of wealth. Consider migrant harvesters and housewives – how would modern Western society survive without them?

Vintage Bank Vault

“Vintage Bank Vault” by Brook Ward via flickr

Of course the most obvious way this works – and yet still denied by much of the US – is that the closer one identifies with the kyriarchal ideal, the more capital one has – the more the economy favors that person. While not every white person is wealthy or even middle class, the more one is part of the predominant White, Middle & Upper Class, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Able-bodied and Psychologically Normed, Educated, and Male Elite structure, the more one has access to what Amaryah Shaye recently configured as “inheritances” – the more capital one has access to. This capital comes in monetary form (inherited wealth and the things one can do with that), educational form (not just blanket “education” as something to be picked up, but as a way of knowing how to respond in a specific culture and among a specific people who can get you nice things and as a way of presenting that culture and your work within that culture as being of utter value even though its real-world equivalence is pushing around numbers and may actually have negative influence upon the world), social form (knowing who is who and knowing the who’s who through familial relations), and even ethnic and racial capital. It is easier to gain trust with the Powers That Be if you were to talk like and look like and write like them.

The system works to keep the system – and the elites – in place. And those elites look a lot like those who show up as members of Congress and the Supreme Court and in the Oval Office, as political pundits, as board members of not only huge multinational corporations but also the non-profits they help fund, as Christian conference speakers, as history writers, as managers, as megachurch pastors, as police, as – yes – those who teach our children. They are the brokers and gatekeepers of the kyriarchy. The various institutions which they populate have as their primary function the guarding of the kyriarchy of which they are members.

We can see how Western Economies (all capitalist, whether large-scale capitalist like libertarian USA or small-scale capitalist like the social democracies of Northern Europe) have benefited from and are benefiting from what Andrea Smith calls the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Slave logic (via anti-Blackness), Genocide land-grabbing (anti-indigenous), and War (anti-Asian/Middle Eastern Orientalism). In the US, we recognize it as the land of Indian Country fueled by the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement and perennial lower-class-ness of Black people, and the perpetual wars in Those Countries of Orientalism to provide the fuel to continue the system of perpetual capitalism. The capital made from the land and bodies of the enslaved and disappeared, Smith argues, in turn, funds the perpetual state of war that the US is in. It’s a cyclical machine of economic enslavement. IOW, kyriarchy economy.

The kyriarchy economy needs heteropatriarchy in order to survive and has created this myth of the Nuclear Family in order to fuel its endless consumptive consumerism. It needs the families to stay intact so it makes it harder for women to survive apart from a male partner, and uses children (as bait/anchors), the church, and even extended families to prevent this dismantling, even in the face of severe physical violence and psychological abuse. This is how much it needs the future consumers that are children and the free labor that is provided by many women in these situations.

When the number of consumerist 1 Mom 2.5 Kids 1 Dad-To-Rule-Them-All Families started dying out, the Kyriarchy Economy stretches its borders to include middle class same sex marriages, but under the same auspices (Now you can have 2 Dads or 2 Moms with options to adopt). Not that this is a bad choice. People should have the option to join in or opt out as they choose. But notice how few rally around the cause of homeless LGBTQ youth, or trans rights in the workplace or public place. But Pride parades are increasingly being heteronormatified in order to be more open for Coca Cola and Target advertisements, even as leather pants are being erased.

However, this isn’t to say that kyriarchy only works in capitalism, but that capitalism is where we best see it exemplified. Many socialists and communists here in the States erase and ignore the plight of people of color, feminists, and other oppressed peoples, telling them that once the capitalist system is overthrown, then true equity will flow. But that is striving for an equality without justice, a racial and sexual hegemony without recognizing the present social realities that exist when brocialists try to take over pro-black solidarity rallies by erasing racial injustice and grievances from POC. They are instituting their own kyriarchy in a system they haven’t even realized and wondering why so few will join their cause. Precisely for the very reason that it is their cause and others are not welcomed.

Bootstraps & Assets: Three (Post) Evangelical Views on the Poverty of the Poor

In my experience with (Post) Evangelicalism, there are three basic models for dealing with poverty and poor people (though most experience some overlap).

The loudest-  though probably not the most widespread – we can refer to as the Dave Ramsey School of Thought: People in the US are in poverty because they choose to be. They are lazy, bereft of character, are without industry and resourcefulness. Poor people basically deserve to be poor. I mean, they can’t even bother to take one of Dave Ramsey’s $200 Seminars on Saving Money and Becoming a Success by the age of 60™!

The above view is deplorable, despicable and ultimately has no redeemable value whatsoever. It’s a Ponzi Scheme for greedy would-be condo developers – the sorts of people who run around twirling their mustaches while tying up their tenants to the train tracks just because.

But its real deviousness lies with how it views and thus affects poor people. According to the DRSoT, we aren’t fully human – we are leeches, drains on society. We are not survivors, we are here to suck up at the sweet teat of Mama Gubmint and drink more cavity juice from Uncle Sugar. We are not resourceful – except for learning how to extract those sweet liquids of public assistance and we exist merely to be tormentors of good old American Republicans. The effects of this kind of thinking leads to the Tea Party, which leads to a continued Starving Out the Poors aggressive campaign*. These are the people who brag about cutting food stamps; these are the school administrators who take away kids’ lunches in front of their peers because their parents didn’t pay their debts (for a public school). These people inflict real harm into the lives of the poor and inflict damage to Jesus’ Body.

The second model isn’t quite as insidious – in fact, it’s innocuous. And therein lies the problem. For this model is much more widespread than believed. If the first view is that of Rush Limbaugh, this is the view of the common person in (Post) Evangelicalism. And it seems so benign, so well-intentioned. Which makes sense. Most people aren’t villains and have little aspirations of being a Master Capitalist or even a banker.

However, White Evangelicalism is still problematic and these problems can remain with those who leave Evangelicalism and yet have not had the space or resources to fully wrestle with how Evangelicalism and White Privilege make us think about Whiteness, about class struggles, about justice and work. We tend to think of our neighbors, when we do, as decent people and we can move our imaginations a bit to see ourselves in their shoes. We don’t have to know poor people to feel some pity for them and to believe that they may not be the people who directly do their own damage.

And this is where Ruby Payne’s Culture of Poverty rubric comes from. It is exhibited prominently this week in a guest post at Rachel Held Evans. While the author takes pains to remind readers that people in poverty are not the main ones to blame for their own poverty or conditions, she also tips the scales in a way that, frankly, gives me pause. What Culture of Poverty teaches is that poor people are different (read: inferior) to middle class people and must be studied through a framework that is overwhelmingly middle class but lacking in critical theory or social sciences. One can find good truths through observation and being near – but strong assumptions still remain from an outsider perspective and prescriptions are also given from that outsider perspective. There is still a reluctance to grapple with underlying systemic factors that contribute to high- and generational-poverty. 

To be sure, Amanda Opelt has some necessary insight for her (mostly) middle class white American Christian readers.

 I did the math and found that someone working full time at the current minimum wage (assuming they had paid sick days) would only make $15,080 a year.

In most places, that is not enough for a family of two, let alone three, to live on adequately. And that’s assuming paid sick days and a full schedule. And…

But for the low-income women I worked with, their lives were a perpetual house of cards.  They had no resources, no safety nets to keep them from going under.  One step forward, two steps back.

Ms. Opalt outlines – based on experience working in inner city Nashville – the trap that poverty is. Without a system of on-ground, replenishing, available and familiar safety nets (family to loan a few hundred dollars during a pinch; a few thousand in savings just in case) and cushions, poor people often have to rely on payday loans with exorbitant rates (I speak from experience having just missed this appointment due to the saving grace of having a family member in a place to help me pay rent this month), or pay more for upkeep and maintenance of crappy-but-necessary vehicles, or use day-to-day bus passes rather than cheaper monthly passes, or pay fees to restore the gas and lights because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills until tax returns, or stay at motels because of bad credit, or spend precious few dollars on a temporary escape that most middle class people take for granted. These survival mechanisms cost more money than stabler families and individuals have to spend for more stable and superior services.

So Ms. Opelt is correct in pointing this trap out and then giving some all-too-real cases of how this affects real live people. Poverty is like Mordor – you don’t fancy yourself just walking out.

But the sentence preceding this excerpt points to a problem with this worldview, one that many White Americans believe despite its vast ugly untruth reasserting itself on a daily, institutional level.

Abuse, racism, corruption; we all experience these hardships to a varying degree. [emphases mine]

While we may all be familiar to some level – however minute or overwhelming- with abuse and corruption, White people in a post-colonial world are not targets of racism. Something we must always remember: White colonists, elites and slave traders invented and whites of all socioeconomic statuses implemented and operate the social construct of racism. The express purpose of racism is to create and perpetually maintain a permanent underclass and to continue to divide the lower classes to keep us from organizing and revolting.

Racism as it is directed at non-White people is a tool to maintain poverty. Claiming that all people face racism not only  belittles actual, systemic racism that happens to People of Color, but itself furthers the hold of systemic poverty. Which brings us to another criticism of the Culture of Poverty: there is little societal, systemic analysis of the why’s to poverty. Ms. Opelt’s piece highlights this inconsistency by noting that “the playing field is not always level and not everyone was born with bootstraps.” The bootstraps myth is a tape in conservative America about self-reliance – but it’s mostly about neglect of community and social-political responsibility.

Which isn’t to say that Opelt and Culture of Poverty adherents shirk responsibility for the poor on an individual basis. Like Opelt, they tend to be generous and voluntary, working as teachers in underresourced urban and rural schools, as social workers, working for non for profits, helping out in the inner city’s soup kitchen on the weekends. Many tend to put their money where their mouths are – but there is the complication that they look at the field of the work and only see the value of rescuing individual strangers on the road to Emmaus. They refuse to – for socio-theological reasons – acknowledge the existence of systemic evil. And they see social programs of uplift as being naive and intrusive at best, responsible for poverty at worst.

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of the Culture of Poverty view is how it belittles the lives and communities of poor folk.

What I learned in the inner city is that to be caught in the cycle of generational poverty is to experience a bankruptcy of spirit, a deficit of hope.  It is poverty of education, community, safety, health, and spiritual guidance.

The problem here isn’t so much that poor people are turned into adversaries in this scenario – instead, we are objects to be pitied – emphasis on the objects. We are removed of our own experiences and thoughts and agency. Heck, even our communities and spirituality are labeled “impoverished.” We are infantilized and, in the Culture of Poverty Culture, can’t do anything without White Middle Class America stepping in to rescue us.

While on the face of it, because the Ruby Payne method lacks the antagonism of the Dave Ramsey method, we tend to think of purveyors of this model to be on the side of those in poverty. It is certainly better than the DRM. But, as my friend and unofficial mentor Don Washington likes to say, remember that better is not the same as good. And erasing people’s agency while belittling their communities and spirituality is not good.

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, "You are NOT powerless." Black & white imagery

Image: Female protester wearing a sign that says, “You are NOT powerless.” Black & white imagery

To contrast, I think Christian Community Development Association shows a way forward at least for Evangelicals and a more healthy way of connecting with under-resourced communities and people.

CCDA, a coalition of Evangelical churches and community-based NFPs – believes in incarnational ministry and asset-based community development. The idea is that White Middle Class people can come live with poorer neighbors not as leaders but as neighbors. Often divested neighborhoods will have helicopter drops where outsiders will bring in resources regardless of what is happening and needed in the community. Rather, what we need are efforts to address lack of community resources through acknowledging what the community has, what it knows, and what it knows it needs. If White Evangelicals want to make remarks about how impoverished our community relationships are, I’d like them to live as neighbors and see how strong our communities are, how we come together and celebrate with each other and pitch in at times of need. And I’d like them to do this for years and years before they claim to know what we live with.

There are ways to treat poor people as fully human – as beings made in the image of God. Our communities and spirituality aren’t bankrupt – our checking accounts are missing or perilously low.

———————————-

*This campaign can and should be defeated, but enough Americans will both have to awaken their conscience to vote against it and demand full equality for all. We need a moral education.

White Picket Fences Vs the Gospel

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

But if those don’t fit your criteria, at least desire neat gadgets, amirite?

I say this based on the thread of a very popular Christian humorist. This humorist has been known to make disparaging remarks about poor workers in Walmart, to prioritize  optimistic success-selling in a highly consumerist society through consumerist branding strategies, and – at least to my knowledge – has never engaged in any substantive critique of the power structures of the two worlds he collides in, megachurch Christianity and marketing business.

I became a bit upset this morning at his declared willingness to forgive Apple of its skimming of tax monies if only they’d release some headphones that don’t get all tangled. Considering the depth of austerity in this nation, considering the tax evasions from the super-rich (including not just Apple, but GE, Chevron, Bank of America,Goldman Sachs, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Mitt Romney for starters), I thought this comment inappropriate and wanted to give another perspective.

while people are starving in the streets. Thanks, Jon. i’m glad you got your priorities straight.*

Funny? No. But I didn’t particularly think the original post was funny either. So I should expect some push-back. This is what happens when people critique a joke, no matter how appropriate the joke or the critique. The Onion’s sexist and racist off-joke on child actor Quvenzhane Wallis, for instance, inspired critique from womanists and their allies – as well as several parents, of course – which in turn outraged (mostly white, mostly males) defenders declaring that the joke and the target of the joke are both for the taking and fully appropriate. Those who don’t approve are humorless, of course. So these kinds of responses to me weren’t surprising, just to be expected.

I don’t think Jon was supporting anyone skipping taxes. Instead, he was poking fun at a situation in a lighthearted way, in which nobody should be offended (besides perhaps Apple engineers)

and

 guilt juke??

and

This is SUCH an epic Jesus juke!

and

You didn’t kill the joke. [jasdye] killed the joke

Acuff’s joke was, I feel, not anywhere near the level of the Onion‘s – and neither were the defenses. Acuff wasn’t targeting anybody specifically and his joke didn’t seem to be made to shock or tantalize. I didn’t feel that he was having fun at the expense of the poor – but rather, and this is the point, that he ignores them and that his place in Christian communication furthers this ignoring of the poor to further the aims of White, conservative, middle class, consumerist American Christian culture. Not that what Jon does is implicitly evil. Middle class America needs assistance too, and learning how to handle money and not end up in debt is one way to do that – it’s a good service. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the poor.

And that is troublesome, from a Jesus-follower perspective. Through the prophets and Jesus, we are constantly asked to look after the poor, to treat them justly, to consider them, to seek economic justice.

But instead, we get Christian-ese justification for treating the poor like crap.

However, Jason, it could also be argued that our country is over funding the poor, considering how many people choose to live off the government, and how many unnecessary luxuries are provided at taxpayers’ expense.

14-05-10 Happy Fence Friday!That was a serious reply. And the whole exchange put into context tells us much of what is wrong with typical White Evangelicalism in the US. It blames the poor for their problems. Because if it’s not the fault of the poor (or their proxies, the government), then someone else has to be blamed.

By creating such a well-manicured and manufactured world unto itself, Middle Class American Christianity tries very hard to maintain its image, to keep up the Truman Show it has created unto itself. It is imperative to not shatter the illusion of suburbia. If we look on the other side of our white picket fences, our world will crumble like pie crust.

If we look to the maids, the gardeners, fruits and vegetable pickers as fully human beings  created in God’s image and treated injustly and inhumanely, we begin to feel guilty about how little we pay for our services. And we don’t want to feel guilt. It impedes on the goodness that God has blessed us with because we are good and deserve it. Why else would we have our comforts? How else would we be able to enter a Walmart or Target and mock the employees for looking so beat-down, for not being one hundred percent happy about working at a company that works so hard to beat them down.

But then, for Christians, the Gospel is a pick ax chopping down the barriers between the affluent and the poor, between the bungalowed and the homeless. The Good News of the homeless rabbi from the outskirts of a poor colonized area should shatter the illusions of a fence dividing his followers from the poor, from those “lazy people on welfare”, from “takers”. They’re uncomfortable to look at, sure. But so was Jesus…

*I left Jon a message and am waiting to hear back from him.

The Poor Will Always Be Amongst …

While doing a quick surf on the interwebz yesterday, I rediscovered why I so much hate Megan McArdle’s pseudo-intelligent writing. This famous statement from Jesus was a title for one of her posts that – as usual with this cryptic statement – was used to justify an anti-poor agenda. In her case, she was arguing against the validity of at-risk hunger in the American poor. The logic was akin to, “See, they’re all so fat! Ergo, they don’t need MORE food money.”

It’s a pretty despicable show of aggression against the marginalized, but Christians all throughout this country use Jesus’ words against his intentions all the time. On Facebook, some of my friends and I were discussing this term and what it means. I like some of their alternative perspectives – that it may be about the “poor in spirit”, that it’s also a sign that Jesus used the poor as an example to look to when he would no longer be around. We were discussing this term, of course, because we hear it being used as an excuse to do nothing for the poor – or nothing structurally, at least. That and, “All people are sinful. Therefore, whatever we do will simply fail. We will have to wait until Jesus comes.”

The thread itself was on this great resource, Let the Churches Do It Is a Deceptive Myth (h/t to Slacktivist), that makes the – all-too-rare – case that churches cannot and will not pick up the slack for government if the “government would only get out of the way.” It also clarifies that there is tremendous work still to be done with/for the poor NOW, and we don’t have to wait for the gov’t to get out of the way, but rather partner with them and fill in missing pieces.

But back to “The poor will always be amongst you…”

Homeless Woman searching for cans and bottlesphoto © 2006 Franco Folini | more info (via: Wylio)

Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. He does that a lot. Sometimes when you’re reading your bible, it’ll point that out for you. Sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper. Sometimes he makes commentary on and updates the ancient scriptures. Sometimes, he uses the ancient scriptures to put the present reality into horrible context. This is what he was doing in this case.

The original quote is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of the nicest books in the world, let alone the Hebrew canon. But it is within this passage where we discover that all servants/slaves must be released from their debt service during the seventh year. In fact, all debts are to be canceled on the seventh year (pretty outstanding, even by today’s standards). And it is here where we find this about treating the poor:

There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.


If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15; NIV)

This isn’t just about a bunch of nice individuals. This isn’t just about being kind. This is to be a concerted effort by the collective people of Israel. In other words, “the government”

The writer, Moses, mentions specifically that there will be plenty of resources to share, so there should not be any poor amongst them. However, he knows their hearts, and he knows reality enough to say that “There will always be poor people in the land.

“Therefore….”

Therefore…

Are there poor people among us? Why?