Calm Down, No One Thinks Class is More Important than Race 

Writing

I’ve been in the community organizing and activism game for a long time. I was an activist in junior high, which is when I got a teacher fired for being both incompetent and bigoted by circulating and organizing a petition. I’ve been doing that work ever since. In high school, myself and other community leaders ended the racial violence that permeated our poor, but diverse campus. I helped bring the first Black History Month rally to our campus. I also intervened to get access to advanced classes for my friends, among many other fun stories I’ll save for another time.

When I got to college, I wanted to study and not be involved. But unfortunately, as one of only 12 percent of the Stanford campus that was poor and one of the 3 percent that was both poor and white, I sort of realized quickly that I didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Among my many acts on campus, I was instrumental in creating the first group for poor and first generation college students at an elite institution. I also forced Stanford to adopt class as part of their Acts  of Intolerance protocol and participated in creating and advocating for training for staff members who were dealing with poor and traumatized students. One of my last acts was to speak at a rally against Arizona’s “show me your papers law” as a working class person who implored others to fight alongside my immigrant neighbors and to fight racial injustice. As a teacher, my curriculum included the teaching of every single movement in the 60s and my signature unit was on the Black Freedom Struggle where I featured the Black Panthers. I also closed the achievement gap between my nonwhite and white students and poor and rich students in my first semester of classroom teaching. So now that I’ve stated my credentials, I hope you can hear what I am about to say to you. Race is a profoundly salient and destructive construct, whose systematic oppression has brought hell on earth for far too many. I will fight it, always. I would happily die for the cause of fighting it.

But if you think that my talking about class or my talking about being poor and white is somehow taking away from that fight or demonstrates that I think class is more important, you are being an unhelpful dick and I have to question your motives.

Do you know how many universities in this country even have researchers studying class as a category of analysis? I do. And it’s very fucking few. There is very little research that has been done and this is partially why I am not in a doctoral program. I was rejected from several schools because I studied class, even though my work also involves the study of race.

Here’s how little we understand about class in this country: several of you require that I regularly provide evidence that I grew up poor. All the time. Everyday. Every fucking day for ten years, I have had to prove that poverty was a problem for me to self proclaimed socialists and Marxists.

Only one editor on the entire Stanford campus would accept my writing on class and I’m married to him. When I got to Stanford they wouldn’t even use the word “low income” because of the “stigma” involved. It took four years just to get them to do that. I hate interacting with most of the people who claim to be my ally because say things like, “those people are poor because they don’t work hard enough.” I spent four years just fighting to be able to say the truth, and most of my opposition came from people who claim to be helping the oppressed.

And I get this. There are limited resources and people of color have suffered a lot and it feels like and has historically been the case that we’ve pitted these two against each other. I understand why that concerns people. I understand why  people assumed things and silenced me. That fear is real.

But… I also think we are ALL adults who can do things differently and talk about both at the same time. And I also think that dividing us up, such that we don’t work together is exactly what the oppressors want. We can support each other at the same time. I can ride hard for people of color and also get justice for the poor. I can even do it with my white passing skin.

How do I know?

I’ve been doing it my whole life.

Why?

Because I’ve never lived anywhere where I was in the racial majority and my family is mixed and I’m also mixed. And this is true for literally every poor white person I know, including the bikers. And we don’t let people we love be oppressed without at least trying to do something about it. We see it as a communal struggle, regardless of how we personally identify.

I am not asking to take anything anyway from anyone. I am simply asking, rather nicely, for a fucking seat at the table. Need me to do something to fight racial injustice? I will happily show up anytime. So if you could stop misrepresenting my position that would be great.

I’ll never forget the last night of the monologue show I put together my senior year while three of my relatives died due to substandard healthcare. We called it Wealth of Words and it was a  series of monologues where people simply spoke about what it was like to be poor at Stanford. During the Q&A, a very prominent activist for the Asian American community asked me if we “were engaging in class warfare?”

It’s funny how they only call it class warfare when it’s the poor fighting the rich, isn’t it?

You want to tell people to check their privilege? Then check yours first. Y’all have been talking a big game about socialist uprisings, now is the time to see if you mean it. Because here’s what I know, the people that will be paying for the left’s failures to stop Trump are mine. The college kids at Yale are protected and sheltered. It’s my people who will pay the cost of this in their blood. I have played nice up until now, but if it’s the difference between hurting your feelings or having all of you hate me and preventing the deaths of my own folks, you might as well start hating me now. This is the last time I’ll be asking.

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Why the Working Classes Hate the Left

Writing

I’m conducting a funeral tomorrow. Another poor white person who died sooner than they should have. Don’t send me any condolences or words of praise for what a good friend I am for doing this. It’s my best friend’s dad and she didn’t know him. She describes learning how much she looked like him, she just now saw a picture. No condolences are needed because this is old hat for me by now. It’s not the first time I’ve conducted this service, though it will be the first time in an AA trailer in Arizona, but I can’t imagine it’ll be much different from a Hof Brau in Sacramento. The working classes are funny like that. Seems like no matter the time or place we all hold some things in common. A resignation towards death binds us together.

 

When you want to say you love someone you don’t say you’ll die for them, you say you’d kill for them. Death is ever present, and we’ve stared it in the face before. Because we know what violence feels like, we also understand how violence maims your soul and makes you less human. We understand the sacrifice to your soul and honor. When you are poor all you have is your soul and honor. For that we will fight fiercely.

But do you know what we fight most fiercely for? Each other. I will happily tolerate abuse perpetrated against me, but come for someone I love and you won’t survive the encounter. I’m ruthless and brutal for the people. I’ve been fighting against monsters for as long as I know. What can they threaten me with that I haven’t already endured? Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. So I wasn’t scared when Trump got elected. I did the same thing my people have done throughout history and I woke up the next morning and got to work.

Trump is nothing new to us. We’ve been going to work with racist, sexist, classist bosses since the dawn of time. The next time someone tells me they shouldn’t have to talk to those people, I really hope they are organizing a waitressing union, because unless they are, it all sounds sort of ridiculous. Going to school and hearing hurtful stuff is not new to me. I had elementary school teachers call me trash and keep me out of advanced classes. I’ve watched other colleagues do that. I’ve healed the children you all failed to protect. Kids like my middle schoolers who weren’t terrified when they saw the images of Emmett Till. “It’s cool Ms. C., I saw my uncle get shot.” This is what we’ve been putting 11 years old through. And they’ve endured things you can’t even imagine. They endured it and still maintain joy. My working class friends laugh more than my rich friends. I can’t tell sometimes whether it is madness or not, but goddamn it is a beautiful madness.

I carry the hatred of both sides that I’ve inherited from a lifetime of oppression. I know that the same leftists now that point the finger at working class whites are the same ones that told me I shouldn’t be upset about my cousin’s death because as a poor person, his life wasn’t worth much. And the folks on the right? You think we haven’t seen men like Trump before? Did you think that 13 year old he raped and who had been trafficked was rich? So, much of the hysteria seems sort of ridiculous to me. You didn’t know this country had problems before this election? What kind of magical fantasy land are you living in and why aren’t you sharing? I’m seeing so many people talk about how they shouldn’t have to talk to anyone they disagree with. I didn’t know we had the option. I thought we were just supposed to say “yes, sir” to the boss while secretly plotting over dinner. The left is scrabbling right now to understand what has gone wrong. They can’t figure out why so many people stayed home and didn’t want to vote for them. They don’t think they’ve done anything wrong with their messaging and besides that, everyone who challenges them is just dumb.

I think about their reluctance to deal with dissent when I think about the millions of people that died during Mao’s Great Leap Forward because no one wanted to deviate from the party line and explain that the poor were dying in mass. Worst famine in human history. My aversion to that rhetoric comes from knowing history, but it also comes from knowing that I can’t doing anything alone. That this country is at its best when we all stand together for the common good. You learn about the common good when you are poor. If you are unwilling to engage with your community, you literally starve.

I had to go to Ross to buy a plain black dress for this funeral. I’ve shopped there my whole life. For those who have not had the pleasure, Ross is a department store for the working classes. I looked around at how diverse the store was. The Russian family in front of us, my gay Asian checkout clerk, the Hispanic man running security. Shoppers across the rainbow. But I knew this about the working classes, the ways we’ve always defied the norms and intermarried. I remember how shocked I was when I got to Stanford and saw so few interracial couples. I don’t have enough space to list all the times my family members have married someone who isn’t the same color or ethnicity as us. But many of us don’t identify by colors, many of us identify with a class struggle that we’ve felt in on together.

My high school used to have race riots. Together, with the leaders of the black community, we prevented that from happening in my four years there. I did it while spending holidays talking to my conservative grandmother and finding common ground with her beliefs. I grew up thinking this was completely normal. I lean so heavily on those skills when I speak, and I know it’s that skill that we need most.

It seems funny to me that I saw people saying they can’t be expected to engage with the Trump folks because they are still experiencing grief. I think about how I conducted my grandmother’s funeral and went back to Stanford and took my midterms without anyone close to me even knowing I was gone. I didn’t have the luxury of not going to work after death and neither does the rest of the working classes. The poor have never had a President that came from their roots and continued to love them while in power, so waking up to a President that hates us as much as Trump does, feels the same way waking up in this country every other day does. Except we know that if his power goes unchecked that it is us he will come for. All those kids at Ivy League institutions who didn’t go to class the next morning are completely safe because of who their parents are, and every time they fail to acknowledge that and fail to take that power and privilege and use it for the working classes is a time they are continuing to corroborate in our oppression. And that folks, is why the working classes hates the left so much. We hate the right too, but appreciate that “at least they are honest.” The explanation for why the movement in the 60s was ground to halt that I was raised with, is that the college students started spitting on soldiers. They started demonizing the working classes. That’s how you get Nixon’s. That’s how you get Trump’s.

And so now we enter another cycle, one which I have warned was coming. One which, as I wrote in my last final for Stanford, “as in all things in history, it’s the peasants who get screwed.”

I see so many people pointing the fingers outside themselves, calling everyone but themselves racists. But I have to let you in on a real secret, I know very few people from Stanford that I don’t consider at least closet bigots. And I also know from experience and the exit poll data that it was my rich friend’s parents that actually elected Trump. I know how easy it is for them to talk the talk. I’ve watched them change their minds with the times, and I’m sure many of them will have a conservative reawakening soon as it becomes socially acceptable to do so.

I think I speak for the working classes everywhere when I say we’ve had enough of talk. The only thing I’m interested in now is action. The only people I trust now are the people who have been down for the people the entire time. The only people I want fighting alongside me are the ones I know won’t waver in the face of danger.

Because I know who they are coming to oppress. It’ll be us.

So, before you put us on the front line, please have the decency to think about your message. Love us enough to plan appropriately. Take on the leadership to protect your own people. Good leaders don’t put their vulnerable people in harm’s way over their feels. Good leaders volunteer for things that aren’t their responsibility. Good leaders have no idea why people keep telling them they are a good person for doing the right thing because they know that it is just what is has to be done.

You are right that you shouldn’t have to do this. You are right that you shouldn’t have to engage people you find hateful. You are right that we shouldn’t have to demand or ask for our rights. You are right that we shouldn’t have to turn the other cheek. You are right that a lot of people in this country believe some incredibly dangerous stuff.

But I don’t want to be right anymore. I want to win.

I have to win.

I have to win because if I don’t, I know the consequences for our loss will fall on the shoulders of people I love.

And that is the only cause I’ve ever been willing to kill for. People will fight more fiercely out of love than they ever could over hate. I know this too, from years and years of taking on fights that weren’t my own. You don’t know pain and leadership until the day you volunteer to take the blows that were designed for someone else. You don’t know love until the day you realize watching people get beat is more painful than taking the beating yourself.

I must have been four.

About Those “Working Class Whites”

Writing

Note: all of the data I cite is coming from exit polls that you can find here: http://www.cnn.com/election/results/exit-polls. Now you can go do your own homework. You’re welcome

Trump was elected President, which was no surprise to me because I haven’t lived in a magical fantasyland full of non-sexist and non-racist people and I’m also not delusional. But for those of you who did face a painful shock, you now are looking for an explanation and someone to blame. Many of you have decided to blame “working class whites.” Or rather, the media assigned these people responsibility and you all keep perpetuating it despite all evidence to the contrary.

Whites did vote for Trump. 70 percent of men and 49 percent of women voted for Trump. Now, some have noticed that people without college degrees were more likely to vote for Trump, and this is true, even though whites with college degrees ALSO voted for Trump. Some have taken this information and labeled these people “working class.” This is a really fun twisting of data that has no basis in reality.

When only 30 percent of the country has a BA, it doesn’t make sense to call the 70 percent “working class.” Those without college educations have incomes that span all three classes. One can be very rich and not go to college and one can be very poor and also have gone to college. I have TWO degrees from Stanford and until I got married, I was very poor. Like edge and fringe of society, nutritional deficiency poor. And I have been my whole life. I’m also white.

Fortunately for us, pollsters weren’t fooled by this conflation of education and class and they broke the numbers down by income too. When you do that, you find that the poor voted for Clinton. In fact, its the only income group that Clinton won. This is true even in mostly white swing states like Wisconsin. Now, this is just for the poor whites who got to vote, most poor people never vote at all and to make matters worse, the DNC suppressed the most politically active poor whites when they suppressed Sanders voters.

Trump didn’t win the white working class. He won the white middle and upper class. And now I’m witnessing a whole lot of upper and middle class people say that Trump won because of the ignorance and racism of the “white working class,” which seems a little convenient, don’t you think? They don’t have the data to support that and yet this is the one group that the media has repeatedly tried to blame for this outcome. It’s a pretty convenient cover for the middle and upper class to continue pretending as if they aren’t racist and part of the problem and the left has bought into it and is now using it as an excuse to scapegoat and oppress an already marginalized group. Which is, unfortunately, not a new experience for me and the rest of the trailer trash, even though all the other trailer trash I know is a group of radical socialists who have also been fighting for other causes the whole time.

There are lots of proposed explanations for why the “white working class” voted for Trump. Because of the economy. Because of racism. Because of isolation. And those might be good explanations IF the working class whites were responsible but they are not. Now some have challenged me by saying that because whites in rural areas voted for him, that disproves my statements, but unfortunately for them rural does not equal poor or working class. The fact is, that even in relatively rural states we see the same percentages. M0st poor whites didn’t vote at all and when they did, they voted for Clinton.

Understanding this even explains the phenomenon of counties that voted for Obama but went for Trump this time. Let me explain.

The main reason the Democrats lost was turnout. Republicans basically had similar numbers to previous years with some crossover, but the Democrats had a good 6 million voters that voted in 2012 but didn’t vote in 2016. The counties that Obama won then, had a decreased turnout and it was mostly working class whites who were suppressed in those areas. Therefore, because of lack of turnout among the folks Sanders carried during the primaries, the Republicans won those areas with their normal turnout.

Now,  before you blame Sanders, keep in mind that during the primaries, the Democratic party engaged in the same kind of voter suppression the Republicans do. Voter suppression pretty much only happens to poor people. Since those people had such a hard time voting in the primaries, they didn’t vote in the general. Or they couldn’t vote in the general because they had work. Or they were too disgusted with the way Sanders was treated to vote. There were no attempts by the Democrats to mobilize working class whites to vote for them.  In fact, Hilary Clinton and her surrogates spent a considerable portion of their time during the election belittling working class whites in general. And still…. even with all of that, most did not vote for Trump. Many stayed home, but Clinton still won the working class vote, even in states where the working class is almost entirely white.

So where do we go from here? The first thing we need to do is understand that you can’t determine what people believe based on what they look like. Lots of people that didn’t look like the media stereotype of a Trump supporter voted for Trump and lots of people that did look like that stereotype didn’t. The data shows he carried middle and upper class whites and then some percentage of men from all groups. In fact, Trump got more minority votes than any Republican of the last few decades. This is, of course, not those voters’ fault. It is not the fault of Black people or Mexican people who felt disconnected from the Democratic party and Hilary Clinton. It is not the fault of people who feel like the Democrats have been screwing them over. And it’s not ok to blame any oppressed group for feeling like the status quo was bad enough that they voted for the oppressor who was at least honest about his intentions over the one that has repeatedly lied to them and sold them out. The responsibility lies with the DNC and it lies with the left, who has apparently done such a poor job of addressing the needs of the people that lots of people didn’t feel like they would be better off with Clinton than they would be with Trump. Many supporters of Trump are racist and sexist, but many others thought they were protesting against the status quo and for a while now, the status quo has been a strictly enforced leftist orthodoxy. It’s interesting to watch people get fired now for speaking out against Trump, when just a few months ago, the left was calling for people to be fired if they supported Trump.

I belong to the left and I take some responsibility for this. But I also speak to the experience of many who didn’t feel that Clinton represented them. The left has treated me extremely poorly over the years, and other working class people have watched that happen. I’ve been kicked out of groups, mocked, demeaned, told I don’t deserve access to resources, and silenced all because my whole existence as a poor white person ran counter to the ideology of college leftists. I dropped out of my PhD program, in part, because I was told that I didn’t have a right to study school segregation because I’m white, even though I went to an economically segregated school. And if I had a nickle for every time some “liberal” across all racial lines said something classist to me, I’d be independently wealthy right now.

So those of you who are heaping this blame on the shoulders of working class whites are not only unsupported BY YOUR OWN data but are continuing the perpetuate oppression for a group of people that is just as a likely to suffer under Trump’s regime as the rest of the poor. In fact, if you look at the numbers and the fact that higher incomes voted for him, this looks a lot more like the upper classes voting to oppress the poor than it does like “working class whites” leading some revolt.

And it’s not just working class whites, it’s all working class people. The left has done a particularly poor job listening to their needs for a long time.  Seriously, turn on your tv right now and ask yourself who is butt of our nation’s jokes. You’ll find it’s the poor. You shut down freeways working class people needed to use to get to work and then are surprised when they can’t be bothered to show up for you at the polls? Those decisions, which I warned would backfire only to be purged by other leftists, are on us. It matters how we talk to the masses and how we interact with people. Mao won China with 15,000 highly disciplined foot soldiers BECAUSE he was so good at talking to the people and making his case that the people should support them. Instead of working on supporting the people, we’ve been yelling at them about what awful people they are because they don’t talk the way we want them to.

We don’t have to keep doing this. We could start talking about the complex reality of race and class in this country. We could talk about, for example, the fact that the voice you are hearing is the voice of a working class white girl who grew up in a racially diverse, but still technically rural area in a blue state and who comes from a racially diverse family. My experience isn’t representative of all working class whites, but its one part of the experience and its one that’s been hidden. And it has been hidden because I was silenced, not because I never tried to share it. If the way I’ve been treated by the left is any indication, we really owe the working classes a huge apology.

So what can you do? Stop perpetuating this myth and start talking to middle and upper class people. Start learning how to speak to the masses and start thinking and talking about what the left has to offer all working class people. Mobilize these people again. Educate them, take them in and give them positions of leadership within groups. Tell them what YOU plan to DO FOR THEM. It’s been a pretty long time since any of us thought about that.

Looking for a scapegoat helps no one right now, especially because you can’t determine who voted for Trump by what they look like. If you want this country to get better, start dealing with life outside the echo chamber and take some responsibility for educating and connecting others. No one can make you talk to people who are different from you and you are welcome to stay in your “safe space” if you choose to do so, but there are consequences to that decision and now we are facing them.

The left lost, and we lost big. In fact, we got our asses handed to us. And if it weren’t for the fact that I know its the people that didn’t vote for Trump and who are innocent and marginalized that will suffer, I would say we got exactly what we deserved. The days when we could purge people for lack of ideological purity, when we could dismiss anyone or demean anyone who disagrees with us, when we had the kind of power to guilt people by shouting at them, are OVER. GONE. FINISHED. Mourn them and then get your ass to work. We need all hands on deck. We need good people everywhere. We need clear eyes and open hearts to pull us out of this mess.

And the only way out of this is mess is to start being good to each other. To everyone. To people who you don’t know or don’t understand. To people you see who don’t make sense to you or who scare you. That’s hard fucking work. Not everyone will be able or willing to do it. But if you are, and you are down for the whole fucking team, no matter what, you know how to find me.

Class, Race and and the Suffering We Don’t See

Uncategorized

Asians as a group are better educated, healthier and wealthier than any other racial group in America. But it would be super racist to assert the position that they don’t face racism and not just because we think all Asians are good at math but also because it’s ridiculous to treat them as one unified, monolithic group. There is a great deal of diversity even among those we identify as Asian in America, and a wide variety of experience. Being Chinese and Hmong are two different things, with two different histories and demographics. The Hmong, who come from Vietnam and are political refugees because they helped the US during the Vietnam War, have no written language but a rich oral history and culture. They don’t enjoy the same advantages and demographic well being as the “Asians” the statistic that I started with proclaims applies to all Asians. And using that statistic as a blanket way of understanding what it means to be Asian in America renders the significant portion of the population that we identify as Asian but deviates from the norm invisible. It makes it nearly impossible for us to address the serious challenges the Asian kids I grew up with faced, most of whom were Hmong or Vietnamese. But even within the significant and longer term Chinese residents in California the statistic that Asians are better off hides many of my Stanford friends who grew up in deeply impoverished homes in the heart of urban areas like Oakland. So the statistic that Asians tend to do better than other groups doesn’t illuminate much about what it means to be Asian in America and renders the people who need the most visibility and voice invisible and silenced. From my perspective this makes that statistic basically useless.

Sometimes overarching frameworks, and clean statistics can provide a useful starting point for understanding humanity, which is so diverse and beautiful that it’s basically impossible to know all of it. But sometimes the statistics and the narratives are constructions, used both for “good” and “bad” purposes, and sometimes they are true but not particularly useful. The easily quantifiable and central narratives are rarely reflective of the day to day lives of the majority of human beings. Those statistics mean nothing to the people who are actually living in reality. If you read only those kinds of statistics you will know nothing about what it really means to be a human in the world. This is why I am usually intensely interested about what happens in the margins, in the places that statisticians don’t go and that the mainstream narrative wants to hide. The mainstream world rarely exists, it’s merely the world that those with power want you to see, but even when it does exist it is a small percentage of the population and easy to find. It will tell you nothing about the majority of the world and what it means to be human in it. For this reason, I feel that much of the present “activist” movement that happens on college campuses is currently blinding itself. It is more important to prove a worldview or theory than it is to grapple with reality. Small examples are often extrapolated to be applied where they have no real meaning.

Let’s talk about beliefs and why their logical conclusions matter. Information disseminates in complex ways, but one of the ways it disseminates is from the intellectual elite to the “masses” or just the general population if you can’t stomach the term. What is said on college campuses is often distortedly repeated by normal people in their day to day lives. Therefore, in the example I gave above, if that statistic is the only statistic that gets repeated then the people who vote, who set policy, and who construct and disseminate mass culture are going to create a universe where people believe that “all Asians are rich” and then you will be stuck like some of my good friends having to constantly explain your existence to people if you are Asian and poor. You will not receive essential services and you will not be represented in culture. For poor Asian people, that’s a pretty serious problem, even if they are the minority and it’s a much more serious problem for poor Asian people, who are marginalized by race and class, than it will be for rich Asian people, although they will also receive some advantages and disadvantages from the system. But in any case, no one will really know what it means to be “Asian” in America because all “Asian” people will have been reduced to a single statistic, with those who deviate from the norm being erased entirely. Whenever I think about cultural beliefs like this I try to answer a few key questions: who benefits from this? Who loses? How much suffering or privilege does this cause? Those are questions we should ask ourselves for pretty much all cultural beliefs and practices. So I’m going to encourage you to think about them through the rest of this.

My freshman year of college, I was nervous. People at Stanford were wealthier beyond what I could ever imagine. I had never seen houses like the ones I saw at the Stanford send off (this is a regional party hosted by alums to “welcome you in the Stanford community, they are held at mansions). I spoke differently. They knew. During Admit weekend, whether by design or accident, I was placed in a dorm with someone from my rival high school, she was the admit from Grant school district (yes, we get one a year for the whole district of five high schools) in her year, she figured out where I was from and freaked out, introducing me to one of the kids from the other poor district. She was Asian, he was Mexican and I was white. This gave me a false sense of security and place in the world. Anyway, during the portion where we were supposed to introduce ourselves during orientation one of the black girls mentioned she was from the Bronx, and I mistakenly asked her if she went to a bad school like I did. She was offended and understandably so, it was a bad assumption to assume because she was black and from the Bronx that she went to a bad high school like me. She wasn’t even working class, like the majority of black people on campus, but even if she was, most of the working class kids on campus had involved family members or lived in urban areas where they had access to good schools. I was the weirdo and I shouldn’t have applied my situation to her. It’s offensive and we can see that. It’s offensive to do to Asians, it’s offensive to do to black people, or really to anyone else. Because it ignores the fact that humans are more complex than statistics. We can all see this, right?

So, if we can all see this, then why is it ok to do this to poor white people? People actually believe, including the majority of the “smartest people in the world” that there are no poor white people or that poor white poverty isn’t somehow as terrible as poverty anywhere else. I would be more ok with this if 10 percent of the poor were white but the majority of poor people are white. Disproportionality matters, and is important and it tells us when there are social constructs like racism but poverty doesn’t exist in theory land. All people in poverty are suffering and it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else to say, nonwhite people are more likely to be poor AND the majority of poor people are white because both are statistically true and neither will tell you what it actually means to be poor in this country. Just as it matters that black men are more likely to be shot by police AND also white people make up the majority of police deaths. The majority of the poor are white but only 25 percent of Stanford’s working class undergraduates are white. That is important but you’d have to be an idiot to make the argument that it somehow proves that racism doesn’t exist AND it also tells us that maybe we should look out for the three percent of the campus that is isolated and needs help. It also tells us that our belief that white people aren’t poor is rendering invisible and drowning a marginalized piece of our country. Stanford isn’t refusing to admit more poor white kids, there are just so few of them in the applicant pool and that statistic demonstrates that we have a cultural construct that is denying equal opportunity, just as the disproportionate number of black people in poverty demonstrates that we have a cultural construct that denies people equal opportunity. Facts have contexts and consequences and statistics are only as good as you use them and are only one piece of the way we can represent our shared humanity. We have a tendency these days to bow to numbers as if they are the end all to be all. I was once on a job interview for a history teacher position when I said that part of my job was to get the kids to perform on tests AND also to help them be good citizens. My interviewer was like: “how can you measure that? We only work off data here!” To which, I said: “it’s all data, I use all of the information at my disposal to assess teaching, learning and the experience in my classroom. But more importantly, poverty is poverty. Poverty is brutal and cruel and will shape your experience, your opportunities, you community, your education more than any other factor. Rich black kids will face discrimination but they have more in common with the rich white kids they grow up around than they do with poor black kids.

I remember as an undergraduate getting in trouble during a meeting because I wanted one non-community member student to sit on a four person first generation college student (first generation is a euphemism that elite institutions use as a proxy for poor) panel. That student could have been white or middle eastern or simply not identified with the community centers because the community centers weren’t serving every first gen kid on campus. The head of the Asian community center told me that it wasn’t allowed because kids of color experience different things than people who are first gen students who are white, which is true. In fact, every community experiences being first gen differently, being Asian isn’t the same thing as being black. Each group has a unique history and challenges. Asian people are actually more likely to grow up with more wealth than white people but who cares? We weren’t talking about rich Asian people, we were talking about poor Asian people, just as we weren’t talking about rich white people. I would often sit in focus groups and point out that I had grown up in the same or worse a neighborhood as the Hispanic and black kids. I considered them my neighbors and partners because I grew up in a community that has class solidarity because it’s universally poor and diverse. Not every community is like this, so my experience might be different from others but that’s ok because it’s the specifics and particularities that matter, that shape our experience and lives and those can’t be captured in statistics.

Poverty is brutal and ruthless and for every dead or hungry kid, prostituted girl, and drug addict, is a life that matters. It’s a life that we should be protecting and alleviating the suffering of without forcing them to fight for basic human dignity like an intellectual bum fight. My senior year a good friend of mine was working on a campaign to stop Arizona’s harsh immigration laws and sent an email inviting others to join; the response she got back was horrifying. A young man who is probably lower middle class by national standards but poor by Stanford standards and white sent her a racist diatribe. Now, make no mistake about it, that was stupid simply because it was racist. But what pissed me off most was that he was too blind to see that we are all in the same struggle and that those people are in our neighborhoods being oppressed by the same forces poor white people are oppressed by. For too much of American history the working classes have allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered.

But I don’t play that game. You can’t tell me who to love, who to mourn, who to help, who to rejoice with, and who my community is. We have to dismantle racism and classism together because they are deeply interconnected. Racism is a system that determines distribution of resources and labor, so is classism. In another place and time we would be talking about different groups who were identified for inequitable distribution, the Irish during England’s industrial revolution, Jewish people in Germany in the 1400s, non-Aztecs living in the Aztec empire. We live in an era and country where race is one of the major factors that has determined who gets resources but it’s just a specific form of a very old oppression. One of the reasons Europe is ahead of us on social benefits is because they talk about class explicitly and the working classes are united. And that’s something I’ll be fighting for everyday for the rest of my life.

We have to talk about Class

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I’ve had it happen to me a lot. A financially privileged person of color telling me that I know nothing about poverty and oppression. I’m literally living in the hood right now and have my entire life except when I was at Stanford. I feel like rich people lecturing poor disabled people on how they aren’t suffering is basically just good, old fashioned classism.

But you are white

I know. Believe me, I know I’m white. I’m the whitest person in my family in outward appearance and I still come from a family that was a victim of eugenics. My whiteness and poorness are not mutually exclusive. I know that’s not what you’ve been told but I’m not even an outlier in my community, my extremely poor, poorer than any community in the Bay Area community is 30 percent white. I’m not in the South, I don’t live in a trailer park and this isn’t Appalachia. My best friend, who grew up in the projects, is also white and her family was better off than mine was and we were from two of the poorest families in the neighborhood. I know this reality is hard to accept and I’m sorry. But it’s true. But how can that be, you might be wondering, since poor whites only existed in America during the 20s (when most of them, including my family, weren’t considered white) and the Dust Bowl. According to my history textbook, after that all white people became at least middle class.

Your history books are stupid and full of lies.

Ok. So let’s for a second remind ourselves that this land was colonized by white people not that long ago. A very specific set of white people, mostly English and mostly French. Mostly people from some of the worst class systems in Europe. Now, when these white people came here they couldn’t survive well, they didn’t know the land, had methods that were suited to Europe and not representative of the flora and fauna of the Americas, were not immune to the diseases of living in the swamps, and had a nasty superiority complex that made the people who were already here unlikely to want to help them. Just so I’m clear about it, at that moment in history, China, whose Chinese name means ‘middle country’ referred to all non-Chinese as barbarians. Every civilization before the modern period thought they were the best and the center of everything because they didn’t have Internet or international trade. The wealthy whites brought over indentured servants and the poor people in their country to serve them. Or what you might call peasants or serfs. A peasant is someone who is forced to work their whole lives on a piece of land they don’t own for a master who does nothing and takes everything that’s produced. Sometimes they are also brutal or sadistic and can beat you or kill you without consequences. Sound familiar? The English also brought over their “criminals” to work for them, also known as the Irish, also known as people who had been imprisoned under a series of rules created to hurt and control poor. Sound familiar? Anyway, the people they colonized were dying in mass and hard to conscript because they knew the land and would just leave, and the people they normally had working for them were dying because they weren’t used to the climate and were from Europe, so they decided to bring Africans over to the Americas. Now Africa and Europe had a long standing “relationship” that involved the selling of slaves, historically prisoners of war were sold into slavery, Europeans were sold to Africans and Africans were sold to Europeans. It was wrong, and stupid because selling people is wrong and stupid. But in this world the people who counted as people were rich men, because women were property too. However, under that form of slavery, it was less brutal than American chattel slavery. Why?

The South reached a point where they had several problems. One of those problems was that black slaves outnumbered the white people in the area. Another problem was that slaves kept running away both to the north and to live with Native American tribes. They had long faced another problem, which was that poor whites often lived with poor blacks. Oh and they wanted more profit. So in order to avoid problems and make more money, slavery became a million times worse than the previous version. And in order to avoid blacks, poor whites, and Native Americans coming together and rebelling while also allowing for a way to order this new world they were colonizing they created racism. Racism allows them to treat poor whites marginally better and cause the different groups they are oppressing to fight each other.

It’s important to remember that our world wasn’t constructed with a blank slate. The people that settled here lived in a world with deeply calcified class systems, and that’s why only property owners could vote at first. The American Revolution was first but it was strictly of revolution of the rich. The French Revolution was far more radical, it was a revolution of the working class. Our revolution was about not being taxed, theirs was about toppling the entire class structure. Feudalism existed in Europe for hundreds of years and the people that founded this nation were raised in feudal societies. Rich white people had been treating their poor white people like slaves for centuries, why would they treat poor people of any other race differently?

We often talk about what Europe has without talking about how Europe got there. The continent has all these protections for workers and people because they had real revolutions that challenged and changed the social order. They also destroyed themselves and had to rebuild. World War Two in Europe was a rebuke of unfettered Capitalism, Racism, Nationalism and Militarism. World War Two in America was understood to be a victory for Capitalism, Racism, Nationalism and Militarism. Europe has universal healthcare and has protests where cops don’t kill people and we are still having arguments over whether or not it’s ok for cops to kill unarmed citizens and whether or not it’s ok to have children who are starving. The American revolution is not complete.

Why I hate all of our discussions about the police

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I’ve been a little bit frustrated by the discussion around police action. Mainly, I’m frustrated because people seem to believe that there is no possible way that the police could learn not to do what they’ve been doing and also because we treat police brutality as if it’s not everyone’s problem.

So first, I want to talk about how they handle protests. Our cops are clearly poorly trained at dealing with crowd control. That’s not just because they are racist, the cops beat the whitest dude I know up at a college protest. France doesn’t seem to have this problem every time they protest or have a soccer match or drink in public and the French are not less racist than us. I mean, they are French. I’m not even going to bother to list the number of racial atrocities they’ve committed because its ridiculous. And also, I’ve met them and they are just super racist. The British are super racist (they invented racism!) AND super classist and they still manage to not have these kinds of problems when there are protests. So it’s obvious to me that there is either a training or recruitment or cultural problem (or all three) when it comes to our police. By cultural, I mean in the sense of what they believe their job is, they clearly see themselves in opposition to the community they serve and they are clearly militarized. They clearly don’t know how to control crowds and they clearly have a culture of violence that is unacceptable, as well as tools that are wildly inappropriate. We can’t magically ensure that all police are not bigoted, though we should try and continue to fight racism, but a more immediate solution is to talk about how we can train them better and create a less hostile culture with our police.

I’m also extremely angry at the mostly white young men who keep making excuses for the police to avoid talking about race. I don’t care what messed up beliefs you have in your head, why as a member of a supposedly free republic are you ok with our cops treating people the way we do? Why is it even remotely ok for them to habitually run around shooting people? Even if you are racist, you realize that half the police fatalities are poor white men (I know they are poor because if they were rich, we’d hear about it)? Even if you don’t believe it’s about race, why are you ok with this? Why are you ok with the fact that there is no accountability when these things happen? I mean, it’s just basically disgusting to me that the people who are supposed to protect and serve can shoot or choke or beat people without at least an investigation. Our soldiers have a higher threshold of standards for killing civilians in other countries in a time of war than our police do. Israeli soldiers have more restraint than our police do and more accountability. No matter what you believe none of us should be ok with this. But seriously, if you still don’t understand why racism is involved, please just email me so I can help you. You might be living in a color blind world, but the rest of us aren’t and if you are living in a color blind world or a world where no people of color have informed you about police brutality then you hang out with an extremely homogeneous group of friends. And for the love of god, stop arguing with black men over how they experience the world, you don’t know and they are trying to tell you.

On the other hand, I’ve also been annoyed with some of the “social justice” folks who have been posting stories about cops chocking college students and taking an early retirement as a result, who post it with the message that it should demonstrate that racism exists. Because the cop didn’t kill him when he choked him and the cop was given the option to retire. That’s still terrible, by any normal standard. It’s not somehow ok that the cop choked anyone just because you want to make a point. Because it’s not ok for our cops to act like this for any reason ever without accountability. If you want to prove racism is part of the motivation then you can just start quoting the statistics that show that for black men the number of police shootings is grossly disproportionate. That doesn’t mean that the half of the police fatalities that are white is any less important or real and it’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address that. It means that cops clearly exist in a world where black men are more likely to be policed and murdered without consequences. It’s not even necessarily the case that individual cops are systematically targeting black men, it can be largely influenced by the fact that racism results in a world where black people are disproportionately likely to be poor, because police tend to only police poor areas. The other people who were not black that were shot were living in poor areas that are heavily policed. And why are they policed? For three reasons: one is that we have a belief system that says that the poor are somehow deviant and therefore need to be watched, two is the war on drugs because even though nearly every rich person I know has done drugs they still seem to believe that they are somehow superior to the poor, and three is that poverty forces to you exist on the margins and people will do what they have to in order to feed their kids.

It’s not ok for the cops to do this to anyone and they do it because the people they really believe they are serving, like the folks in Atherton who don’t let BART go down to San Jose because they don’t want “that element” in their city or the folks in Palo Alto who criminalized homeless people forced to live in their cars, tell them to do it. When the master starts telling the overseers to treat the people they oversee like people, they will stop killing those people.

It’s not ok that the police keep doing this and I’m sick of sitting around and whining about it instead of talking about root causes and solutions. And I’m so sick of the infighting among marginalized groups; no one should ok with the police doing this to anyone for any reason. The problem is all of us and all of us are responsible.

The Narrative We Hide: Being A Poor White Girl from the “Hood”

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Earlier this week, for about the millionth time someone called me racist in a conversation in which I said I was angry about police violence and racism in the schools because I watched everyone I loved and knew go through it. Then the articles started circulating about how white people can be an ally. “Speak to other white people and explain reality to them.” Well, when I tried that, they told me I wasn’t white but I do it anyway. In fact, a number of white people have called me “basically black” and several of my friends of color say that I’m technically “not white.” Stand up for it at the white social gatherings you attend!” Where are these happening? I’m genuinely asking because I was not invited and if I were I would film me spitting on the invitation. I have never lived anywhere that I was in the majority and I never will. “Don’t try to shift the conversation to class! Race comes first!” But racism is a function of class? It’s roots are in the organization of labor. “Don’t speak if you are white about racism,” I was told this week. “You don’t have first hand knowledge,” said someone who didn’t grow up watching her friends get arrested in the ghetto. The thing about being poor is that the police are going to police you because you live in a poor neighborhood. I’ve had several encounters with the police and so have the white boys from back home, if anything I’m bothered less because I’m female. Vincent and I make a concerted effort to be well dressed at all times so we can appease the authority figures. Teachers told me that people like me couldn’t go to college. Being white didn’t stop me from seeing violence, it didn’t keep my little sister from getting jumped for being white and it didn’t make starving and poor healthcare any easier. Because here’s the thing, I would never claim to know what it’s like to be black for my friends back home, that is a different experience but I’ve experienced more first hand oppression that we define racially than the rich black kids at Stanford. That’s not to say class Is more important than race, but simply that the story is more complicated on the margins than people realize. People of privilege think that their experience is the experience of everyone else. So when people at Stanford said no interracial marriage was happening, that was a fact in their community, but not mine. I want to be the good soldier but it’s hard when my existence contradicts the narrative and frankly, I think the narrative is dangerous.

The idea that only black people are poor is what allows black elites to claim a special status and then point to the black communities in the poor areas and condemn them. It’s what allows them to say stupid things like “the police are beating you because your parents either weren’t present or were working multiple jobs and didn’t read to you.” And the idea that there are no poor whites is what makes it easy for the Republican Party to pick up the Rust Belt by looking at desperately poor people and saying: “see, the Democrats don’t care about you. ” It is the lie that allows us to spend more time talking about words than they we do about solving poverty, as if changing the name will make the elites actually feed the poor. And it hides an important and beautiful fact that could unify us. What fact?

That I exist. That there is a little white girl marrying a Hispanic boy she grew up with in a wedding that will be a diverse as the community they came from. Because the working classes have always defied the laws of
separation and have lived in the way they choose and that in many places in this country they choose to live together. It is a unifying narrative that there is a little white girl whose family intermarried when it was illegal, whose family was sterilized during the Eugenics movement and whose family has always lived and loved inclusively no matter what we are told and policed into doing. That diversity, that love is what makes this country beautiful. It is a beautiful fact that my part Choctaw part-white brother was sworn in with other members of his community, that he fights for a son who was a product of love, that people like me and the people in my family have always loved, damn the consequences.

Isn’t that the most beautiful story to say in front of tanks? You can divide us, you can hurt us, you can hate us but you will never conquer us because we will be a community anyway.

Maybe the problem is that when I say that it angers me personally to see people of color mistreated by police that there are people telling me that it’s not possible, because I happen to be the the blue eyed member of my family. Just as part of problem is that conservatives look at my relationship and ask me if I should be getting interracially married (Vincent and I were surprised to learn from white people that our relationship was multicultural). And I am not alone, I’m just conveniently the only one of my kind they let speak. So I’m going use my voice to say this:

You can force us into poverty, you can make us sick, you can teach us to live in fear but no one is ever going to tell us who to love and that’s a tradition that is older than this country and you haven’t stopped it yet.

Because love is more powerful than any weapon they have and they know it. Otherwise they wouldn’t put it in the legal code to ban it and they wouldn’t fight so hard to maintain hate. I don’t speak out and promote love because I’m a an idealist who doesn’t see reality, I do it because it’s the most effective weapon and armor I have. I know because like the rest of my family, I’m battle hardened and weary but relentless. Love is unstoppable. And they know that and that is why they fear it and that is why I’m excluded from the narrative.

There were several comments on this piece where people indicated that they were distracted from my point because of some of the language. The original title included the phrase “basically black” which is a phrase I also find offensive and illustrative of the problem but it’s not a label I gave myself. My intention was to demonstrate that the relationship with race and class is more complicated than we allow it to be and that the complicated nature should be accepted to allow a better understanding of humanity and inclusivity. The intention was not to claim that I’ve suffered reverse racism-which I don’t believe is possible- or that my life was the same as black people because it’s not. And that’s the point, that we shouldn’t allow people to define poverty or race in this manner. Other people felt that I had no business saying who suffered more oppression, but the problem is that I do suffer more than rich people, just as poor black people suffer more than rich black people. If you are financially privileged then you are privileged. Other people said they appreciated the beauty of this piece and to those I say thank you. If after reading this piece you find it jarring, I would recommend reading some of my other pieces on race before getting too angry with me. If you grew up with privilege my experience is different from yours, that’s the point. That our understanding is more complex and that if we allow for complexity we can move forward.