Labor Day Thoughts on Misogyny, White Supremacy, and Collective Grieving

A much needed break from social media has kept me from posting anything since the spring. Must be my internal academic clock needing a summer break. Also the hell of hatred unleashed on Black folks, Latin, Muslim, and Asian immigrants, Queers and trans folks. Then Charlottesville and the full unveiling of the different experiences Black and white folks have in the U.S.. If that hatred and disparity isn’t what destroys our every day or our actual life, there’s always hurricanes and nuclear war.

Positively, I have been making progress on Cultural Capital Doesn’t Pay the Rent, close to having a manuscript to shop around thanks to Ariel Gore and the Wayward Writers of her Literary Kitchen. Below is something I wrote in the days following the veil being pulled back on white supremacy as a movement in this country and the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.

I had to move through the collective grieving and pain to be able to return to
writing my experimental memoir exposing the Ponzi scheme of higher education and how the promise of higher education crashed alongside the economy, an intentional target of the same neoliberal capitalism responsible for Great Recession.

My query letter describes the narrative voice of the memoir as part chain smoking fourteen-year-old girl, part pissed off punk rocker, part sassy queer femme, part gender studies professor, part conceptual artist, and all activist fighting for personal and cultural change. I think this comes through below, let me know what you think.
Union values 1
Love and solidarity,
Jessica

 

 

************

I couldn’t write anything of substance this last week. I’m sure it’s because of the veil that was lifted during the neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville last weekend. I’ve been sucking in my breath all week. The grief over Heather Heyer’s murder and the 19 others injured by James Fields, Jr sits heavy in my chest. Especially coming on the heels of James Damore’s misogynist rant in an internal communication at Google. I can’t make sense of how young, privileged, and angry they are. Right now all the commentary and analysis trying to answer that question is simply noise, white noise. What’s stuck with me is that the very few Black voices I heard in the immediate aftermath noted Charlottesville was mostly a battle between white people and that white supremacists now feel comfortable showing their faces. Still, I can’t find my own train of thought, except that sucking in my breath helps not to think too much about the potential nuclear war, potential civil war. Every so often I’ve heard some things that make me wonder if this can be resuscitated into reparations for descendants of slaves, but that’s the salve trying to lower the temperature of the burning fear.

Writing this, I can feel the weight in my chest move down to my belly. That’s good. I know I found what I need to say when I can draw air to my belly and guts. If the feeling stays in my chest, I haven’t dug deep enough to find words worth sharing. That doesn’t mean this is worth sharing, but it is all I can feel right now and my task is to share words.

“Jew won’t replace us!”

“Fuck you Faggot!”

When my friend texted me to join her at a solidarity demonstration, the last thing I wanted to do was go out in the streets and confront people who hate me. Ironically or not, white supremacists always recognize my non-white ethnicities. Being embattled in the streets for being queer, for having family killed in the Holocaust, for excavating the Romani history of my family, I couldn’t bring myself to do it that first night. My work weeks have become exhausting and embattled with union members who hate the union and I am the point of contact for their frustration and anger. The problem is I agree with the members. I’m not sure union management is doing enough to survive the Janus vs. AFSCME case that will be before the Supreme Court in March. The members won’t lose their jobs, but they can opt out of paying union dues. The predictions are 30-50 percent budget cuts and layoffs of union front line staff. I am likely about to lose my second career to neoliberal capitalism.

I don’t how we all aren’t just exploding. Oh, we are.

“Jew won’t replace us!”

“Fuck you Faggot!”

“Blood and Soil!”

“You will not replace us!”

Holy fuck.

I’m not oblivious to the privileges I have. I am not exactly shocked by the hatred being leveled. I feel similarly to what I felt in terms of pain and sorrow the last few years watching video footage of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Terrance Crutcher, and way too many other Black people being murdered by cops. The listing out of only a small sampling of Black lives taken is resulting in a fog descending on my thought process. The fog I’ve moved through the last few weeks dealing with work, dealing with the violence of the air I am breathing everywhere all day.

“Jew won’t replace us!”

“Fuck you Faggot!”

“Blood and Soil!”

“You will not replace us!”

The fog is the spilt consciousness of oppression. The oppression has to be both ignored and named to survive. There has to be an impenetrable wall of protection on a foundation of emotional openness. It’s why I’m exhausted.

On Tuesday I pulled into a parking lot across from the state building in San Francisco, a neighborhood bounded by the civic center and the tenderloin; by the government, Twitter and generational destitution. I was on my way to a meeting with a group of union members who are starting to trust me to support them in building power for themselves and within the union but who still periodically fly off the handle at me instead of my supervisors. I gathered my pens, membership forms, flyers into my bag and started to look for my wallet as the parking attendant came up to me. He was making his notations on the ticket that I exchange my keys for.

“Twenty dollars,” he said, with a thick latinx accent.

“Ok.” I kept digging through my bag until I realized my wallet wasn’t in it. I pulled my body out of the car and said, “Oh shit. I don’t have my wallet. I left it in my swim bag.”

I started to calculate in my head what my options were. I was too far from home for Von to bring me my wallet. I was just far enough from my office for it to be a pain in the ass to ask someone to come pay for the parking. I was in a neighborhood where I would have a lot of competition telling the story of needing 20 dollars to get to work.

“That’s Okay. Pay me when you return.” The attendant said to me.

“But I’m not going anywhere near where my wallet is. I’m not sure I’ll have 20 dollars when….” I let the end of my sentence fade off as I figured my only option was to take him up on his offer.

I walked across the street to the State Building thinking about which one of the union members I was going to have to ask to borrow money from. I felt like an ass. To feel less like an ass, I reminded myself the folks I am representing make significantly more than me, have better benefits, have a freaking pension, many are close to their 30 years and getting ready to retire even though they are only a few years older than me. And then I fully let it sink in that being a white presenting woman, came with the privilege of being able to park my car with no money and be trusted enough to return with what I owed. White privilege was blatantly working in my favor at that moment and I was accepting that privilege with tempered gratitude that felt equally complicit and coercive.

On Wednesday I re-watched North Country and sobbed. Charlize Theron stars as the 2005_north_country_049woman who took on the coal mining industry and its union in the 1980’s, fighting for the right of women to work at the mines without being raped, harassed, antagonized, hazed. The same industry our misogynist, white supremacist president is in the pocket of. The same unions that still perpetuate a gender wage gap for their own staff.

On Thursday, I stopped at Walgreen’s on my way home to buy face wash and bladder control pads for my annoyingly leaky peri-menopausal rapidly moving into menopausal bladder. There was a sale on hair products, buy two get one free. The majority of the customer base for this Walgreens are Black. There is an incredible selection of curly and textured hair products to make my way through. I bought three different products. One I used in the past, decided it wasn’t as amazing for my frizzy curls that always look like the before picture no matter what I do but thought maybe this time, on sale, it would work better. I paid for my decidedly female bounty. As I walked out of the store the security alarm went off. I kept walking a couple of steps, realized this was another example of complicity with white privilege, and paused to look and see if a security guard was behind me. A manger was walking the opposite direction as I was. I caught his eye and opened my palms in question, to see if he wanted me to stop. He paused, looked at me, then kept walking away. Another person of color seeing my whiteness during a week where white supremacists saw everything else I also am.

Friday I made a plan with a member about filing a grievance against the Department of Health for losing the reimbursement check her student loan processor sent them when the loan company mistakenly garnished her wages. I calmed down another member who was mad at me for not being able to change state policy regarding social worker licensing, assuming I wasn’t doing all I could for another member who missed her date to re-register and was now facing an unpaid leave. The angry member told me this is why members think the union perpetuates racism, that we don’t help Black members equally. Then I wrote a rough draft of an article for the upcoming newsletter which will feature one of the members I won a grievance for, a Black woman whose son was murdered. I made the hospital administration understand suspending her for not doing her job well two days after she returned from a leave due to her son’s death was upholding systemic racism. Overturning her suspension and paying her back her lost wages, these managers could show that the Department of Public Health does indeed believe Black lives matter. Then I drove home, winding my way the short distance from my office to the Bay Bridge to get back to Oakland. As usual, traffic was at a standstill for the several blocks before the entrance to the bridge. On those blocks, every few feet someone has a sign asking for help. Drug deals are being made openly. A growing tent encampment spills across the field besides the entrance ramp where people are sitting on upside down 5 gallon buckets visiting neighbors, Others are playing with dogs, getting high, laying passed out across the sidewalk. I watch it as I roll by at 5 MPH, listening to an interview with a former neo-Nazi on Democracy Now.

I got home intending to spend the whole weekend writing. Instead I watched news clip after news clip of the president being a white supremacist apologist until my partner says, “maybe you should do something else.” I pour a drink.


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