Teacher Stopped Seeing

When his father still lived in Korea, Lobetto swaggered everywhere. One of the smartest children in school—as well as the richest—he was able to present Respected Teacher with weekly gifts of coffee, cigarettes, and nuts dipped in chocolate. Lobetto was chosen leader of the class almost as much as I was. But when his father left for the States and did not return, Lobetto stopped swaggering. The teacher stopped calling him to the front, then stopped seeing him at all. Eventually, Lobetto joined the other ainokos at the missionary school for children of GI whores.

Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller

Magic Makeup

Sookie’s mother tried to think of something stranger, something that would stump us. “Miguks can’t see us,” she said. “Korean faces blind them.”

Aha!” said Sookie. “That can’t be true.”

I thought about it for a moment. It could be true Americans didn’t see like Koreans did; they had overly large, odd-colored ball-eyes. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just that it’s possible to be invisible to them.” Sookie’s mother pushed away from the table and held her hands out to us. “Come,” she said, “I’ll show you what I mean.”

Duk Hee led us to the back room where she and sometimes her boyfriends slept. Sookie and I perched on the edge of the bare mattress while she searched through her drawers of makeup. When we saw her filling her cosmetics bag, looking over her shoulder once in a while to consider our faces, we started wriggling like market dogs for sale.

“For some reason,” she explained, “American Joes cannot see our faces clearly. Especially when we use the eye shadows, lipsticks, powder, blush-i they give us, we confuse them…I’ll tell you what I think. I think that this makeup is magic—a disguise that lets us move through their world safely.”

Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller

Homeless College Professors

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Sex work is one of the more unusual ways that adjuncts have avoided living in poverty, and perhaps even homelessness. A quarter of part-time college academics (many of whom are adjuncts, though it’s not uncommon for adjuncts to work 40 hours a week or more) are said to be enrolled in public assistance programs such as Medicaid.

They resort to food banks and Goodwill, and there is even an adjuncts’ cookbook that shows how to turn items like beef scraps, chicken bones and orange peel into meals. And then there are those who are either on the streets or teetering on the edge of losing stable housing. The Guardian has spoken to several such academics, including an adjunct living in a “shack” north of Miami, and another sleeping in her car in Silicon Valley.

This is why adjuncts have been called “the fast-food workers of the academic world”: among labor experts adjuncting is defined as “precarious employment”, a growing category that includes temping and sharing-economy gigs such as driving for Uber. An American Sociological Association taskforce focusing on precarious academic jobs, meanwhile, has suggested that “faculty employment is no longer a stable middle-class career”.

“Most of my colleagues are unjustifiably ashamed,” she said. “They take this personally, as if they’ve failed, and I’m always telling them, ‘you haven’t failed, the system has failed you.’”

Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars Adjunct professors in America face low pay and long hours without the security of full-time faculty. Some, on the brink of homelessness, take desperate measures. By the Outside in America team at the Guardian 11/2017

Gold Diggers Survive

I have a love-hate relationship with this song: Fancy from the album Rumor Has It by Reba McEntire.

Fancy was a big hit in 1990. During that year, I was a poverty survivor working insane hours at multiple jobs while going to college. The lyrics do not tell my story (per se) but they touched on something within my own experience.

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“She said here’s your chance Fancy don’t let me down
Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down
Lord forgive me for what I do, but if you want out
Well it’s up to you
Now don’t let me down you better start movin’ uptown”

Every time I hear this song play, I want to turn it into a personal theme song or a Poverty Survivor anthem because of lyrics like this:

“I knew what I had to do but I made myself this solemn vow
That I’s gonna be a lady someday
Though I don’t know when or how
I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life
With my head hung down in shame you know
I might have been born just plain white trash
But Fancy was my name”

Good strong words, but they are taken out of context. Context is important. This song tells the story of a young woman who is handed over to a pimp because her mother was poor, sick and desperate to find a way for her daughter to survive:

“Then I saw the tears wellin’ up in her troubled eyes
When she started to speak
She looked at our pitiful shack
And then she looked at me and took a ragged breath
She said your Pa’s run off and I’m real sick
And the baby’s gonna starve to death.”

But, in the end, Fancy not only gets out of a life of prostitution, she becomes extremely wealthy and famous. How? She finds several rich men who like what she has to offer.

“It wasn’t very long after a benevolent man
Took me off the street
And one week later I was pourin’ his tea
In a five room hotel suite”

“I charmed a king, a congressman
And an occasional aristocrat
Then I got me a Georgia mansion
And an elegant New York townhouse flat
I ain’t done bad”

The story describes a young woman who is physically attractive and blessed with a personality that is both subservient enough to ‘pour tea’ and outgoing/entertaining/manipulative enough to ‘charm a king, a congressman and an occasional aristocrat.’ She literally serves, entertains and flatters her way into the right bedrooms and, therefore, is able to both survive and thrive.

This is complete fiction. Under the ownership of a pimp, human trafficker or abusive boyfriend (taking a cut off of her earnings), it would have required the intervention of the police and/or an act of God to get her off the streets.

This is destructive fiction. This is one of the fatal contradictions inherent in the definition of Deserving Poor utilized here in the United States – a common fable passed around by Hollywood, television, romance novels and politicians. It’s disturbing just how many people actually believe it is factual, common and proof that women who don’t land rich husbands ‘deserve’ the punishment of poverty. Specifically: if you want to get out of poverty, you must land the right man. Girls who ‘work it’ are the ones who succeed – the rest are just lazy and worthless. Worse…those who get pregnant, raped or otherwise suffer less than ideal consequences are ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ who deserve nothing better than prostitution and single-parenting-on-welfare.

Street Feminism. If you’ve ever wondered why feminism is not popular among poor women, take a good hard look at what it takes to survive and what is expected of the Deserving Poor. These lyrics and this music video provide an excellent illustration of the reality of poverty for women – a reality which feminism, in its current manifestation, does nothing to address. Sadly, many upper-class feminists actively (aggressively) support this fantasy and the Deserving Poor fiction that goes with it – through their actions. Your theories and opinions are nothing if your actions contradict those words. Why does this happen? Because class and classism overshadows solidarity and negatively affects the feminist community.

Which brings me to the next point…

Real life in the United States. Entirely too many people (particularly children, teenagers, and young adults) are desperately poor and/or homeless in the United States. They need reasonable and easily accessible options, not fairy tales that essentially glorify an ideal that, in reality, guarantees a life of sexual slavery.

“Now in this world there’s a lot of self-righteous hypocrites
That would call me bad
And criticize Mama for turning me out
No matter how little we had”

This is a bit of truth. Self-righteous hypocrites calling poverty survivors ‘bad’ (and many other things that are far worse) because they have the audacity to survive poverty. So many things about this story are wrong….just plain wrong….because they accurately portray reality for entirely too many people (including the complications stemming from popular misconceptions). This last bit of nastiness is no exception.

Poverty survivors have a right to live. They do not owe anyone an explanation, excuse or apology for refusing to die (no matter how inconvenient that reality may be to select groups of people). Those who are lucky enough to leave poverty deserve respect, not nasty attempts at degradation, public humiliation, and slander. Slander which can, and often does, negatively affects social standing and employment – thereby sending survivors right back into poverty.

Yeah, this song strikes a chord. It grabs hold of my anger and frustration about the lack of real change in the areas of poverty and homelessness and plays those emotions like an instrument.

To her credit, Reba McEntire’s video for Fancy ends with the main character opening a home for runaways. It’s an excellent video. I just wish the lyrical story were more realistic.

Trafficking Victims Are Your Equals

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January is Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

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Letter To A John

“I want you to pay me for my beauty
I think it’s only right
‘Cause I have been paying for it
All of my life”

“We barely have time to react in this world
Let alone rehearse
And I don’t think I’m better than you
But I don’t think that I’m worse
Women learn to be women
And men learn to be men
And I don’t blame it all on you
But I don’t want to be your friend”

Out of Range by Ani DiFranco

Additional resources for Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month:

 

Survival Options

Huffington Post on Amazon.com

This is a nice article, but the following stood out:

“Nelson had been a prostitute for 38 years. She started working on the streets of New York City at the age of 14, after her mother committed suicide. When she was 18, she heard that clients were a lot less violent in Hawaii, so she hopped on a plane and moved to Waikiki.”

The reality is simply this – prostitution is one of the very few options available to children, teens and young adults without families supporting them. As things currently stand, there are no reasonably accessible and reliable legal options for basic survival.

That is wrong. That needs to change.

Period.

Restaurant In Hawaii Offers Fresh Start For Former Prostitutes, Convicts, Others Who Need A Hand, The Huffington Post, by Carla Herreria