20 December 2014

rental cars blackness and invisibility

I wanted to write about as it happened, but I also didn't want the experience to sour what was an attempt to do my wife a favor and to spend some time with my brother from another mother in on of my favorite places. And this all happened in the process of renting a vehicle to drive to Las Vegas. When you rent with a debit card, there's a process you have to go through to verify your card: proof of employment (most recent pay stub) and a current paid balance bill with your address. This is an obnoxious process, but one I've been through. On Friday, when the rental car company called, they indicated to me that i needed a credit card for payment and my license. This means I didn't think I needed this extra stuff as I was told what i would need...

...I arrive with all my stuff and I'm ready to get in the car and drive- it's about 1pm, and this window means I'll get to leave town before traffic starts, hit Bakersfield before their traffic and will be on the 15 before LA traffic gets 'thick up in here' and I get to sit behind all kinds of traffic- the Friday to Vegas drive has to be handled with kid gloves: just being 60 minutes off can add as much as 3-4 hours on the overall trip. So I arrive, and there's one person in front of me in line, and it appears there are some problems, but it also appears the manager is going above and beyond her duties. I decide to listen (read: eavesdrop) in on the conversation, just because I was bored and there. Apparently, the man didn't have all the materials he needed to rent the vehicle with a rental car: many of the home bills aren't in his name and/or a couple of bills were in the process of payment. In the end, the manager waived his need for a pay stub and let him use his wife's bills, as they were married and that proved he lived there (no wedding certificate provided). I provide all this context, as it's relevant to the next couple of things i plan on writing...after about 15 minutes, she gets him into his Chevy Malibu and he hits the road...

...I then head to the counter. She informs me that she's the one that called me to make sure I had my credit card and license, which I then pulled out. She sees it's a debit card and asks me for my pay stub. I tell her I don't have it on me, it's at my job. She asks if I can look it up, and I tell her the directions to do that are also at word. She tells me they won't be able to rent to me. Remember, I was in line minutes ago when she let a white guy who didn't have this exact form rent a vehicle. And she's about to send me home carless. Anyone that knows me at all knows it's about to get live up in this spot. She's being petty, which I only know because I watched her eschew pettiness for an older, unthreatening white man, who, upon reflection, was in the exact same situation I was in- except her bending over backwards at every turn to make it happen for him, and to be putting up roadblocks for me in the exact same situation...

Enter another employee at the rental car place, who happens to be black. He reminds her that she JUST did this for a man who just left the store, and that she should offer me the same instances- which essentially was prove two other factors.  I tell her that some of the bills they're asking for aren't in my name, but they're in my wife's name, but I can pull them up online (something she offered when she didn't think i'd produce the paperwork) . She informs me that the name on the paperwork has to be the same as on the rental, and that maybe my wife should come rent the vehicle (which was said in a way that was probably more condescending than she intended: this is not to say she didn't mean it to be condescending, just not THAT bad). I inform her that the bill i need is at my house, somewhere and i needed to find it. She offered to cancel my reservation and offered me a ride home (they pick you up and drop you off- not a favor by her- she'd have a been a bigger bitch to not have offered it). The Black guy working there told her she could just put it on his desk and that the driver would give me a ride to find the form. As he grabs my forms, he asks me to sit down, and tells me: "I'm getting you this car today- you bring back two forms on this list, in your name or your wife's name, just like the guy in front of you- and i know you saw that and thank you for not making the kind of scene I would surely have made" [aside: and that I would have made had he been 45 seconds slower in his intervention]. "I'm sick of this office pretending like everyone is treated the same- we don't get the same treatment they do- I'm gonna make sure you do today- if that's all I can do." I tell him the form I need from home and he lines me up with a driver...

...The driver is this 20-something Rastafarian (self described- not making generalizations) who has moved to the Bay about a year and a half ago (from where he didn't say). He started talkin to me about what he just saw on the way to the apartment, and he lets me know that, "if i was white" that I wouldn't have had to do all this mess." He let me know that he'd been there awhile and this is just how it worked out. And it wasn't the company, and it's not that these were bad people. "They do it and they don't even notice- and when you tell them and they realize- they feel bad- because they mean well- like that matters."  I explained to him what was going on, and he told me to "take my time" and "don't worry about it" as I attempted to explain that it might take a few minutes to find a bill (we have a mass of unopened mail, and the bill i'm looking for is paid in the rent but sent separately, so our need to do anything with this is zero- which is why i was sure i can find a copy of the bill, but the most recent one- unlikely at best. But it will have the requisite information for me to pull the information online (which they offered, remember?) which will let me get the car. I'd have printed it up, but my computer- and everything I planned on taking with me- was in the van they gave me a ride over with (so if i could find nothing- i could just take my stuff and be done with me). So I just got the copy of the bill, got all the information i needed to print out the most recent statement of the bill in my name, went to the computer and pulled the most recent statement online to print to verify. This process only took me about 90 minutes, which means the processing for the paperwork for the vehicle was being finalized around 2:50pm, and I was in the vehicle at 3pm.  (note: if they'd let me use a bill in my wife's name, like she did the guy in front of me- I'd have been able to rent the vehicle when I there the first time- about 1:20pm). As I described earlier, the difference in leaving at 1:30 and 3:00pm in the Bay Area, headed south, on a Friday, is monumental. The entire trip took about 3 hours longer based on traffic I encountered that would have not been present with an earlier departure, just magnifying my frustration...

...Why was I frustrated? Well, a couple of things. 1) f the woman had initially reminded me that if I was going to be using a debit card that I needed to bring additional verification, maybe even going as far as to remind me what i would need to bring, that would have been helpful. Where might I have come up with such an idea? The manager told me, while apologizing for not doing so, did inform me she has a specific protocol to prevent this from happening, and then acknowledging that she failed to do that with me. This seems to be a reason, if there was going to be one, to relax rules if you can. If you can't, I get that, too. Some places are Draconian in allowances. And as annoying as that is, it pales in comparison to 2) she violated these rules. rules that she defines as rigid and inflexible were just magic wand whisked away. by her. 15 minutes earlier. in front of me. For this to have happened this way, one of two things have to have happened in her mind about me: a) she thinks I'm an idiot and that I somehow missed the guy, who was in the exact boat I'm currently in, and you're treating us fundamentally differently, and i'm too dumb to catch it or b) you just didn't see me, at all, when you waived these rigid rules. Let's not even get into the subliminal things in your head for this to even be an issue, because they may say things about you- things you're not really willing to admit- like that a black man can't be trusted as a white man can, and despite them having the same issue and the Black man asking for some of the same concessions, those request being made to deaf ears until another Black man working there decided he'd had enough and got me the help i needed...

...like I said, it's the kind of thing that could ruin a trip if you let it. I didn't.

19 December 2014

the war is on poor people, not poverty

I remember being a kid and reading LBJ (note: this is Lyndon Baines Johnson, and if you thought I was talking about LeBron James, you should hit yourself in a delicate region for me) discuss the War on Poverty. I remember watching his speech in US History, and being enthralled with the passion of LBJ as he spoke about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and that seemed to be capable of motivation of action.

Turns out that the War on Poverty, transitioned over time, became a War on People in Poverty, which ended up being a de facto War on Marginalized People of Color in general, and a War on Black specifically. How do we do this? In more ways than you can imagine, but I'll just mention a couple of them here and now, and if I know myself, some of these will be discussed more at a later date.

Let's keep it real: people sell drugs. There are a couple of reasons behind it, and for most, it's money. You need it to live, and in a lot of places, money is hard to come by, and legitimate money is especially hard to come by. Multiple studies have indicated that, given identical applications, it harder and takes longer for Blacks to get job offers than whites, and that even whites with criminal records have an easier time gaining employment than Blacks without a record, so it needs to be pointed out that many who don't have jobs find themselves in a stacked market- well stacked against them market. And if you need money to live and you can't get a job, you have to move towards more nefarious means of generating capital, and the most effective means of doing so a lot of times is selling drugs. So in some worlds, the reason to sell drugs is a lack of options: let the baby starve or sell drugs, let them turn off the heat or sell drugs, live on the streets or sell drugs. [Note: this is not to say that I'm for drug selling, but it is to say I am for babies not starving or having to live in a car]. But in lot of states, this choice can lead to devastating implications.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 placed a small, seemingly harmless stipulation of anyone receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds would receive a lifetime disqualification for a conviction of a drug offense. This means that, if a member of a household is convicted of a drug offense, that means that all members of that house are now ineligible for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program) and for TANF (which is key to obtaining Section 8 housing- a subsidy that allows poor families to live in housing facilities- so they can not live on the streets). But remember, not everyone has access to the same marketplace, so not everyone will be eligible for a legitimate means. Also, this allows for a world where the responsible party of the house may not be involved in a scenario, but a member of the house may be. So for example, Grandma is the person who pays the bills and she has no idea her grandson is selling drugs. But when he gets popped for selling drugs, the FAMILY gets hurt. So Grandma gets kicked out of her Section 8 housing, and no longer has access to SNAP benefits. If the function of welfare is to provide some sort of Safety Net, then it seems almost criminal to, when people have been determined to be most at need, to pull the rug from under their feet. Now some might say that those who take drugs shouldn't be allowed to get benefits, and some even think that recipients should have to drug test in order to get the benefits: 1) the evidence against it's necessity is devastating, as way less test positive than the average population would if tested, and 2) it's probably illegal if really tested, as Florida recently found out.

But what does this all really mean? The implications of this are pretty devastating from a legal standpoint. When you commit crimes in this society, and you're convicted, you serve your time and once you're done, the implications of that action are supposed to go away. You've paid your debt to society. But with welfare recipients, you're doubly jacked- as they can test you to determine whether or not you get benefits (which, if you have a job, you pay into, regardless of your ability to access them- seems a lot like Taxation without Representation, and I think we fought a war over that) and if you're caught you're PERMANENTLY BANNED from accessing these benefits- so regardless of the need, you're left out in the cold. This seems to reify a cycle of poverty that we spoke of ending with the War on Poverty. Oh, I forgot, that changed to be a War on People in Poverty. Seems a minor semantic distinction, but inevitably it's huge. It also says "if you're on the margins, and you can't get your Horatio Alger on, then you're smooth out of luck- and if we catch you selling drugs, you can lose your benefits."

Prostitution. Sex Slavery. Murder. None of these will lose you benefits. But a drug felony, in your house, even if they're not YOUR drugs, can have you removed from the Safety Net system for life.

Seems like people who have gone to selling drugs might need that net more than most.

And it seems fucked to take that from them.

18 December 2014

All I wanted was some Orange Juice and what I got was racism...

So this happened to me this morning...

My wife left for a debate tournament early this morning, and as I leave for work, I decide that I want to stop off at the Safeway, to grab an Orange Juice and maybe a low quality but oh so sweet donut. As I get in line to make the purchase, there's a woman standing in front of me, probably in her late 50's to early 60's. As she reaches into her purse to grab her wallet, something falls out of her purse onto the floor. I see it fall, and try to get the woman's attention...

"Excuse me, I think something fell out of your purse."

She says thank you before she turns to see me, and when she does, you'd have thought she saw a ghost. Her eyes almost popped out of her head and her mouth was just hanging open, like she was waiting for me to throw a brass ring into it. And this stare went on for a long enough time (five seconds or so) that I felt the need to ask what was up.

"What's wrong?"

"I didn't expect you to be Black."

Now this is one of those instances in life where, if i were cut from a different kind of cloth, I would have just tried to ignore her, and leave the store. But I'm not cut from that kind of cloth: i'm cut from the kind of cloth that, at the expense of my own happiness sometimes, have to ask the critical question...

"Why didn't you expect me to be Black?"

Now we ALL know this is a loaded question. There are a variety of was to answer this question, however, all of them make you look kind of like a jackass. But being able to read people, I knew where this was going, and I knew I was in for what could only be classified as "unintentional racism 101"...

"You're so articulate."

Preface: I've lived around white people my entire life. This means that I see how white people treat other white people. I've seen how white people treat smart white kids as opposed to how they treat smart black kids. I've spent large chunks of my life with some of the smartest people, white and black, that anyone could ever meet. And I can think of exactly ZERO times when a smart white kid ever had anyone use the words "articulate" or "well-spoken" to describe intelligent white kids. Why is that? Because it is expected for white kids to be intelligent and articulate. Don't get me wrong, it's allowable for them to not be, but those are kids who fall below expectations, and even some of those kids get to be President of the United States of America (a much easier job once the Scion has had it), but it's not a surprise when a white person is.

However, the degree of arrogance, the dismissiveness of experience and the inherent racism in her claim was something that was not to be ignored. That being said, it's a situation that has to be handled with sort of kid gloves. The disadvantage to being Black sometimes is, when you bring up issues of race, people assume you have too much of a vested interest, and thus you can't be objective- which means your information is to be questioned. In the academic world, that specific lived experience gives an unique perspective to your experience, which gives further authenticity to the experience: nobody would ever say that the experiences that an anthropologist has with the people he works with would give them a biased interpretation of the experience and should be rejected or scrutinized, it's that experience which legitimates the knowledge in an academic setting. This means I have to recognize that because these words are coming from a Black face in a Black place within a Black space, that I had to explain this to her in a way that didn't run her off, making her unwilling to interact with other Blacks in these public spaces...

...then i realized I was tired and didn't really care what she thought...

"What is your your level of education?"
"Didn't graduate from college."
"Why would you assume I'd be less articulate than you, seeing as you don't even have a college education. What is your parents level of education?"
"They're both college grads."
"Mine are both PhDs. Once again, why would you expect me to be less articulate than you? Oh, it's because I'm Black. I can't stop you from BEING racist, but if you'd stop SHOWING your racism in public, I'd be most appreciative. Now I'm gonna get my OJ and go to work, as opposed to selling drugs."

Now if you think that's the way I wanted to start off my day, you're on a bad batch of Heroin. I'd rater get kicked in the balls than to have someone look at me like a ghost and then tell me, for lack of a better word, "i saw your black skin and assumed you'd be stupid, and when "articulate" stuff came out of your mouth i was SO STUNNED that all i could do is stare and say offensive shit when asked what was wrong."

And here's the kicker: if you'd asked her, she'd have probably thought she was giving me a compliment on sounding smart, not noticing the overarching claim it makes of my people to make that assumption...

11 December 2014

Anxiety and Blackness

I haven't written in this for quite awhile: it's not because of a lack of things to write about as much as a lack of energy to put to pen the concepts that run wild in my mind. But with all the issues going on in the world: the CIA and the Torture report is something I could spend days writing about and never run out of ideas. There is without question an deep investigation on the purposes, legitimate and otherwise, of rectal rehydration (pun totally intended). But today I'm going to talk about something: anxiety.

I'm a pretty mellow person. Sure, I have topics of intensity, as we all do, but in general, the amount of fucks to give about whats going on with things is generally somewhere between zero and needing to borrow some fucks to get back to zero. I also have painstakingly low expectations of people in general, and am pessimistic of the operations of the state with respect to people of color in general, and Black people in particular. It's the reason why, when the Michael Brown debacle came about, I was bothered but unmoved by the "I support Darren Wilson" t-shirts then as I am currently unbothered by the bars in Missouri that offer the Michael Brown drink special. Not because these things aren't disturbing at best and hate-filled racism at worst, but because when you have low expectations of people, it's hard for them to be exceeded in the "bad" direction. So even as these issues are happening: Brown being shot in the street in August, Garner being choked the phuck out in July, I was something- but it wasn't shocked or amazed. 

Despite how this may sound, I always find it interesting to wee when white people get a small glimpse into the word of "justice" and "democracy" that Black people see all the time. Eric Garner was a better example, because without video, the presumption against Black skin never garners a fair and equitable response. Hell, even when there IS video, people will come up with some reason for it's justification. "Well, if Michael Brown hadn't stolen those cigarillo papers," or "If he'd just gotten out of the street when the cop asked he'd be alive today," or "If Eric Garner hadn't resisted arrest, he'd be alive today." I call bullshit on all of those. All those actions mean is that, maybe, just maybe, they'd not have been killed BY THAT COP AT THAT TIME, MAYBE. It's not like being innocent is a legitimate mechanism for safety, as Daniel Holdsclaw (no relation to Chamique Holdsclaw ironically) should be a fine example of why you can't trust a cop, even one that isn't choking the shit out of you or shooting you in the street. Our interactions with the police have always been confrontational at best and deadly at worst. For good portions of our history, the police that should protect us and the Klan racist that were trying to kill us were the same people. It's hard to call the cops to protect you when you know the call will be answered by the Klansman you're calling the cops to protect you from. Now while I know it's not 1918, 1939, or 1957 all times when these things would have been public and nobody in power would have cared, we now have "laws" and "policies" that should prevent these types of things happening. But let's not kid ourselves, we all know those laws and policies, like really all laws and policies, almost never HELP people of color, especially when their necessities come into conflict with those of the dominant and/or power structures (in case you didn't know- laws are crafted to benefit the people who craft the laws most- you want the laws to have your back- write them- you think it's a mistake that in a country that originally only extended rights to white men that the rights of women and people of color have always lagged behind? did you think that was a coincidence, as opposed to systemic? here's a clue- when negative implications hit a specific part of the population despite there being rules/laws in place to protect these people and they still they find themselves disproportionally effected, it's the system).

As I write all this, I realize this was initially about anxiety, so I should actually write about that. As I said earlier, I'm pretty mellow, but recently, I've had battles with anxiety. It's not an issue when I'm at work, or spending time with the kids on my team, or even when I'm at home with my wife. The times I'm my most anxious are 1) when I'm in my car and 2) when I'm home alone. Now these are actually quite odd times to be anxious for me. Usually my anxiety is more driven by being around "people" especially people I don't know. But recently, it's been driven by my solitude. I've spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out exactly what it is that's been getting to me. When I went to my therapist about it, he had very little to offer me, but asked me to think back and see if i could remember the first time that my anxiety was caused not by crowds, but by being by myself (and yes, I realize that if I'm anxious alone and with people, I'd always be anxious- other people don't make me anxious anymore, but I am still particularly annoyed by them, which I don't think is better, rather just different). So I sat around and replayed my mental rolodex, pressing rewind on my memory to get to the point where I found that something different was driving my anxiety- and I found the date:
July 14th, 2013. 

The date that George Zimmerman was acquitted. And as I thought about it, here's what ran through my mind: man, if a 17 year old with a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea can be shot and killed with no recourse, what's the world coming to. At the time this in in the backdrop of Jordan Davis, the Black boy who was killed by a man for having his music play too loud at a store (a trial you may remember- as Michael Dunn was convicted, but not for the murder of Jordon Davis, but for the Attempted Murder of the three others who were in the car when he shot the car- which seems to ask the question of whether black lives matter or not). I had a couple of anxiety attacks but I think they were more tied to tension about an inevitable trip I was going to have to take to Florida. But I figured as long as I didn't have to be there I would be fine. But as the acts continue to pile up: Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner. And I begin to do even more research I come across Kajieme Brown, and John Crawford and Victor White and realize that my safety is not guaranteed, but that any, and I mean ANY interaction I have with the cops could lead to my death. And it occurred to me that my anxiety involves times when I either a) have to deal with cops alone or b) leads to a possible scenario where I may have to interact with the police with no alibi. 

This may seem like straight paranoia to you, but to a guy that's been pulled over by the police on 70 occasions, that has had his car searched by cops in 11 different jurisdiction and has had a gun pulled on me while driving a school van, my cop paranoia was already on Code Orange. [Note: if any of you all think this is odd, I'll ask if any of you give a specific play-by-play of EVERY action you make in front of an officer BEFORE you do it- if your answer's no, it's because YOU DON'T HAVE TO. My parents told me about that when I was training for my license, but I didn't really believe them: until the day I got pulled over and reached to my back pocket for my drivers license when i realized that one officer was yelling for me to stop moving while the other POINTED HIS PISTOL THROUGH THE FRONT WINDOW. The look in his eyes was one that I've seen multiple times, but one I never expected to see in a guy holding a gun on me: fear. He seemed legitimately concerned that I was reaching for a weapon (despite being told to give him my license and registration- aside: seems way more likely i'd have a gun in the glove compartment rather than in my pocket, not tryin to go out like Plax Burris, who ironically served time for shooting himself). I've found myself interacting with the police more than most (when you live in a neighborhood where not many blacks live, they assume you don't "belong" there and are quick to question your motives/reasoning for being there, rather than "it's America and we have freedom of movement" being a sufficient response) and as i do more research, i realize that any of those times I've been pulled over, and during more traffic stops than i care to think about, I came at cops in very similar language to that used by Eric Garner, you've been messing with me for too long- this stops now. I've threatened cops with legal suits and just browbeat them for unauthorized stops- realizing that at any time they could have just said "let's kill this nigger" and that would have been it. Or that if a crime happened and they looked like me, that saying "I was at home alone" would mean nothing to them, and probably is fodder for my inevitable charge. 

So when it was all said and done. I figured out what was the cause of my anxiety: Being Black in America and knowing that, when it's all said and done, that the system is no real protection for me, as the only time it seems to work at it's best it to put us away, and it seems to work in exactly as ineffective and inefficient way when it needs to protect me.

So I guess one of the gifts of blackness is anxiety and fear over The State perpetuating violence against me. 

It's like the Klan changed to Blue Uniforms.