Category Archives: Class

One Chart Shows How the Tax Burden has Shifted from Corporations to the Working Class

Chart comparing taxes in 1952 and 2015. Social Insurance and Retirement are the taxes on this chart that tend to fall on the poor or middle class.
Since the Greatest Generation’s “Golden Age” taxes ave gone down for corporations and up for the poor.
[screenshot of The Young Turks]

Just wanted to drop in here and share this astounding chart from yesterday’s “Hour One” of The Young Turks show. They shared this while building an argument against the Washington establishment consensus that budget proposals should be revenue neutral. As reported in Huffington Post,

But from the perspective of the [Elizabeth] Warren wing of the party, corporations pay far too little as it is, so making any plan revenue neutral is a loser. Before companies managed to start gaming the system, Warren noted, three out of every ten dollars of federal revenue came from corporate taxes, today it’s only one in ten.

Then he dropped this chart that shows how the tax burden in this country has shifted from corporations to the working class. Social insurance and retirement includes the Payroll tax, and it has tripled since 1952. Meanwhile corporate taxes are a third of what they once were.

Want to find out how that happened? Watch The Young Turks video below. In the video, host Cenk Uygur is cheerleading Elizabeth Warren’s one-woman battle against corporate tax holidays. A clear, simple argument. However, side affects of watching this video include rage, hair pulling, compulsive blogging, and sharing the above chart on social media.

I just wanted to pull that screenshot out, to make it easier to share on all the social things.

Elizabeth Warren: End Corporate Tax “Holidays” (The Young Turks)





One Hundred Year Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

By Bain News Service photograph / George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When we think of desperate people holding hands on a flaming building and leaping to their death, Americans are not generally thinking of the history of labor unions. But on March 24th, 1911, one couple held hands and lept to their deaths, to be followed by some 140 others, in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. Bystanders watched helplessly:

Down below on the street, people started to notice the smoke billowing from the 8th floor. One of the bystanders observed a bolt of cloth come flying out the window and hit the pavement. Instinctively, he remarked that Harris was trying to save his best material. As the people on the street moved closer, out flew another bolt. It was then that the realization hit them that it wasn’t bolts of cloth at all but bodies plummeting to the pavement below.

The thousands who watched as the workers jumped flaming to their deaths were instrumental in changing support in favor of labor unions and building codes in New York City. Years before the fire, the women who worked there went on strike to fight for better working conditions, little things like a 52-hour work week and unlocked doors on the factory floor. At the time, the concern about locked doors was that the foreman did so to prevent women from using the bathroom. After a month of striking, the women at the Triangle factory were not able to agree with the bosses on the important sticking points of having a closed shop and collective bargaining. They returned to work, still locked in the building from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

A bit more about the fire, so that we can appreciate the tragedy that occurred a hundred years ago today:

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions.Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly-anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below.

Continue reading One Hundred Year Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Hipster Hunting

Janet said she wanted to go the Missouri Lounge to make fun of all the hipsters. Everyone agreed that The Missouri Lounge was just crawling with the little buggers.

I was surprised. Not about the Missouri Lounge—though I’d always thought the shack looked like more of a redneck dive—but that Janet wasn’t herself a hipster. She had the chunky, short-cropped hair and the thick black plastic glasses. But no. She was a hipster hater. How could I get them confused?

We ordered drinks and Janet picked out the most egregious violators and made fun of their outfits and drink selections. We did not stay long. Janet made a request from the DJ and there was some misunderstanding, or altercation. So we left.

That incident got me thinking. Did those people deserve to be made fun of? What made them worse people than Janet? What the hell was a hipster, anyway?

Since that day many moons ago, if I hear someone use the word I always ask them what it means. Two things quickly became apparent: 1) no two people seem to have the same definition 2) never have I ever heard the word used in a positive context.

For my money, a hipster is a person with an overly-developed sense of irony. But by that definition, the guy I know who is most likely to be a hipster is a 35-year-old Indian metalhead. He’s also the biggest hipster-hater I know. The “H-word” also seems to be associated with indie rock, though no one seems to know what the fuck that is either.

Here is what some of my research has come up with:

  • “Hipsters are trust fund babies who go to expensive private art programs.”
  • “Hipsters are people who wear mismatched, ill-fitting clothes and think they are hot.”
  • “Hipsters are the shallow types who live in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.”
  • “Hipsters drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and ride fixie-bikes and make fun of normal people.”

Oh well then, that’s clear. If I am in Williamsburg and I meet someone in an art program I can assume they are shallow and living off daddy’s money. Additionally, if I meet a girl on a fixed-gear bike in Goodwill frocks I can assume she is a snotty bitch who can’t wait to talk about me behind my back. It would do the world a good deed to run off with her inexpensive union-made brew, taunting and laughing.

Much like the yuppies in The Last Days of Disco, “hipster” seems to describe a group of people whom everyone seems to agree is omnipresent and easily identifiable yet no one can find one among their circle of friends.

In case you can’t tell, this whole thing pisses me off. Being cruel to someone based on the way they dress, the music they listen to, their neighborhood or school of choice is discrimination. It may not be based on a thousand years of oppression like the prejudice we all like to think we’re too good for, but it is certainly the opposite of the moral high-ground the hipster-haters think they have.

The American College Dictionary defines Bohemian as “a person with artistic or intellectual tendencies, who lives and acts with no regard for conventional rules of behavior.”

I see very little to distinguish the hipster-hating of today from those who hated the punks and before that the hippies and before that the beatniks and on and on. No one can deny the fact that the hipster is the new bohemian, except the bohemians themselves, who’ve been tricked into thinking that the hipsters are the fake bohemians.

Cant wait to meet this friendly guy!
Can’t wait to meet this friendly guy!

Thus we have an odd scenario where sews-her-own-clothes girl (e.g. hipster) and shops-at-the-Gap girl (eg the anti-hipster) can both commiserate on how much they hate the shops-at-Urban-Outfitters girl (“fake” hipster). SewsHerOwnClothes thinks she is immune because she is more authentic than those people who shop at Urban Outfitters. But you can bet your best pair of Pumas that Gap girl and the Urban Outfitters “fake” hipster would be just as quick to make fun of the freak girl with the weird clothes she she probably made on her grandma’s sewing machine (as if that’s a bad thing).

The whole anti-bohemian attitude strikes me as a backlash against a group of people who feel slighted by those who have a different set of moral standards. An example would serve better than an explanation…

One of the definitions of hipster from Urban Dictionary:

Someone who thinks that they are being “special” and “unique” for liking some underground bullshit no one else cares about. And they pointlessly look down on people who don’t know anything about indie culture, because that’s the only thing they know anything about. They’re quick to call the rest of the world conformists when in reality, they are the ones conforming by partaking in a “too cool for mainstream so i am going to reject it by looking and acting like a grungy asshole” way of life only to seem uber-fashionable. They just end up looking like idiots.

Hipster: I won’t drink at starbucks, it’s too corporate.

Non-Hipster: I want a Louis Vitton purse because they are cool
Hipster: You’re such a conformist, haveing [sic] a Louis Vitton purse is so unoriginal. I like my purse I found in the gutter for $4 dollars.
Non-hipster: but it’s fugly
Hipster: yah, but no one else has it. It’s completely unique.
Non-hipster: that bum over there has something pretty similar though.
Hipster: You’re ignorant because you can’t see the real beauty in life.
I don’t have time for this, I’m gonna go to my cave of an apartment and listen to some indie rock you’ve probably never heard of….
Non hipster: You need to see a therapist
Hipster: I am my own therapist.

So the sad fashion whore who wrote that definition feels as though she is being judged because she doesn’t care where her clothes are made or how her consumption choices affect the local economy. And she’s right! I think the person who wrote the definition above is shallow and ignorant! I expect to be hated and unkindly labeled by anyone who thinks avoiding Starbucks is an example of “some underground bullshit.” That’s totally fine. Fuck that girl, and the guy who runs, we were never meant to be friends!

But when I see the anarchists, punks, queers, ravers and other manner of adorable bohemians bitching about the “H” word, it’s too much. When someone seeks to say cruel things about a nonconformist, hipster is the first word they turn to, even if the nonconformists themselves think a hipster is something entirely different.

The focus on the hipster’s inauthenticity as an outsider, art appreciator, or moral consumer is a defense mechanism based on the labeler’s own insecurities in those same areas. The Louis Vitton-lover in the example above is an extreme example because s/he can’t even conceive that anyone would care about the journey of their designer purse from sweatshop to landfill. Your average anti-bohemian likes to think they appreciate art and philosophy as much or more than any weirdos with their weird music and their weird hair and their weird clothes. The assumption is that any reasons for being different are not better or coming from any set of values, merely contrivances. In this way, anti-hipsterism becomes another extension of the big-city-elitist versus corn-fed-anti-intellectual debate that is the hallmark of the American class system.

When the freaks, geeks, queers and quacks take aim at hipsters they are supporting conformity, regardless of what they think it means when they are around other bohemian-types.

Let us celebrate the hipster. Let us drink inexpensive beer and wear used clothes. Let’s  listen to obscure music. Let’s have debates about crap surrealist literature and condone veganism. La vie Boheme, under any name: embrace it.

Edit: read the follow up to this post, Hipster Subculture Ripe for Parody [Time Magazine]

We Are Not At the Center

This blog is in response to Joysette’s beautiful blog “On the Passivity of a Generation” summarized briefly:
Have we become so comfortable, with our “on demand” society, that we’ve failed to struggle for the things that are truly important? Too distracted by the 47 ways to manipulate something as simple as coffee to understand the complexity of human nature?..I believe there was a time that people cared. I’m beginning to think that it’s not en vogue anymore. It’s not plastered on the cover of a magazine, nor can I sense that any periodical is telling the true story of our generation.

But what about the Zapatistas in Mexico, holding back the state with pitchforks and emails? What about the activists in India staging a worldwide boycott of Coca-cola for what they have done to their water supply? What about the 150,000 Australians that marched against climate changeon November 11th? Or the Cananea miners who have been striking for half a year? What about the tens of thousands mobilizing against free trade in Columbia? Or the 100,000 Burmese on the streets of Rangoon, demanding freedom from military rule as soldiers shoot people in the street. Or the undocumented immigrants on hunger strike in France?

We are the powdered ladies that play kroquet. We live like children and only know the world (death, struggle) from books. We are the ones who throw ourselves into activism like a timid child dipping it’s toe into the water. We cannot help ourselves. Our lives are comfortable. The desperation that we face to improve the world is no greater than the desperation to be beautiful or buy a house or pass the test or live out whatever dreams we realized before we knew the cruelty of the world is a call to action.

This is what it means to be middle class. Because if your water supply is privatized there is nothing more important to you than getting it back. If there are soldiers on every corner and tension and gun smoke in the air, what else do you think about but tension and gun smoke?

Maslow would explain it best: in the hierarchy of needs, people who are in fear for their own survival make that their fist priority. And those of us who have food, shelter, clothes, income — we worry about making sense of the world. So for different reasons, the peasant and the scholar may lay there body on the line. But when the scholars’ need for approval, when their job is threatened, when their life is uncomfortable, they are the ones to leave the movement.

You are right that many are blind, distracted, led-astray, unaware. As were the Yankees that didn’t lift a finger to help the slaves. As were the Americans that went along with the murder of the native population or didn’t blink at the phrase “manifest destiny.” So were the Germans as millions of their citizens were slaughtered by the Nazis.

There have always been people that fought back, just as there has always been a privileged class that didn’t have to.

Many thought that the appointment of a right-wing president would be the kick in the tush the country needed to wake it up to the problems of the world. And for some, it has been. But what do we expect from a country that still mocks the serious left-wing movements, has little clue how to organize, is afraid of the power of labor unions and thinks their only empowerment comes once a year at the ballot box? We are soft, like the late Romans. Perhaps it will be our downfall. Perhaps it is time for our downfall. But this–the struggle, the solution–is not about us. It is only about us in that we are the problem.

Your confusion is due to a lack of perspective. The struggle around us is carried out by armchair revolutionaries when it is convenient to do so. They are dedicated. They care deeply. But their lives do not depend upon it. The glaciers may be melting, but it is hard to feel that while we still have broadband and surround sound. But I do not think for a second that there are not people right now whose whole lives are wrapped up in altering the course of history.

The history of the world is struggle and it is not slowing now. If anything, it is accelerating at a deafening pace to what will possibly be the ultimate (anti)climax. It is not that less people care. All over the world, people are knee-deep in the thick of life or death altercations. Perhaps the great tragedy is that there are not enough of them.

And what are we doing? There are so many things I want to do. I want to start a website to measure the hope of the world. At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I am privileged to hunger for truth. I want to paint it and poeticize it and blog it. I want to stand on a soapbox and shout speeches to the stunned masses. I want to start a radio station and prop my soapbox there. I want to wheatpaste and spray paint and sticker it all over the city. And there is time only for a fraction of these things. And yet even these things are not *real* in the same way destroying dams and tearing down cell phone towers is real. Partly I feel that my gift is one of truth and lies are what are poisoning this country so these are my remedies. But the truth is, I am too comfortable to take those kinds of risks. If I have shown a few people the seeds of truth then I will sleep well at night. Fortunately, I am not at the center of the fighting, the famine and thirst, the cacophonous brutality that keeps many, many, restless.

Update On the Neighbors

I am classist after all!

I was saying hi to my neighbor the other day, he is about my age, Mexican, drives an SUV.
I got up the will to confront him about throwing away furniture. I told him about the place up the street where they take furniture donations.

He said that that wasn’t their furniture at all. Random people had been dumping it by our trash. That is why they had started locking the gate at night (another thing they were doing that was really annoying because it doesn’t make me any safer and it takes extra time).

All it took was a little communication. Now to figure out why he’s driving that gas-guzzler.

To make matters worse, I found out that their aunt used to live in this apartment before she died. So at that time they had this whole complex all to themselves, one big happy extended family. I feel like an intruder. No wonder they are polite. We are like a ghost in the attic; they are stuck with us.

This Blogger’s White Privilege is Showing

My Mexican neighbors keep throwing away their furniture. I don’t know how they go through it so quickly, but once a month or so I will see sofas and pillows and dining chairs stacked by the trash, like a big-boned house of cards.
I wonder how many tissues, crushed soda cans and credit card offers I can fit in the space these will take up in the landfill.
If they were white, I would ask them about it. I would ask whether they knew there was a thrift store three blocks up that will sell their furniture for the benefit of disabled children. I would say that I know a guy there who would walk the three blocks with a dolly to come get the stuff.
But they are not white. They are first generation immigrants living the American dream: a gas-guzzler in the driveway and furniture that matches the carpeting.
Herein lies the disconnect between us: conservation activism is a luxury. It is only conceptualized in a world of abundance. How can one think about the impact of all they have when all along the most glaring truth is all they have not? Those who cannot afford new clothes aren’t thinking about organic cotton. It is the middle class people that are replacing the innefficient bulbs in their house with longer-lasting ones. And I confess that as a poor college student I bought the cheapest ones because renters don’t stay long enough to see the economic benefits of the earth friendly light bulb.
I’m not saying poor people don’t struggle, on the contrary, their lives are defined by it. But it seems like the struggle of the poor is one for survival. They sure as hell aren’t going to feel guilty for not recycling when there are corporations privatizing their water supply.
Maybe I am wrong about this. After all, my neighbors are paying the same rent that I am. Maybe they are just typical Americans and I am blinded by white guilt. Surely there are no excuses, now that conservation is a matter of survival for everyone. But our exchanges now are smiles and nods and I want to keep it that way. Who am I to give them a lecture?
I threatened this balance the other day while murdering the kudzu in my backyard. There was so much of it that I couldn’t have told you what the fence beneath it was made of. This created quite a pile of lawn clippings. A young man and old woman come out of the apartment above while I am dragging branches to a heap half as tall as I am and just as wide. They look at me inexplicably. I ask if they know where the compost bin is (in Oakland, they have a recycle bin for compost). More confusion, some head shaking. You know, the bin that you put leaves in. The bisabuela points to the dumpster. No, I want the one for recycling. I wonder if she speaks English. But surely he speaks English. I can’t help but think that as a result of this exchange they gather that I am simply too lazy to walk the extra five feet to the trash. I vow to call the Oakland Recycling Center. They smile and nod. I smile and nod.
And isn’t this very same conundrum happening on an international level? Excuse me, China, but I can’t help but noticing that the smog in Beijeng is so bad it would be safest to never leave the house. Our Olympic athletes are precious assets and we’d rather not have them damaged by breathing in all your smog. But then someone comes along and reminds us: China is just getting the hang of the “first world,” give a country a break! And don’t get them started on the banana republics and African countries that are raping the oceans of what’s left of the big game fish. Don’t they get to have economies, too?

“Some of Those That Work Forces Are the Same That Burn Crosses”

for Chris.

A while back a friend of my asked me (on myspace) what my thoughts are on law enforcement officers. I thought there is a whole blog in that answer but I wasn’t in a hurry to write it. That was until I found out yesterday that he is on his way to becoming a cop.

It should be noted that the blog where this question was raised I had mentioned that the men in blue had beaten my mother in the intake room. When they left her she was catatonic.

I was raised with a prejudice against L.E.O.s. My parents are hippies and they see cops as the people who send non-violent drug offenders to prison. They are also the people who did nothing to intervene when when I was eight and watching my mother’s boyfriend beat her in our front yard. Another childhood memory is my neighbors being busted for coke. I remember how the police tore up the house for five hours. They ripped open her furniture and confiscated her jewelry while detaining them by putting my neighbors on the ground with their boots on my neighbor’s backs.

So finding out that my friend is becoming a cop is about like telling someone in the KKK that one is converting to Judiaism.

My prejudice against L.E.O.s didn’t decrease with the wisdom of higher education. As an adult, I have seen officers beat non-violent protestors. I have seen them arrest hundreds of people under false pretense. I have stood for hours in front of riot police explaining the reasons for civil disobedience. They stand like statues.

police fire into crowd at FTAA in Miami. All pictures below are from the FTAA protest in Miami, though they are commonplace at large-scale American protests. Think of these as just one example.

I have seen a paddy-wagon accelerate towards street blockades. If anything has radicalized me, it is the memories of my friends with bruises bigger than fists from rubber bullets shot into crowds. If anything has radicalized me, it was seeing tanks riding through Savannah at the G8. Or hearing stories of officers confiscating film or medical equipment. Or talking to locals who were told by the cops that it was Okay to mug the protestors because they are bad people who don’t deserve protection.

The day after this ocurred, police were arresting puppeteers by the hundred at SOA in Fort Benning, GA, just so their protest numbers would be lower for the day of the march.

I have thought a lot about police officers because I believe that all people are essentially good. I believe that humans are compelled to do what they think is right, even if they must lie to themselves to do those things. There is no such thing as evil but misinformation and ignorance are to blame for what is thought of as evil in the world.

So when I see humans behaving like this, it really makes me question how they thought this is the right course of action. And I do have a theory.

protestor overcome by teargas.

Let’s face it, cops have a dangerous job (not the most dangerous government job, which goes to garbage collectors. When is Will Smith going to make a movie about them?). They don’t actually put their lives on the line every day, but the potential is there (when I think about it, this is similar to the daily fear women have of being raped.). When a cop approaches someone, they have to decide right away if this is going to be one of those moments where their life is in danger. In other words, is this person a good guy or a bad guy? If it is a helpless old lady crossing the street, they are going to see this as a moment to protect and serve, with emphasis on the later. Most of the time I approach a police officer they are eager to serve me. I am a white, middle-class educated woman. They are going to be relaxed and not worried I will shoot them in the face.

On the other hand, if I am at a protest I become one of the people that the nice old ladies must be proteced from. I am the bad guy. If they have to be prepared to shoot me if necessary then they must begin by dehumanizing me. Not after I have committed a crime but from moment one.

If it seems like brown people and the poor, especially men, don’t like cops who can blame them? All of their interactions with L.E.O.s begin with dehumanization and at best are viewed suspiciously as criminals. I know very few minorities that haven’t experienced this at least once in their lives.

Yet if I put myself in the position of a police person, I can hardly imagine behaving any other way. One cannot live their entire life in fear of every work-place interaction. But there must be an element of caution when approaching situations where criminal behavior is happening and it is your job to stop it.

Not to mention the fact that the people who are doing the real killing, the polluters and corporate thieves, aren’t likely to ever wind up in a gun fight with a cop. Sure, they may be slowly giving them cancer but all interactions can be civil throughout.

Thus, I do not think cops are bad people simply because bad people don’t exist. But I do believe that the law enforcement field encourages folks to see things in black and white; I believe it is an inevitable by-product of the job.

So, yeah, Officer Chris, I still love ya’. But I’ll be saying agnostic prayers at night that every man who reaches for his wallet doesn’t become the next Amadu Dialo. And that you remain stead-fast in your suspicion of old white ladies crossing the street.

A Beautiful Day To Be A Homeless Man Who Thinks the Girls All Resemble Starlets

We can hear Omar coming from a block away, shouting to someone in the street or to the owner of other shops. I wonder what he says to them. To us, he always says the same thing. That is, if he gets inside. Some days we close the door. He stands outside shouting and we shake our heads and say, “Omar, go away,” or “Omar, go home.”

This is silly because Omar is home. I wonder what part of Telegraph Ave. he sleeps on, if he has blankets. The owners of the hat shop are his neighbors and his daily routine is to walk down Telegraph, sharing the natural exuberance and extraversion that would have served him well in the working world.

Omar is not too drunk today. He walks into the hat shop, gap-toothed and smiling with a Miller High Life. It is a shamelessly beautiful afternoon and Ed, the owner, is eager to be combative. So Omar is allowed to stay, if only for a minute.

Omar says: “Jess’ca!” not talking to me, but talking to Jessica, “you know who you look like?” He turns to me, “She looks like Fae Dunaway!”

Jessica rolls her eyes. “I know, I know, me with my beautiful blonde hair. Good-bye Omar.” Jessica has simple, brown hair.

He insists that I look like someone too. I tell him to come back when he thinks of it.

He does leave but comes back minutes later to tell me that I look like “A YOUNG ELIZABETH TAYLOR! THAT’S JUST WHO YOU LOOK LIKE! ELIZABETH TAYLOR WAS BEAUTIFUL. But not as pretty as Fae Dunaway.”

It is not too hard to get Omar to leave unless Ed is around. I thought today would be the day that there was a break in our ritual conversation, we might discuss how much hat shop girls look like old movie stars. But then Ed sees Omar and smiles, eager to have someone to josh on. It doesn’t matter what Ed says, no matter how hateful, cruel or dismissive, Omar’s response is always the same.

He doesn’t speak to Ed, he speaks to everyone in sight, all the people in the shop and on the street. He says, “THIS MAN SAVED MY LIFE! I MEAN IT! I love this man, I mean, HE REALLY SAVED MY LIFE!”

“What ‘ya got there, Omar?” Ed asks, pointing at the Champaign of beers, “Got one for me?”
“You don’t want none of this!” Omar protests.
“Come on! Saved your life can’t even give a guy a beer?”
“Carol will kill me for sure if she ever found out!” Carol is the other owner and Ed’s wife.
“Come on, can’t even give me a beer?”
But no one looks because who would believe for the shop owner is going to rob a drunk and they’re all smiles anyway.

It makes me happy to see Omar smile. I think how sad it must be to wake up every day and get drunk and set out to find the shop owner so that he can really understand that he saved your life. I wonder how he became this man, what trials changed him from an innocent boy, someone with hope. And how young, and was it a million small injustices or does he strive to blot out a particular memory that haunts him?

But today Amoeba Records has a band playing and the street vendors are happy just sitting in the sun and the punks are selling jokes for change and in short, it is a stunning Spring day. Even a man without a literal or proverbial pot to piss in grinning from ear to ear and relishing the sunshine.

Frank Talk About Racism and Classism

I was sitting on a bench during my ten-minute break from work when I was approached by a young black man with dreds. His clothes were shabby and his eyes were damaged and baggy from the level of exhaustion that usually only comes with the assistance of drugs.

He offered me a quarter to use my cell phone. This reminded me of my boyfriend, who looks a little like a “terrorist.” We had an argument once because he walked a mile home to use the phone rather than asking a person on the street to use theirs. He told me that it never works and people usually get scared or annoyed. He would rather walk the mile than ask.

So it ocurred to me that it wasn’t easy for this man to approach me.

I also thought of all of the things my racist and classist culture has taught me: that he must be desparate and willing to do anything, that he is jealous of my luxury and riches and will not hesitate to hurt me in any way if it is to his benefit.

That I am willing to admit this thought even entered my head is only through years of analyzing class systems. I truly believe that most middle and upper class people only think, “he might steal my phone.” And then they make up a white lie (so aptly named!) to cover their racism (really, more classism, few are intimidated by a black man in an expensive suit.) that everyone else can see right through.

This angered me. What is more likely, that this guy needs to use a phone or that he
is part of some con to score a bunch of crappy, beat-up cell phones and resell them for a fraction of what they are worth? I have loaned my phone out to many people on the street, in retrospect all of them black women at the bus stop. This is less of a coincidence and more owing to 1) most black men wouldn’t bother to ask me for reasons stated above and 2) most white women have cell phones.
Additionally, I have borrowed many cell phones from random people. I never hesitate to ask because I am a white woman which equals harmless and demure.

I have never loaned my phone to a man, much less one that looked like a drug addict (now there’s another stereotype: so many drug addicts look as wealthy as they are. Cocaine, alcohol, pills, weed — desparate housewives live in fear of the crackheads and meth-heads sport these addictions of their own.). I admit I hesitated long enough to think all of these things before I handed it to him, which really only took a few seconds.

Ultimately it ocurred to me that I would rather my cell phone be stolen (which is unlikely, and besides I can outrun this guy) then contribute to the cycle of fear that racism and classism neccessitate, and this was the deciding factor. I gave him my phone and went back to reading my book. He was done in less than three minutes. A car showed up — I suppose he was giving them directions. He made sure to look in to my eyes when he gave the phone back.

He told me that it meant a lot to him that I wasn’t afraid.

He returned minutes later on a bicycle that is much too small for him. Then he told me that this bike may not look like much but it saves him from having to walk three hours to work. I told him that I also ride my bike to work but I don’t even look at jobs that aren’t in biking distance. He responded that with “the dreds and the skin color” jobs aren’t so easy to find. I admitted that things are tough; I have a bachelor’s degree and I work in retail. He took a moment to appreciate that as a sign for how fucked up the economy truly is: even a white girl with a diploma works in a shop and hasn’t had health insurance for years.

I know that our little exchange meant a lot to him and truthfully it meant a lot to me too. We each had to take a risk. Such a small risk, something so inconsequential, at least among people of the same race/class, becomes powerful and imbued with meaning simply because we come from different upbringings. We exchanged names and he promised to spit some poetry when next we meet.

I am truly looking forward to it.