Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Five reasons to be bitter

I am a 38-year-old, middle-class, black woman. And I am bitter.

I am bitter because I am not doing better than my parents did. That is the way it is supposed to work, isn’t it? Each generation is supposed to advance on the achievements of the last. My mother is the product of a working-class family; my father’s parents were farmers. My grandparents did not go to college, but my parents did. They earned bachelors and masters degrees. They became educators and they raised their children in suburban comfort. I did the right things, I think. I went to college and I have a good job, but my hold on middle classness seems ever more tenuous—a constant struggle, a balancing act. I commute more than 40 miles each day and gas is inching toward $4/gallon. The cost of groceries is rising. My husband and I have a heavy tax burden. Our energy bill is outrageous. The car—our only car—needs new rear tires. And my stepson wants to play football with all the associated fees. I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. I don’t need a big-screen, high-def TV. I only want comfort and security for my family. But how the hell do you do that these days? Maybe it has never been easy. But I’m hearing an awful lot of people say that it has never felt so difficult to do well.

I am bitter because my hometown looks like a wasteland. I grew up in the Indiana rust belt—“the region” as people here call it, more a part of the Chicago area than the more-rural rest of the Hoosier state. Stand on the beach in my old neighborhood, look over Lake Michigan and you can see a line of steel mills belching smoke into the air. For a long time, those pollution-heaving stacks meant prosperity for men (and women) like my grandfather, who worked at Inland Steel for decades and was able to own a smart little bungalow and send four children to college. All that changed in the 1980s with the recession and massive layoffs by steel companies. Somehow the benefits of Reagan’s grand economic plan never trickled down to the folks in my hometown. The city never recovered and remains mired in high unemployment and crime, and low development. A couple weeks ago, while visiting my parents, I took a wrong turn through a detour and ended up on Broadway—a once-vibrant main street. I confess, though I lived in that city for more than 20 years, for a moment I did not recognize my surroundings. I rode past rows of burned-out, leveled buildings, and boarded up businesses. Shuffling people loitered on the streets like zombies. It was not the city I once knew.

I am bitter because the fourth estate is failing me. As I watched the news Monday morning while getting dressed for work, one of my local news stations gleefully reported on Britney Spears’ weekend fender bender, and I wondered why. Why waste time on celebrity news when oil prices are soaring? Why waste time on celebrity news when our country is in recession? Why waste time on celebrity news when the Bush administration has nine more months to inflame the international community, line the pockets of Texas cronies, and decimate the Constitution and our rights? Why waste time on celebrity news when media consolidation threatens to stifle all but a few voices? Why waste time on celebrity news when Darfur is still in crisis? I am increasingly disappointed by a mainstream media that seems more devoted to sensation than information, and that routinely confuses opinion with fact. I am sick to death of smirking, shouting pseudo-anchors like Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews and Dan Abrams. I am a media junkie. I stay informed by watching TV news, listening to alternative talk radio, and reading a host of mainstream and alternative books, newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs. But too many people don’t have time to sift through the crap, and thus, we are an uninformed electorate. Thank you free press!

I am bitter because society has not advanced as far as I thought. It seems I have been na├»ve. I thought most of us—at least we progressives—were on the same page regarding sexism and racism. The 2008 presidential campaign has shown me that I have been wrong. I believe there are many reasons not to like Hillary Clinton. Her laugh, her voice, her pantsuits and her husband’s infidelity shouldn’t be among them. Misogynist name calling has no place in a reasoned discussion about candidates. As a feminist, I am angry that thinly-veiled sexism can be passed off as political discourse. At the same time, I feel increasingly marginalized by my white sisters who challenge my feminist bonafides for not supporting Clinton, who overlook or excuse her campaign’s deft use of racism, and who claim black skin is a mark of privilege in American society. And I am increasingly saddened by the recognition that a lot of the mainstream believes racism is a thing of the distant past, and those of us who complain about it are simply ungrateful, whiners and radicals.

I am bitter because I live in an age of anti-intellectualism. Increasingly, we are a culture that will not watch the whole thing if we can find a clip on You Tube. We will not read if we can catch the highlights on television. We will not consider informed counsel if we can trust our guts. We dismiss political candidates without bothering to so much as peruse their Web sites or read their position papers. We swallow talking points whole. We pursue only what confirms our existing world view. We distrust the elite and the cerebral. We are too frequently loud, ignorant and outraged—our emotions led by the latest media-inflamed scandal. And our rantings are given voice on talk radio, podcasts and…well…blogs. It is frightening. For, as Al Gore says in his book The Assault on Reason, “Never has there been a worse time for us to lose the capacity to face the reality of our long-term challenges, from national security to the economy, from issues of health and social welfare to the environment…We have precious little time to waste.”

I don’t think Barack Obama was referring to people like me last week in San Francisco. It is a privilege to be able to ruminate online about my bitterness. As I post this essay, I have a job, a roof over my head and healthcare. There are many, many folks worse off than I. Still, I am bitter. But what I cling to is the hope that this year, when Americans have the opportunity to change things, when we have a chance to put the corporatocracy in its place, when we have a chance to move toward a country that works for the majority of its citizens not just a few, when we have a chance to see each other as people and to come together for the greater good, this time…this time…we will do something different. We will look beyond media-created controversy, dirty politics, sexism, racism and fear mongering. We will reject anti-intellectualism and we will be informed. We will stand up and we will demand better from our government representatives, from our media and from ourselves.

Hope and change are not empty words. They mean something. They are the cure for the bitterness that ails people like me.


ginnysthoughts said...

Greetings, Tami, I was born and raised in Indiana, my father was in the Air Force stationed at Grissom Air Force Base, I was born in Kokomo, went to school at Indiana School for the Blind in Indianapolis, started college at Ball State, and lived four years in East Chicago, so I'm almost sure I know your hometown, but as you didn't come out and disclose it, I won't either *smile*. But what you're saying is absolutely on point! Wish I could say something more to add to what you've already said but it's late, I'm tired, and I've had a long day. I've been thinking of blogging about what I like to call "blind bitter moments", I had one this morning, one of those moments where you know you can't do something, or you're told you can't do something, and no matter how you try to prove how much you can do, you're constantly reminded of how "incapable" how "unable" you are to do something. Perhaps this has nothing to do with what you're saying, however, many of us are feeling bitter, for many of the same reasons, yet also for many different reasons too.

I could and do get up every morning, go to a job, pay my bills, pay my taxes, lead a "normal" life, yet some will still feel that I'm not capable, that I'm not intelligent, that I'm still not good enough, either because I'm blind, a woman, a Muslim, or all three. Imagine adding "black" or "Latino" to that list. I imagine that even though I'm a blind Muslim woman, I probably still maintain some sort of privilege because I'm white, although taht privilege sure didn't help me much a few years ago when I was openly discriminated against and very bluntly so when I went to apply for a job, all because I traveled with a dog guide. So maybe sometimes white privilege gets you so far? I don't know. But I have found myself sorting out the struggles of race, class, disability, etc., how such struggles are different, how they are the same, how they intersect, how they diverge.

I am gainfully employed now, however, the moment they install an inaccessible piece of software, or implement a procedure that is not accessible to me, what then? I'm right back where I started, on SSI, struggling to find a job when even "non-disabled" people can't find work. I tell ya, lately, it's really goten to be a struggle and someone needs to do something about it.

Meteor Blades said...

Nicely done.

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ac said...

Tami - dang, dang...its like you are in my head girl.

I am bitter that I definitely will not have the lifestyle or security my parents had.

I'm bitter and angry over just how much racism and sexism still exists in this world.

I am bitter over how those previous two concerns intersect into some nasty catch 22 type ish.

I'm extra special bitter about the failure of the Fourth Estate to live up to its independent and essential check and balance on our government, all the more so since I used to be a journalist. But as I was just commenting over at Too Sense (and I will spare you the full comment), the media is no longer independent. They now shill for their coporate overlords and their interests. And their interests are to keep us all distracted and divided long enough to make sure business as ususal goes on post election. Hence the Britney coverage.

Thank God for the internet and the opportunites for like-minded people to reach out and connect. I think they are right - the revolution will not be televised. lol!

Keep on posting - I enjoy reading your blog SO much. Thank you for all you do.

Anonymous said...

This is a very poignant post!

Thanks so much for blowing your trumpet, Tami!!

I definitely plan to visit your blog again!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Brother OMi said...

peace sister
we just moved to ohio from the east coast, and i can see the wastelands. capoeira allows me to travel throught the midwest and i am like wow.

I feel you. My wife and I struggle with the bills. We can say that things have gotten tougher. I remember paying $385 for a two bedroom apartment in 2001. The same place now in 2008 nets $1000 a month. Same place with nothing new.

I will admit that the Zulu Nation, Capoeira, my writing, and my working in the community has helped to enrich our lives. So has my wife's involvement with Mocha Moms.
I will also admit that having one parent stay home is a decision we may go back to rethinking but we always stick with it. And you know what? We don't have the big screen TV, the big SUV, etc., but our babies are happy and active outside of school.

I will also say that working people, people with good paying jobs that work hard SHOULD not be struggling like we do.

womensspace said...

What a great post, Tami.

I continue to be alienated by the campaign. I can't stand to watch these ridiculous "debates", they make me feel so ashamed to be an American, honestly. What, everybody is going to roil like they've lost their minds because Obama rightly suggests people are bitter? Heck YEAH people are bitter, there is everything to be bitter about, all the things you list and many more. Since when is it this huge insult to suggest that people are bitter?

It all seems so ridiculous to me I just want to forget the whole thing and tell everyone to call me when it's over, let me know who got elected, but if it's McCain, never mind, ignorance is bliss.


You know, you say you are bitter because you are barely doing as well as your parents. I am bitter because in no way am I doing as well as my parents (who are 81 and 75) but my adult kids are not doing anywhere near as well as I am, even though they have good jobs and at least one makes almost twice what I do. None of my adult kids has, for example, been able to buy a home, despite good incomes and far fewer kids than I have (or no kids at all).

Your struggles are mine, too, I so resonate. I finally HAD to get a new tire for my van -- I was driving on the "donut" (the little spare tire) for months not wanting to calculate in 80 bucks or whatever for a tire. One of my daughters is at a journalism conference out of state (she is in high school) right now. The cost? $710 just for airfare/conference, plus spending money, etc. She got a scholarship which paid $400 but the rest I had to scrounge around and come up with, thinking all the while that given how hard it is for me, it is IMPOSSIBLE for poor kids to do these things that are so important to their future. I've thought about this so many times over the years. A few years ago, one of my daughters went to "state" to sing in the state choir. This is a deal where four students from each high school in the state, as well as four band and orchestra members, are selected and then go to "state," which is held in different cities, involves the cost of registration/transpportation, housing, etc. I went to the "state" concert and looked out over the sea of kids who were participating. I counted, of probably 6-700 kids, maybe 10 high school kids of color. I am not telling lies. I am pretty sure that more than 10 kids of color in the state's high schools excel musically. These are the opportunities that insure success for young people, this goes in their portfolios and on their college applications, this is where they make connections, and yet poor kids are simply *shut out*. Their parents can't make rent and utilities much less fork out hundreds of bucks for these events. One of my daughters was a cheerleader one year. The cost? Over $900 for everything, "cheer camp," uniform. She knocked herself out raising money herself via various fundraisers but again, I could not believe the costs, and these are public schools, supported by our tax dollars, but they are *so* hierarchicalized so far as rich and poor kids and it is so wrong.

I commute 60 miles each way every day and take the bus, but yesterday I had to drive in to work because I had to take my daughter to the airport to go to her conference. Cost of gas round trip? About $15. Cost of parking in downtown Seattle? Cheapest lot I could find (in a really bad section of downtown) was $18 for the day.

I don't even want to get started on the cost of food!

My folks generation did very well indeed. They, as most of their age mates, are comfortable in their elder years and have enough money saved that emergencies will not wipe them out. I will be 57 soon and am looking at my paltry 401(k), the falling values of homes (which is really all I have, my home and property), and am looking at my Social Security statement which tells me that to get $2,000 per month, I am going to have to work until I'm 70. I could retire in six years if I thought I could get by on about $900-something. Well, I don't think so. :( Of course, who knows how all of this is going to change-- by the time I'm 70, I'll probably have to keep working until I'm 80! Well, Social Security is a whole nother issue.

But yeah, I'm bitter, too, about this country, about how things are going for most of us, about how hard we have to struggle just to make ends meet, even when we apparently make decent money.

Thanks for this great post.


Lisa Stone said...

...and one reason not to be bitter: This post. Tami, what a talented essayist you are. Thanks for reading some of our minds and saying it so beautifully. You're the #1 headline on yesterday/today. Well written.

Monica Roberts said...

Right on!

let me add something else to the 'bitter' list.

I'm bitter about so-called Black megachurch preachers spending more time accumulating wealth and gay bashing from the pulpit than speaking truth to power in the tradition of Dr. King.


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