Verily I say unto thee: Whilst thou be dancing in September?
Have you ever gotten a Brazilian wax before? Tracy hadn’t either — until last month. She and Nichole compared notes on the proper etiquette/pros and cons of having the hair violently ripped from one’s precious genitals.
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In a recent Jacobin article (reworked at Slate), Miya Tokumitsu argues that we should stop saying “do what you love,” (DWYL) because it “devalues actual work” and dehumanizes workers. Tokumitsu writes,
By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.
While Tokumitsu makes some great points, the article seems to miss the mark. The problem isn’t that a few smug elites (or idealistic moms) suggest doing what you love. DWYL is a saying; it doesn’t create the conditions for unpaid and low-wage labor, or any labor at all. The problem is that work has acquired a larger-than-life status, and — at least in the US — we’ve become committed to work as our life’s activity to the point that questions like why money is distributed how it is, or why the workweek is as long as it is are pretty much off the table. The problem isn’t DWYL (because we should, indeed, strive to do what we love with our time even if not as a job), but the problem is precisely that our attachment to the institution of work makes it so that people can’t do what they love, ever, even for a few hours a week, and they don’t have the time or resources to think about what they might love because their very livelihood is synonymous with something we call “work.”
Taken this way, our target of criticism is not a mostly innocuous phrase, or even the supposed ideology behind it, but rather the very institution of work that Tokumitsu seems unconcerned to interrogate. After all, it’s not as though the Steve Jobsian work ethic is the only one that’s problematic; our overall fetishization of “hard work” and the hugely popular Protestant work ethic that drives our economy, culture, and lifestyles is just as troublesome. This issue goes beyond fair compensation and leisure time and calls for reevaluating the way that we organize life around work over all else. Why is paid work our primary life activity, and why are we content to keep it that way? Even progressive views like Tokumitsu’s tend to take for granted and passively affirm compulsory wage labor as our dominant social and economic relation.
There must be a way to address employment conditions and demand that they improve now while also actively engaging the possibility and desirability of a postwork future. This is imperative not only because human experience should be about living creatively, building relationships, and, frankly, enjoying ourselves, but also because we have an empirical problem of permanent surplus labor. That is, too many people are competing for too few jobs just to get by; hence, the perpetual existence of an unemployed, or wageless, part of the US population. Combating this issue can’t simply mean fairer wages or “job creation,” but must entail a commitment to transforming society in ways that eliminate people’s dependence on the availability of wage labor and ensure that everyone has enough to do — and to discover — what they love.
Yesterday, as you probably heard, Justin Bieber was arrested for street racing and driving under the influence. Because I’m me, I made a joke:
The premise is easy to understand. Individual people of color—and especially women—can’t make mistakes without it saying something about their class. When Richard Sherman makes a post-game outburst, for instance, the reaction goes beyond him, and becomes an indictment of *black people*. When you apply this standard to a white person—like Justin Bieber, for instance—it sounds absurd, which is the joke. It *is* absurd, and racism (or sexism) is the only reason anyone would say something similar about a woman or a minority. The people in my immediate Twitter circle got this, and retweeted the joke. But as it spread through various timelines, it lost its context and attracted the anger of internet racists. For example:
More interesting than this, however, were the irony-deprived people who challenged the idea that Bieber was white, or reflected poorly on white people.
Whether they realize it or not, these people are trying to protect the “value” of white racial identity by casting Bieber from the fold. He *can’t* reflect badly on white people because he just isn’t white, and whiteness[^1] can’t fail, *it can only be failed*.
And how does one fail “whiteness?” By associating with black people, or adopting their perceived behavior. To wit:
This is textbook racial policing, and it’s utterly fascinating.
[^1]: “Whiteness”—like “white privilege”—is a jargon-y term that obscures more than it describes. But in the absence of a better alternative, that’s what I’m using.
I got into a disagreement today with some Grown Black Folks over this anti-sagging picture. A facebook friend of mine whom I don’t know at all posted this image, and though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, I couldn’t let it slide without saying something – partially for fear that if I didn’t say something, no one in his circle would. I expressed my discomfort with the image, noting its implication that sagging is bad because sagging is gay. To which he responded, it implies that those who created the fad were convicts who wanted to signal they were sexually available. To which I asked why that information would discourage me from sagging. To which he replied that if I was okay “copying convicts who are looking for sex with other convicts” then it wouldn’t. For him, however, that’s discouragement enough.
Beyond the question of whether the historical claim is even accurate, this little piece of propaganda is wrong on so many levels. For one, it implies that something is wrong with incarcerated people. Because people in “jail” doing whatever they may do is somehow worse than people outside of “jail” doing those same things. It also implies that receiving anal penetration is something to be ashamed of. Though the ad manages to avoid using pronouns, it seems clear to me that it is directed at men and refers to men in “jail.” Hence, it’s not only that anal penetration is wrong and doubly wrong in jail but also, it’s worse to be the “bottom.” And not only is it worse to be the bottom but it’s also, perhaps separately, wrong to let others know you are available for sex. Is it just me or do none of these implications make sense? Why is letting people know you are available for sex a bad thing? Should we not want sex? Or should we only seek it in private with people we already know? Is anal penetration, like, wrong? Or only when cismen are penetrated by the biopenises of other cismen? I mean, seriously. Shouldn’t the concern be that people are making safer sex choices with those who also want to? Or am I missing something?
As for sagging itself – which this image is only mildly about – I have yet to hear a convincing argument against it. Is there even a way to think about sagging in the US outside of the context of respectability politics? What, exactly, is the matter with it besides the problematic, racially-charged stigma people attach to it? Or is the stigma itself the problem people want to avoid?
Martin Luther the Kang would have been 85 today — his Chad Johnson year, if you will. For some people (apparently a whole grip of some people) this turns their thoughts to listening to Future and drinking Ciroc.
More after the jump.
When I was on maternity leave one of my favorite things to do was take Xavi for walks around 5 pm. We’d wander the neighborhood and then meet up with Sean on his walk home from the train station.
I’d text him: I’m the one walking the stroller.
When we encountered each other on the sidewalk, he’d smile and say “Hi family.”
Once I returned to work, I stopped taking those short walks since it was often feeding time when I got home. Plus, by the time I got Xavi ready to go out, it’d be dark and cool. I missed it.
The week before Christmas was different. I got home a little earlier and it was hardly even cold out. On that Tuesday, I put Xavi in a sweater and texted Sean about his expected arrival at the train station. Since he would be 20 minutes later than usual, I decided to meander through the neighborhood checking out Christmas lights.
With Xavi in the Baby Bjorn, we walked up and down the block and surrounding streets. I pointed out lawn decorations like inflatable Santas, reindeer and snowmen. I tried to get Xavi interested in the lights, but he didn’t seem impressed probably because he couldn’t touch them or put them in his mouth. Two streets over, we stood on the sidewalk in front of one of the more elaborately decorated homes on the block. I showed Xavi the mini Christmas trees lighting the walkway and the other decorations.
Behind us, an older man and his granddaughter parked on the street and got out of their car.
“Look, sweetie, they’re admiring our Christmas lights.”
“They’re nice! I wanted to show him the lights in the neighborhood.” I responded.
The little girl just looked at us, but the man came closer and began asking about Xavi.
“Oh, he’s so small. How old?”
“Four and half months.”
He talked to Xavi and made him giggle.
“Is he yours?”
“Yes,” I replied feeling uneasy and wondering all sorts of things. “I gotta get going. Merry Christmas!”
I walked away and toward the usual meeting-up place with Sean thinking about the comment and what I had read from other women who have mixed race kids.
A week later, I got the same question. This time, Xavi was asleep in the stroller and we were out for a late morning walk. Two elderly women stepped to the side to let me through over a busted up section of the sidewalk.
“What do we have here?” the first one said in that high-pitched ‘it’s a baby!!!’ voice.
I stopped so she could look at Xavi. They started asking questions and commenting on his appearance. How old? His name? Oh, he’s sleeping. Oh my, so much hair! He’s adorable. As they spoke, Xavi stirred and opened up his eyes.
Oh no, they’re gonna wake him up, I thought.
“Is he yours?”
“Yes,” I said while my face screamed “of course he’s mine, you nosy dimwit!” I imagine my face gave away my feelings.
“Oh, he does look like mom,” she said to her friend.
“Have a good day,” I said ready to keep moving.
I walked the rest of the way trying to figure out why I’d been asked the question twice. There were two obvious reasons:
1. They think I’m the nanny because I’m Chicana and there are lot of families in the area who employ Latina caretakers for their kids — self included. If you go to the local park, most of the adults there on a late weekday morning will be Latinas in their 30s and 40s looking after mainly white toddlers and babies. Plus, the neighborhood I was walking through is wealthy and predominantly white. The Latinos I see there are often working in construction, landscaping and childcare. (I live a 10 minute walk away, but am used to running/walking through the area because I get in some hill work. Definitely not rich.)
2. They don’t think Xavi looks like me because he’s mixed-race and thus has browner skin and curly hair.
The second explanation seems more plausible in both instances. In the first, I was carrying Xavi in the Baby Bjorn and in my limited experience baby carrying seems like the domain of a mother or father. It was also evening. Second, one woman even brought up the resemblance seemingly to put me at ease and address the faux pas of asking the question in the first place.
I know mothers and fathers of mixed race children get this question. I’ve heard of moms making t-shirts saying “I’m not the nanny” and stories from parents who get scolded by judgmental strangers for speaking Spanish or another native language with kids at the playground in a “I don’t think the child’s parents would appreciate that” sense. I even thought I’d hear the questions or get the looks at one point, but didn’t think it would happen just five months in to motherhood.
I love that Xavi is a mix of our racial and ethnic backgrounds. He’ll grow up knowing he has roots in Mexico and Jamaica, southern California and New York. He’ll know rancheras and reggae, curry goat and birria de chivo, the beaches of Montego Bay and Mazatlán. He’ll cheer for Jamaican sprinters in the summer Olympics and el Tricolor in the World Cup. He’ll hear the lilting Jamaican accent of his grandparents Kenton and Eula and Spanish and Spanglish from his abuelitos Luz and Carlos. He may even roll his eyes when I say that he is Jamexican finding it corny and preferring Blaxican.
I hope he never feels the pit in his stomach when someone questions if I’m his mom or Sean’s his dad because we’re a lighter or darker shade of brown.
And if he does, I hope that he brings his grade A side-eye and WTF face along with a polite, “Yes, she’s my mom…” followed by an under the breath, “y que te importa?”
On the second episode of the “Bless Your Heart” podcast, Nichole and Tracy discuss what Northerners don’t get about Southerners — like the Confederate flag. Plus: observations on how cute Jake from ‘Scandal’ is, The Best Man Holiday and whether to disclose to your partner your number. (Some salty language.)
Tracy went on NPR to discuss Yeezy’s supposed reappropriation of the Confederate Flag.
Nichole’s interview with Ava Duvernay, who last year became the first black woman to win the best director award at Sundance. (Duvernay’s a PB favorite.)