Caregivers, we see you.

My son ran into my Zoom room last week and yelled, “Fart! Poop!”  It was no big deal, but it is part of the reality that we who are caregivers constantly manage.  In truth, he needed my attention.  He has been home since March 13—over four months—playing way too much Fortnite, watching a billion seasons of Naruto, and wishing he could play with his friends.  So now I’m his friend.  We have a family poker night and we play Zoom pictionary with his grandparents.  But we’re no substitute for other 11-year-old kids, and the computer is certainly no substitute for school or summer camp.

I’m trying to get a paper done this week.  I haven’t started learning how to teach online, even though that’s what I’ll be doing in a little over a month.  I have another abstract due in two days and a chapter expected before the end of summer.  Three students just asked me to read their proposals, and one of my students needs help as she struggles with her mental health.  My other service obligations have me designing web pages, sending emails, assessing award packages, and guiding a mentoring group.  This is all recognizable, right?  It’s our job.

So what’s gonna give?  My paper?  My son’s math ability?  Our collective sanity?  Has anybody eaten a vegetable this week?

The truth is, as a caregiver I have it easy.  My children are old enough to pursue their own interests for considerable periods each day without my intervention, and I have a wildly supportive partner.  And tenure.  Lots of faculty members have kids who are younger and need much more direct (read: constant) care.  And because of the overlapping life-stage demands of family and academia, which sociologists call “greedy institutions,” those faculty members with young children are likely also either pre-tenure or in precarious contract or part-time positions. Other faculty members are “sandwiched” between caring for children and caring for aging parents, which is challenging even when nobody is at risk of contracting a deadly viral infection at the grocery store. These people are tired.  

COVID-19 has provided yet another opportunity for us in the US to grapple with the fact that people need care.  Children need care, and it is women in families who disproportionately provide it.  People with illnesses need care, and it is women in health occupations who disproportionately provide it.  Parents, partners, neighbors, cousins, students, friends — they all need care.  Cisgender and trans women who head their families solo or are in straight relationships bear the brunt of this care work.  This gendered pattern of care, I know from both study and experience, is felt acutely by women in academia.  

One of the actions the George Washington University Faculty Association, GWUFA, has taken to support caregivers in our ranks is to circulate a petition demanding that faculty be able to choose for themselves—not beg the administration—whether they will teach in-person or online this fall.  

Looking more broadly across the university, GWUFA has also asked faculty—especially including those with tenure and those in administration—to block any layoffs of workers anywhere in the university.  This includes the housekeepers who are charged with keeping classrooms and offices sanitary, IT personnel who keep our technology working, and the staff who often serve on the frontlines of each office on campus.  Employees who have caregiving responsibilities are in a particularly precarious position when their employer claims—erroneously—that layoffs are necessary here

GWUFA also has its ear to the ground seeking resources to directly address the gendered inequities that can arise from our university’s failure to fully integrate workers’ caregiving responsibilities into our organizational plans.  One quick no-brainer:  We should be paid for learning how to teach online!  It’s work, and we’re all doing it, for free, even though the caregivers we need to hire so we can do it are not free.  On issues of productivity, we applaud the university for granting year-long extensions to faculty members’ tenure clocks if needed, but we continue to be discouraged by the administration’s failure to grant equivalent protections to contract faculty members.  We support the Aspire Alliance’s recent call to acknowledge and affirm a work slow-down while we grapple with the pandemic, and to thoughtfully weigh the levels of productivity among those with and without caregiving responsibilities.  Specific people, such as Pandemic Response Faculty Fellows, should be appointed (and rewarded) for attending to the potentially disproportionate gender, race, and caregiving impacts of any actions the administration takes during this period.  We also recommend that GW value and honor the extraordinary forms of service our faculty are providing right now, and to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge and reward the extra burden of service that faculty of color and white women, in both tenured and non-tenure-track positions, regularly over-provide for the university. 

And finally, let’s not pretend to be “strong,” either as individuals or as a university.  What we’re going through is hard, and “strength” does not prevent COVID-19 from spreading through ventilation systems, nor does it play tic-tac-toe with my son while I’m supposed to be in a HyFlex webinar.  It is wisdom and clarity we need to integrate our needs as human beings with our scholarly responsibilities, and a university should be well-positioned to provide those.  Until we see some semblance of those characteristics from GW’s leadership, GWUFA would like to make sure that all the caregivers in our community know:  We see you, and we are fighting with and for you.

(Image Credit: CNN)

In Chile, lunch ladies beaten and detained

Lunch ladies beaten and detained

Last week women who work as manipuladoras de alimentos for public schools in Chile met with the government in Santiago to negotiate contract issues that have been going on for over a year.  To show support for the negotiators, manipuladoras from regions throughout Chile organized a peaceful demonstration outside the government offices.  Special forces showed up in buses wearing riot gear and sprayed the crowd with hoses.  They beat one woman for “blocking traffic” and detained her along with twelve others.

When the police hauled these twelve women away, the union leaders withdrew from negotiations until they were released.  At that point, the union was able to get the government to agree to an across-the-board salary increase to $300.000 CLP per month ($441 US per month for a full-time job — this in a nation that strives to attain “developed” status in the international economic community by 2020), and a yearly bonus of $67.500 CLP ($99 US).  Importantly, the union was also able to stop the government from reclassifying many of the manipuladoras as “maids” who would receive lower wages.

While the government is the target here, the manipuladoras have had to appeal to them because the private companies that actually employ the women have repeatedly broken their contractual agreements without recourse.  Some of these companies are under investigation for fraud, and one company that went out of business after a fraud investigation simply stopped paying the women.  Because their job is to provide food for children, they continued to show up for work for two months without being paid.

Now the government has made a splashy announcement that October 30 will be the national Dia de la Manipuladora.  The women are not impressed, and they vow to continue to fight for their own rights and protections:

“We will not give up!  We’re not just machines that generate profits to the national and foreign companies that have been sold the feeding of our students.  We’re not statistics, much less maids.  We are people and we are demanding what rightfully belongs to us.”

¡Arriba las que luchan!

 

(Photo Credit: Sandra Carola Olivares Martinez)

White fear of Black success

White people kill Black people because they’re doing things right, not despite that.  That’s the problem, you see.  We can’t have that.

Black people who start hot meal programs for the people in their communities – we can’t have that.  Black people who attend church every week – we can’t have that.  Black people so carefree they spend time together at the pool – nope, that’s not gonna work.

When you have to be afraid to simply be in the world—to be with your friends, to buy candy, to look at toys, to worship, to walk—you’re living in terror.  People who stare that terror in the face and live anyway, and thrive anyway, and help anyway, those are the people whites fear the most.

The terrorist massacre in Charleston occurred about 100 miles away from an area in South Carolina where, in 1862, Union Army General Ormsby Mitchel ordered that a town for freed Blacks be created.  The town, which came to be called Mitchelville, was designed as an experiment to demonstrate to white people whether African Americans were capable of organizing and governing themselves after emancipation.

This was all explained to my family and me by a Gullah man named Emory Campbell when we visited the area three years ago.  It will not surprise you to learn that the town thrived.  The “experiment” worked, and the 1500 African Americans who lived there succeeded in establishing farming collectives, stores, a government, a school (along with laws about compulsory education), and a church.

And that was the problem.  According to Campbell, the town was set on fire – not unlike other Southern towns along the coast, from Charleston to Florida, that had been ordered by Union Army General William Sherman to be settled by freed Blacks for farming.  Mr. Campbell showed us the only material remains of Mitchelville, South Carolina:  some bricks from the church the community built.

Success is a damnable thing for Blacks.  Some forms of social organization (such as mass incarceration and residential segregation) are meant to stifle such success.  But when people achieve success anyway, well, we’ve got to put a stop to that, don’t we?

 

(Photo Credit: WoodandPartners.com)

Keep food companies out of WHO policy-making!

The hours of women’s lives spent “grinding, chopping, and cooking,” as Rachel Laudan put it recently, add up to servitude for those like her mother who prepared “homecooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three hundred and sixty-five days a year.”

But food companies solved that problem for us, right?  They made our lives easier. They squeezed the sweet syrup right out of the corn and baked it into our bread for us.  They went to the lab and found the chemicals that make food last longer on our shelves.  They even determined the precise combinations of salt, fat, and sugar that make food taste good, helping us keep our kids fed.  No more scurvy, no more rickets.  No more weeks upon weeks of potatoes and tea at every meal.  Instead:  variety! deliciousness! ease! availability!  Or in other words, “food products.”

There’s no doubt that industrial food has changed the ways of life of people around the world. Food companies’ solution to a previous problem, though, has created its own set of new problems. Poor working conditions, environmental degradation, and obesity are just a few.

And now, even though there is almost universal agreement that processed food is not good for the bodies that eat it or the bodies that produce it, food companies are doubling down. They don’t want to bow out gracefully, as in, “It’s been a nice run, y’all! Thanks for all the money!” Instead, they want more involvement in our foodways.

The kind of involvement they are vigorously pursuing right now are public-private partnerships. These partnerships are beneficial, food companies say, because they allow them to “work together” with the state toward their “common goals.” Public-private partnerships with food companies have been embraced in the United States in the form of associations like the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The United Nations, too, has declared that a spirit of cooperation with the private sector is good for everybody.

Now the World Health Organization (WHO) is debating a new Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA). In English, this means they’re trying to determine how much influence for-profit corporations should have in WHO policy-making. Organizations like the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), along with nearly two dozen others, want a strict barrier between companies and the WHO. “Proposals for ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships,’” they say, “would designate junk food manufacturers as partners in the task of addressing obesity, heart disease and stroke.” They don’t want the fox guarding the hen house.

WHO member states should stand firm on FENSA, resisting corporate efforts to set their own terms and escape regulation. While industrial food may have made some women’s lives easier, it has exacerbated inequalities for those who produce it and resulted in high rates of life-threatening health conditions for those who have little choice but to consume it. More corporate involvement will result in less regulation, fewer safeguards, and an expansion of an industry that should be contained and fundamentally reformed.

To express your support for keeping food companies out of WHO policy-making, you can contact the IBFAN here.

 

(Photo Credit: IBFAN.org) (Video Credit: NPR / CBS / AP) (Video Credit: YouTube / History104WWU)

No Black children allowed!

 

Schools are segregated. So groups of kids who gather together after school are often homogenous. In the sliver of Washington, DC where I live, this means groups of high schoolers and middle schoolers are Black, while the kids on toddler playgrounds are white.

Corner stores have dealt with this gentrification in the typical ways: They have begun to stock kombucha, organic almond milk, and craft beer. They have taken the bullet-proof partitions down. And they have banned anyone under the age of 18 from coming into their stores after 3PM without their parents.

3PM means after school. And kids who are not with their parents are those who are old enough to be out on their own. Combine this with the racial dynamics of the neighborhood and you’ve got a community full of Black kids who are not welcome in neighborhood stores.

This is not the case in all neighborhoods. It is the case in mine.

Last night we sent my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to the corner store to pick up some cooking oil so we could get dinner ready. She carried a reusable shopping bag and a $20 bill, and walked three blocks to the store where we have shopped since she was a baby. When they got there, the shop owner turned them away, citing the 3PM policy.

We paused when they came home empty-handed. My daughter is biracial and her friend is Black, and this is one of the many times when a parent has to wonder how much that matters. So we called a white friend and asked her to send her son to the same store. He went in by himself, and came out with gummy bears.

My partner and I separately had long conversations with the store owners after this. It felt like a bunch of busy words filled up the air while we spoke. This couldn’t possibly have happened, they said. Or the kids must have gotten mixed up and gone to a different store by mistake. Or they must have done something wrong while they were in the store.

These are small businesspeople. I know they work long hours and they have been friendly to us in the past. They probably have families of their own to protect. But they turned away 10-year-old kids trying to buy cooking oil. I have no idea what is in their hearts and minds, nor do I care. What I have is evidence that the 3PM policy has turned into a cognitive finger-snap for them. They see Black kids in the store [snap!], they send them away. They see a white kid, they allow him to spend his money.

To help register the impact that we and our neighbors hope to make by not shopping at this store anymore, the kids have made stamped postcards with the market’s address on them. They say, “Because you turn Black kids away, we have chosen to spend our money at a different store today. We spent $______.” Let’s hope their mailbox fills up, and their cash register empties out.

 

(Image Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images / Washington Post)