I write this blog post in Awaken Cafe, my new favorite cafe located in downtown Oakland. Last week, SoliI spent the Fourth of July holiday with my family at my grandma’s in Sonoma; however, after a few days away from Oakland, I was anxious to return. In the past six weeks, I have come to love the unique atmosphere of Oakland. On Friday, I attended First Friday again. Music filled the air and the streets over flowed with people, artwork, and local vendors. I met local artist Barira Rashid, a recent graduate from UC Berkeley. She was promoting her political posters which brought to light the prominence of sexual violence against women. The phrase “It’s not sex when there is no consent. It’s rape” adorned the top (As seen on the photo below). Of course I took one home! Afterwards, a friend and I caught the last of Jack London’s late night farmer’s market, walked along the port of Oakland, and dined at Oakland’s famous “Chicken & Waffles.”
As I read bell hook’s “Solidarity with the Poor,” I couldn’t help but to think about the work I was doing at General Assistance Advocacy Project this summer. hooks writes, “The poor suffer more intensly now than ever before in our nation’s history. They suffer both the pain caused by material lack and all the problems it produces and the pain caused by ongoing assault on their self-esteem by privileged classes.” Each day, I work with multiple individuals who are currently on General Assistance, CalFresh, and/or Social Security Income. I hear personal stories of the horrible living conditions of the Tenderloin, of bed bug infested apartments, and prominence of drugs in the neighborhood. I hear individuals talk about their embarrassment and shame of being on welfare programs, some of whom tell their stories through watery eyes and tears. I hear stories of harassment and inconsiderate remarks made by their caseworkers.
The way mainstream media portrays poverty needs to be challenged. Audiences are given images of lazy black, single mothers on welfare, stealing money from more the affluent. The media creates a racists and sexist narrative that allows “non-progressive white folks of all classes to see themselves as the economic victims of needy black folks stealing their resources.” Middle and upper class individuals should understand how they contribute to a system of poverty. Consumerism, materialism, and capitalism must be critiqued and challenged if we are to eradicate harmful stigmas of the poor.