child in hoodie , no skittles

A Letter to My Very White Daughter, From Your Mildly Racist Mother

Dear Darla,

I like this photo. You are so stinking cute in a hoodie. Every time you put on a hoodie and go walking through our gated community – I immediately think of Trevon Martin and experience a flash of thankfulness that you are not black in America today.

To be sure, there have been worse times to be a person of color. Actually, any day in the history of the United States or Colonies would be a worse time. It is my hope that each new day is a better day to not be white, a new day and a step closer to equality. The good  and appropriate rational for this would be “Racism is wrong and unfair and it must stop because we are a society who believes on doing right and being fair”. Yeah, so that is not the largest motivator for me wishing that this ugly racism would simmer down and stop being an active factor in our lives.

You are white.


I am white.

We are white.

We are the kind of blue and green eyed white that makes us squint at the sun and our naked feet look like bleached snow against the suburban sidewalks that surround our neighborhood. We are the kind of white that burns in a 10 minute foray into the daylight without sunblock. We are the white that is idealized in the flesh of baby dolls and Disney Princesses and most of the Congress and Senate. ( You don’t know who that is yet, but someday you will and then you will never be allowed to talk to your Uncle Kenny at dinner again).

I am the kind of white that will never experience the question of “What are you? Where do your people come from”. This is kind of sad because I have a perfect answer – snarky and accurate – just waiting for its moment to erupt into a conversation.

I am the shade white that cannot possibly understand racism or ethnic discrimination. We are the whitest shade of pale and that protects us from discrimination and inherently makes us just a little bit racist. I try to be correct about my whiteness and I tell you that your skin is “Potato Color”.

I am the degree of un-colored that labels my own brother as Vietnamese when he is in fact equally German and Vietnamese.

You fall asleep each night with a Doc McStuffins doll. I am the degree of white suburban mom who notices that your doll is black and I kind of pat myself on the back for having a daughter who wants a black doll. “Look at me! My daughter isn’t a racist!”. You killed my self-congratulating pride when you were afraid to hug our friend Nene because you were concerned her darkness would rub off on you. We had to have a whole discussion about what color Nene is. If we are Potato People, what food is her shade of skin? I am the uninspired kind of white person who could only come up with Dark Chocolate. Yes, I cringed at that.

I contemplate the cultural sensitivity you are developing. I ask people to only speak to you in their mother tongue so you learn to appreciate and hopefully begin to understand their languages and histories. I take you to museums and make sure that my adult friends are diverse and my darling, just the fact that I sit down to sort and categorize my friends (Tarry is Korean, Andrea is Mediterranean, Favia is from Argentina, Christina is Mexican and German combined) – that is flipping racist. I am not color blind. I notice. Sometimes I am hyper aware. I witness the statistics of race in crime reports and race in poverty and race in homelessness. I feel like a hypocrite for feeling outrage at the current events bringing light to police brutality and deaths of young black men like Trevon Martin – as you stand on my porch in your hoodie.

But, I tell myself, I am not racist in a bad way.

Get real. There is no way to be racist in a good way.

You will make your own choices and form your own opinions and you will grow up in a world whose attitudes are shaped by other children who grew up with more or less racist parents. Please grow up to be aware of these views and develop your own very carefully.



In Search of Understanding

It is hard to write about something you have never experienced. Sure, you can close your eyes and fantasize and guess what it would feel like – but reality isn’t a fantasy.

Stubbing your toe always hurts more, and for longer, than you imagine it will.

Sometimes I sleep out on the street. I work with homeless families and I lose my compassion. I get angry and feel manipulated. I am frustrated that people try to fool me or use the system. I read one too many times on Facebook about how the poor are choosing to be poor and homelessness and poverty only happen to people who deserve those circumstances. It is the “Bad things only happen to bad people” excuse we sometimes deploy to keep from dwelling on the nastiness that we allow other people to experience while we only fantasize about what it might be like.

I am from the San Gabriel Valley, so of course I have slept on the Tournament of Roses Parade Route as a rite of passage. Sleeping in a sleeping bag and sitting with happy, excited, drunk and munching friends is completely different than sleeping on the streets of Skid Row. On Colorado Boulevard the revelers are sure that they can greet a new day and go away – to warm cozy beds to catch up on the sleep they missed and to resume their lives. On the streets of Los Angeles ( or anywhere else, actually) there are other emotions at play.

  • Some people are resigned to it – they have as much dignity as they can muster and no hope of changing their situation. They are not “Fine” with that, not “okay” with that, and mostly are “Angry” that it is what it is … but it is what it is. It is their home, their situation and it isn’t changing soon.
  • Some people are hustling with gusto and deviance:. They are trying to make a buck – they star in Bum Wars, they sell shoes, they become self-appointed parking lot attendants, they sell themselves and they use the money for rent by the week motels and try to find ways to save enough money to move out. Unfortunately, everything they are doing to get off the streets creates patterns and habits that will return them to the sidewalks.
  • Some people are living as if they were housed still – they shower and wash clothes and do a job hunt. You find them in the public library and work source centers and knocking on the doors of service agencies. These folks are awful at being homeless – which often means they will be rehoused and remain so with greater success than their brethren.
  • Some people are dead with a heartbeat. They have no hope, feel no dignity and are counting breathes until they die.

I am not homeless and I could not live as a homeless person for long. Homelessness is a great fear of mine – but in order to combat it, I had to taste it.. If I expect and accept that other people will be without permanent, human appropriate shelter, I should be willing to sample that life.  I have – it sucked – and now I spent 40 hours or more a week trying to end poverty for individuals, families and in the United States.

So, here is my conundrum. I am a registered Republican in a society that jails people in overcrowded cells, profiles based on ethnicity and race, and tortures folk based on guesses and assumptions – all of these acts are rooted in exposed and faulty science – but I have not tried to understand them or change them. I don’t feel motivated to because I have not experienced them. ( I actively try not to be arrested, jailed, etc. – except for my twice daily jaywalking to get coffee from 7-Eleven).

Who deserves justice?
Who deserves justice?

Former Vice President Chaney and Rush Limbaugh seem to think water-boarding isn’t torture and is acceptable. Here is my offer: I volunteer to be water boarded if they

will do it alongside me (but let’s wear bathing suits because seeing naked old guy isn’t in my life plans for a few decades). In my search for understanding, this is what I am willing to do before I decide it is acceptable.

Is the wind slipping in your window

And the rain slapping the sides of your home?

At least you have a home, so there’s that. I’m up ND thinking about my tent dwellers and sidewalk sleepers. California has been having a drought and I don’t know how prepared the homeless were for the rain. Hopefully everyone found a winter shelter.

Are You Ready to Work?

Here are a few places to start looking

Los Angeles County Job openings^UM22gxZJXbWHsTIotwq1Lr8GsHztUxx5GzX/rwAWaAoVh7xRnc93O5lnuh9vPQGl

Cal Jobs

State of California Jobs

Fox Studios

Work for the Feds

Keeping the Humanity

Keeping the humanity in human services is something every newbie thinks is obvious and every veteran worker knows is nigh on impossible.

A thousand times an hour I find myself thinking things like
1. Cheater cheater, pumpkin eater
2. I’d never do what you’re doing
3. You aren’t trying get hard enough
4. Quit whining
5. Just do what I want you to do!

So, yes. Basically I’m a horrible and judgy person.

The truth is that given half a chance I make decisions so far worse than anyone ever imagined, I look for ways to manipulate the rules, I miss obvious social cues and sometimes … I just do what I want and cross my fingers that I’m not inciting the apocalypse.

So I keep pictures of my kids, and my friend’s families, and bright colors and art in my office.

When you see the whole thing you will immediately ask if I’ve ever been a teacher. No. I am not a teacher but I come from a family of them.

Me? I picked a career paying less than teaching. Also, I love kids and hate their parents… oh snap! All of my clients are parents.

I didn’t even think that move through.

My stoic coworker just hugged me

"I’m going to give you a hug. It will probably be the first and last hug I give anyone here. "

Ummmm, okay

1. In case you’re wondering, Ro smells delicious.

2. These last two hours were spent in fruitless labor with people who take more than I do and surprisingly at a higher volume.

3. While they prattled on … and on… and into my lunch hour and through my break… I secretly followed the adventures of my girl tribe (everyone needs a support group).

4. No, seriously, the people who strolled in had no legitimate need or reason or appointment… mostly just it is the holidays and I * apparently* have an open door policy. I didn’t realize I did, but apparently. …

People are nice.
And that’s nice to say

Learning to be Housed

” How important is it that I pay rent ?”.

As jaw droppingly stupid as hearing those words from someone who is expecting a new car tomorrow is – I heard them last night. Often homelessness is caused – not by lack of resources- but by the unwise spending of resources. (Gas to go far away, large televisions, paying excessive amounts to repair luxury items like televisions, new clothes, gambling, partying, cell phones, hair dye , etc all seem readily fundable but basic housing and utility money is scarce.) This is caused by two factors:

× not having the skills to money manage wisely.

× not respecting the people whom you owe money to.

Over the years (and let’s be honest, last night) I have heard the same old story from people in and out of my home. There is always an absurd excuse such as

1. My landlord doesn’t really need the money. I’ve seen how they live and how they spend their money so I’ve decided they don’t need me to pay them (on time , the full amount , at all).
**** Hello? It totally isn’t your position to decide that a legal contract doesn’t really apply to you just because you don’t think the other party really needs your money.

2. I have a sob story. So many unexpected issues came up that I could have prevented or saved up for.
*** You have a job and other income that far exceeds your debt amount. Part of that money should also be in am emergency savings account so you can preserve your housing. “Rent” is an expected issue. It should be a planned expense.

3. I’m charming and manipulative so the rules don’t apply to me.
*** Wait. What? Yes they do! The rules totally do. You signed a legal document agreeing to the rules.

Housing First models are difficult because most people want housing but not all of them are willing to learn to be housed.