So here’s what happened in 2016 which was supposed to be my year of once a week blogging. Well, a lot of things happened in the world. Things I felt pressured to write about. Then I repeatedly couldn’t find the words to write about them in long form. I missed blogging. I love blogging. But s*** just kept happening. The kind of s*** that I don’t want to think about let alone write about.
Here are the Cliffs Notes of those blogs in no particular order:
- Our president-elect is the grab her by the p***y guy.
- I am more interested in what people think about said president-elect than what they feel about him or his rhetoric or his administration.
- No new friends as a result of the 2016 election. I don’t want to process your feelings and my feelings. I only do that with my mama.
- I’m indifferent to the safety-pin thing.
- Policing is a practice and an institution that is predicated on the death and incarceration of people of color and free labor.
- January is too cold to march for anything. Even against the grab her by the p***y guy. But that’s just my personal opinion.
Now, in 2017, I will write what I want. Even if it makes me seem insensitive. Even if the timing is bad. Once a week. All the things on my mind. And believe me there are lots of things. For example:
This week’s inspiration comes in the form of a featured StoryCorps participant. Before we get into the nitty gritty, let me just say that I love StoryCorps. And I am beyond glad that this particular story has been told. But I have some thoughts.
The storyteller in question is Dr. Joseph Linsk of New Jersey. He is 94. He’s got Parkinson’s. In journalistic speak this means he has one foot in the grave and whatever he says counts as a dying wish. You can listen to the full story here but allow me to summarize. A young eight year old Dr. Linsk broke the glasses of his schoolyard playmate and quickly needed to come up with $2 (it was the 1930s btw) to replace them or he was gonna be in for it.
Enter Pearl. The domestic laborer (a black woman…gasp!) for the Linsk family. She made…wait for it…$2 a week. Which, during the Depression, was actually a pretty good wage for a domestic worker if you can believe it. At the end of this particular week her wage mysteriously went missing. And Dr. Linsk was mysteriously able to pay for those glasses he broke and evade trouble.
Pearl asked about her missing wages. As anyone would do. Mama Linsk said she stole them without question. As anyone would have done in the 1930s. Pearl got fired. Word got around that she was a thief. And she couldn’t find work. Oh and she had a lot of kids.
At 94, this is Dr. Linsk’s first time telling this story. He has held this dark secret for over eighty years. And NPR wants us to help StoryCorps find Pearl so we can hear the rest of this unfinished story.
While the remainder of this blog is going to be pretty snarky, I must say I feel kinda bad for Dr. Linsk. He did a dumb thing that eight year olds do. A thing that had grave consequences because of the historical, political, and social context in which it happened. And he has seemingly gone his whole life thinking that his eight year old self deserves the sole blame for all that happened to Pearl.
But seriously. This is not a unique story. Not even a little bit. Black domestic workers were accused of stealing all the time. ALL THE TIME. I have read hundreds (not exaggerating) of accounts like these in oral histories. And hundreds more statements by white women who feared that domestic workers would steal their money or their husbands.
Which is why I don’t have beef with Dr. Linsk. Mama Linsk thought Pearl was a thief (by virtue of her blackness) long before that two dollars went missing. I know about the history of Atlantic City (the scene of the crime). They were committed to segregation.
At 94, Dr. Linsk remembers his mama saying that Pearl stole that money “without question.” It wasn’t that she thought her eight year old was a perfect angel. Most mamas know better. But when faced with a black woman who chose to advocate for herself and ask for her wages (also very common), Mama Linsk had a narrative prescribed about Pearl that was ready and raring to put the kibosh on that kind of black self determination.
The relationship between white female employers and black domestic workers is one that has fascinated sociologists and historians for years. It is what everyday white supremacy and racial hierarchy look like in practice. Which is why I’m glad Dr. Linsk told this story. He was able to demonstrate all of that in a two-minute story that he narrates in the way that one would narrate brushing their teeth in the morning.
That’s what racism and labor exploitation look like. These are not extraordinary or exceptional instances of injustice. They are routine parts of the American soci0-political fabric. Banal and necessary to bolstering capitalism and racial hierarchy.
Which brings me to NPR’s call to find Pearl so we can finish this story. If I had to guess (I don’t. But I’m gonna.) the post-racial reconciliation that you are expecting to come from this story isn’t going to happen. More than likely being accused of stealing didn’t come as a surprise to Pearl. There’s a good chance she knew it was a young Dr. Linsk who was behind the missing wages.
The hardest part to swallow was probably the fact that she, as a black working-class woman, was a thief no matter what she did or said. In the same way that black men were (are?) rapists and needed to be lynched. These are prescribed narratives that justify violence and guarantee physical and social death. And they had nothing to do with little Dr. Linsk stealing $2 to stay out of trouble.
The resolution to this story is not some forced conversation between Dr. Linsk and Pearl’s descendants. For me the story is the resolution. It is an honest and everyday story. I find comfort in the fact that it’s not exceptional. Because white supremacy is not exceptional or extraordinary. The mundane is where the truth of history lies. It serves our emotions somehow to leave these kinds of stories on the cutting room floor. Yet, when we recover them they have to be shaped like fairy tales. Dr. Linsk’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t need one.