Let Them Die, and Decrease the Surplus Population

An open letter to Paul Ryan and other politicians who aim to destroy and defund essential health care services.

Dear Mr. Ryan,

I am writing to you because your policies would have me lose my healthcare, along with millions of Americans. I am confident that my views on this issue are shared by many Americans, both Democrat and Republican, who will lose access to healthcare under your leadership.

First, I’ll state the obvious: we know you wouldn’t be defunding the ACA if it were called RomneyCare (which is what it actually is). We can see through you.

Quote from articleBut mostly, I am writing because I am heartbroken by the disturbing subtexts I see underneath so much of what you and other Republicans say: punishment, shame, and segregation.

In 2014, you told a story (which turned out to be false, but we know you don’t care about such things) about a boy who turned down the free lunch offered by his school in favor of one in a “paper bag,” like all the other kids. In the fictional story, the boy said that if he had a lunch in a paper bag, it meant someone “cared” about him. You managed to turn this simple anecdote into an argument against the supposed laziness of parents who require assistance, the unlikely equation (by a child!) of “paper bags” to the love and affection of middle-class parents, and, most revealing, you shared your ultimate take on the situation: the idea that impoverished children who receive assistance have “empty souls.”

You positioned yourself as the compassionate one, the Republican who knew better. You are the one with the anti-poverty initiative. Instead, you are just one of hundreds who coalesced behind a known fascist who openly celebrates the destruction of American lives. Let me be clear: the person with the empty soul is you.

Health care and poverty assistance are not the same thing. But you seem to think of them in the same way: you seem to believe that poverty or ill health are deserved outcomes. Your anti-poverty proposals are based on the myth that people can bootstrap their way off public assistance. Those poor people wouldn’t be poor if they worked harder. Those people wouldn’t be sick if they hadn’t done something to make themselves that way. Study after study (after study!) shows that this just isn’t the case. There are no bootstraps, just like there are no welfare queens — and people do not deserve their own sickness. If you believe otherwise, you’ve been reading too much of that fake news.

Punitive responses are often fear based. “If I don’t do xyz, I won’t end up like them.” It’s a belief that allows you to ignore the fact that most of these situations are accidents of birth and luck. Given that you subscribe to it so fervently, the best I can tell is that you are absolutely terrified of ending up poor or devastatingly ill. So let me ask you, Mr. Ryan: which frightens you more — being sick and/or poor, or being sick and/or poor with no tangible means of escape?

When you write policy with your own fears in mind, and then punish millions of people for living a life you wouldn’t want for yourself, your “politics” have become abject cruelty.

America doesn’t have the worst health care of any developed nation. We have the worst outcomes, because our care is held hostage by a stratified, profit-driven system that assigns the best care only to those who are deemed worthy of it. The ACA was the best attempt in recent memory to fix this inequality. Making this system worse — your “high risk pools,” for example (they don’t work, and you know it) — will segregate society by isolating the sick and keeping them down by telling them it’s their fault. Only the healthiest, wealthiest, and by default, the whitest, will survive. From this, I can only infer that inequality is exactly what you want.

This holiday season, you’ll visit with your healthy family, exchange gifts, attend Christmas mass. You’ll share handshakes and hugs with your mirror-like circle of family and friends. Congratulations will be given and received for the ostensible good you will do for our country, and together you will read and recite the words of Jesus.

But you and I know the truth. You’re not listening to the words of Jesus at all. When I think of you and your Republican lawmaking friends, I think of an entirely different set of words:

“Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons…”

“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“Both very busy, sir…”

“Those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Illustration by John Leech, c. 1843.Oh, how I wish you could be visited by three ghosts this Christmas. But I suppose the voices of the American people will have to do, because you will hear from us. Letter by letter, phone call by phone call, one voice at a time until you have heard from everyone whose lives you have altered with your policies; until you have been haunted by the voices of those who died so you could balance a budget; until you are face to face with your bootstrap lie more times than you can count.

My husband and I are self employed, with well managed pre-existing conditions. As it happens, we are not on any sort of government assistance. Like most Americans, the aspects of the ACA that benefit us the most aren’t the subsidies — they’re the provisions of the law that allow us access to insurance in the first place.

If you have your way, we will have to shut down our business to seek employee based health care, or we will be thrown into your “high risk pool,” where we will undoubtedly receive sub-par care which could leave us too ill to work (and then we would need assistance). In other versions of your plan, we would have no health care at all, which could have all sorts of consequences. Our American dream is possible because we are healthy, but you would turn it into a nightmare.

I don’t have any conciliatory messages of hope or reconciliation or forgiveness to offer you, because it should be the other way around. I am saddened at the idea of being governed by the latest in a very long line of men whose idea of  “what is best for the country” means gleefully stripping away my chance at a better life.  And I am angry on behalf of the families of all those who will die without access to life saving care and assistance.

Like millions of Americans, I believe that you do not care about us, but you have the chance to prove us wrong. You have already secured your name in the history books, Mr. Ryan. Now is when you determine what will be written about you.

They Wanted This

Heartbroken, shock, despair, hopeless, terrified: the words of everyone who believes in a forward-moving America right now, upon waking up to a Trumpian nightmare.

In the coming days, we’ll hear from many who would blame us, blame Hillary Clinton and the Democrat elite, blame low turnout, blame the polls and even blame Brexit. They are all wrong.

In a few articles (such as this one for the Atlantic), it is already being implied that the outcome of the election is due to people on the Left who “didn’t listen” to the disaffected voters. This is yet another regurgitation of the “economic anxiety” narrative, and misses the point. This was not an election between two candidates, where you could make equivalent choices. This was an election between one person who was a candidate (an imperfect one, but still an exemplary one), and one person who showed us very early on exactly who he was.

Make no mistake: Trump is not sophisticated enough to hide his message in pleasantries. From the moment he came down those stairs, everyone on both sides, educated or not, knew what this candidacy was about. From the “Make America Great Again” shirts to the sexually predatory behavior he described in his own words, everyone, even small schoolchildren, knew what he was. But this isn’t even about what Donald Trump said — it’s about what so many millions of people said in response.

Donald Trump said Mexicans are murderers and rapists. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

He said he wanted to take our country back to the 50’s. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

He assaulted and grabbed and belittled and humiliated women. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

He wanted to ban Muslims, deport millions and destroy families of color. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

He shouted, swore, bragged, talked about his penis and called Hillary names on stage. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

He built a campaign whose only consistent positions were hate, fear, racism, and misogyny. And they said, “I want to vote for that.”

The media laughed.

And the people of color, most of them black, whose voices urgently pleaded with the electorate and the media to LISTEN, to avoid this repeating of history, were largely ignored.

And the people said, “I want to vote for that.”

When the pollsters came, they lied. Why? Because they knew better. But their sense of right and wrong could not overcome the truth of what was in their hearts.

In the coming days, in the analysis and the “who called it?” and the blaming, we cannot lose sight of what this election was really about, and whose voices were trampled over on the way to this horrifying moment. We also cannot ignore that this was a very long time coming (yes, you can be a racist even if you voted for Obama — it’s like your “one black friend,”), but there will be many books written in the coming years to analyze that.

My sadness tonight is not entirely existential. A few years ago, I had a dream. It was that most American of dreams: to start a business, to work for myself; to use my talents to try and do something good in this world. Being black, I learned from an early age never to expect too much from our country. But I pursued my dream anyway, because what happens to a dream deferred? So my husband and I jumped out and went for it. We were able to do so, in part, because of Obamacare. It has been one of the happiest times of my life. Now I’m awake, pacing the floors, because of the possibility that for me, and others like me, I could lose access to my dream, I may have to close down my business, and my life could change. Why? Because America voted for it.

The shocked pundits and the newscasters live in a different world. The rest of us have been terrified of this for a year and a half, precisely because we knew it could happen. But to see it on the screen is to see up close the direct and incontrovertible evidence that a dream like mine isn’t meant for me. The right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness now stands exactly as it was originally written — a dream and a possibility only for the young, the wealthy, and the white.

We will hear about a great America. We will hear about the need for unity. But right now, 5 am on November 9, I do not believe America is great. I do not believe there is a united America. America has shown what has been its true face all along. America turned its collective back on millions like me, and there is no unity in that.

*To read more on these sentiments, and a very apt comparison of the Obama era to late 19th century reconstruction, click here.

*For something more hopeful, click here.

*If you’re like me and terrified about healthcare, there may be consolation: my (very!) preliminary research suggests nothing can be completely reversed for possibly up to 2 years, and that even if they “reverse” the ACA they could keep the pre-existing coverage part in — it affects a lot of Republican voters as well.

To Trump Supporters, From Your One Black Friend

Are you someone who is voting for Donald Trump, and you have a couple of black friends or acquaintances? Do you think racism is something that doesn’t really matter, because if someone works hard they can “overcome” it? Are you a relatively good person, someone who says, “I can’t be racist! I have a black (friend, coworker, ex-boyfriend, etc)!” This is for you.

If you are voting for Trump, you’re voting for:

– someone who has appealed to your sense of white nationalism and nostalgia

– someone who would use the force of the state against people like me, because our skin color makes us suspicious (I am not suspicious)

– a Republican party who believes black people and “certain groups” should not have the right to vote

– someone who hates women and wants to use legislation to “punish” us

– an oppressive, dictatorial anti-Semite (yep, that one)

“Your vote supports a position that is in direct conflict with my very existence.”

You are voting for hatred, for elitism, and for the celebration of power. There is no “better trade” or “more jobs” about it; that is just filler. White nationalism is the underpinning of this entire campaign (who do you think he wants to “take back America” from?).

Are you saying “no, that’s not true!” because you are a good person? Well, “good people” can be racists. (If you are really fighting this idea, you might want to look up “implicit bias” because we’re going to be hearing that term a lot.)

As much as I’d like to write this post and say, “You’re a racist, goodbye!” I have lived and worked with people like you all my life, and I know that most people who are racist do not know it. They cannot see the subtext or the dog whistles, they love their kids and family and they go to church and volunteer sometimes, and at this point they are truly confused. This will help:

Your vote supports a position that is in direct conflict with my very existence. Your black friend — the one you have lunch with sometimes, the one you’ve invited to your house, the one you’re so nice to, except that you’re voting for Trump — I already know this about you. Call it “racist radar.” But at this point, you’ve lost the right to even look me in the eye.

Maybe I’m your coworker, maybe I’m that one person you went to school with, maybe I’m that one girl you dated once a long time ago who wouldn’t let you touch her hair. Maybe I’m that distant family member somebody married or adopted. But every time you think of me, you should remember what you’re voting for. You should know that you’re voting to cause suffering to people, millions of people. You should know that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against me.

Donald Trump and the Politics of Being Unwanted

The evening of the 4th night of the Republican convention, I went out to dinner with my husband and my in-laws. It was an ordinary weeknight, except that the restaurant was unusually crowded. My mother in law speculated that it was crowded because people wanted to have dinner early before getting home to watch the “highlight” of the convention, where the candidate would accept his unfortunate nomination.

Donald Trump and the Politics of Being UnwantedWe make an unusual group. Me, a plus-size black woman in my mid-30s, and my husband, a white man about 15 years older than me with elderly parents. Sometimes when we go out, they’ll say, “Party of 3?” And we say, “No, there’s 4 of us.”

I’m used to being stared at when I am out in mostly white spaces, especially when I am with my little family. But as we walked to our table, one couple stared at us so hard that they stopped their conversation. They looked uneasy and nervous. And they wouldn’t stop staring at me.

We were seated across from them. Making matters worse was that, due to the crowd, we were seated at what is literally the restaurant’s smallest booth, and I was squeezed in so tight that the table moved every time I took a deep breath. Faced with the choice between asking to be moved, (which would have involved asking my elderly mother in law, who is frail and uses a cane, to struggle to get up and then wait another 15 minutes for a seat), or sitting there hoping dinner would go by quickly, I made the second choice. And the couple kept staring.

I tried to ignore them. I am not sure if it was hostile or curious, but it was definitely one of the several types of “black stares” I have been subject to in my life and we all knew it. My husband said they stared like we were “animals at the zoo.” They stared until the waiter brought them their check, at which time they whispered audibly about getting home so they could watch the Trump speech. They scurried away, and I couldn’t help but be relieved when they were replaced with a friendly looking black couple.

I have wondered for the past year what Trump’s normalization of racism, his liberation of angry white people from “political correctness,” would do to the daily lives of black people. I’m old enough not to be shocked by racism, old enough to have been raised to be “twice as good.” But I’m too young to know what it was like to live in a “George Wallace” America. What will happen when the veil hiding the most virulent hatred from polite society is lifted? I spoke to my mom and grandmother the day after Trump’s fear mongering, hateful speech. After we all offered our multigenerational perspectives, Grandmother said, “You think this is bad? Just wait.”  She did not elaborate further, and the ominousness of her tone reduced my mother and me to silence.

She’s right. My life as a black woman is certainly different than Grandmother’s when she was my age. While I’ve never been free from the literally constant racism (it’s only since I left the work force that I’ve experienced a life without daily microaggressions for the first time), compared to what she went through my life has been easy. And I am heartened by my “woke” white friends who go around shutting down racists on Facebook like a digital game of Whac-a-mole. It is good to see Trump’s demagoguery openly condemned by so many (others, however, seem to have made a deal with Lucifer). And when I woke up the morning after the speech, the birds were indeed singing as the world continued to turn.

Donald Trump and the Politics of Being UnwantedI wouldn’t be a good Democrat if I believed in the dystopian nightmare Trump is selling. But the bottled up resentment that has been allowed to flourish will not be put back soon, in fact it has always simmered on the surface or just below it. We will encounter more of this specific category of people: people who used to be quiet or stick to “code words” who now feel free to stare openly, to comment, to intimidate, to blame us for “division” and “racism” when we have the audacity to remind them that we are black.

In those moments at the restaurant, I knew that not only was I a curiosity, but I was acutely unwanted, a situation created by race and magnified by the social politics of size. As well read and well versed in societal racism as I am, and as sure as I am of my right to exist in public as both a black woman and a person of size, I was frozen, my mind lost to its calculations — whether to say something or stay silent, my discomfort vs. my family’s inconvenience. Compounding the overthinking was the knowledge that these incidents are likely to increase, because I live in a red state where the nonsense seems to speak louder than anything else.

Later that night, the staring couple went home to their living room to watch and applaud a man who cannot speak or read above a 4th grade level, a man who gave a Mussolini speech with “fear of the brown people” as its central narrative. I can only hope at this point that Mr. Trump will be defeated and end up nothing more than just a horrible symbol for white angst. I’m only relieved by the idea that I can and will speak louder — maybe not in the restaurant (it is not always a good idea to verbally confront racists) but elsewhere. Trump has done less than nothing for black people on his own, but his horrifying candidacy has at least inspired us to speak out and assert ourselves and try to affect change.