Visibility Isn’t Cost, or Why I Look Cheaper in Pricier Clothes

Y’all know this happened by now, right?

Some aptly-named guy named Eddie Scarry (who also tweets about women’s bunions for some reason?) tweeted a creepshot taken from the back of US Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His amateur visual assumption led to him claiming that she couldn’t be financially struggling because of her clothes.

The New York Rep replied, classy as always, pointing out that she, like most women, was damned-if-she-did and damned-if-she-didn’t when it came to her clothing for her Capitol Hill debut. Not to mention the obvious fact that having money for clothes is hardly having enough money for moving costs, deposit, and first month’s rent as well as utility deposits.

I doubt Eddie Scarry would read my blog, but I know firsthand that it doesn’t cost a million dollar to look like a million dollars. My recent style change from fully femme to rather masculine has hammered home the sometimes inverse relationship between how fancy something looks versus how much it costs.

Continue reading “Visibility Isn’t Cost, or Why I Look Cheaper in Pricier Clothes”

Visibility Isn’t Cost, or Why I Look Cheaper in Pricier Clothes

The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms

Imprecision does not inclusivity make. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense to say “people” when you exclusively mean “men” or “women”, “partners” when you mean “spouses”, “spouses” when you mean “husbands” or “wives”, or “LGBT” when you mean “cis white gay men.” This nonsense is becoming more and more common as inclusivity becomes a more and more common goal, but inclusive-seeming language can serve as a shield to the lack of truly inclusive and intersectional concerns. Continue reading “The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms”

The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms

Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation

Dan Arel’s piece on atheists and the prison population has been making the rounds, along with the seemingly inevitable assertion that the statistics prove that atheists are no less (and perhaps) more moral than theists.

I understand the impulse. Truly, I do. But that doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Continue reading “Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation”

Fellow Atheists: Quit Bragging About Our Prison Underrepresentation

On Ungrateful Brats: Are College Students Really Adults?

The Rachel Canning case has set off a social media shitstorm, to say the least. Yesterday morning, a judge denied the preliminary request made by the teenager who sued her parents for support, and most commenting on the case have made it clear that they think that she is a spoiled brat. One of the most common criticisms that I have seen levelled against the young woman is the idea that because she’s 18, she is an adult and therefore ought to be responsible for her own college tuition.

While I cannot speak to the details of the case, I can speak to one simple fact: In the United States, undergraduate college students in their early 20s are not treated as adults by the financial aid system.

Continue reading “On Ungrateful Brats: Are College Students Really Adults?”

On Ungrateful Brats: Are College Students Really Adults?

Guest Post: There’s More Than One Way for a Person to Be Illegal

Note: Ed Cara at Grumbles & Rumbles and Alexandra Brodky at Feministing (as well as many others) covered the issue of the rape and kidnapping victim who was arrested from a feminist, anti-rape perspective. One perspective that I found to be missing from the conversation is that of the homeless. When I engaged on the matter, it seemed that many did not quite grasp what it is like to be homeless — “Why did she lie about living with her parents?” and similar questions were posed. Here to clarify the matter is Daniel Samuelson of The Writing Engine (full disclosure: he is my partner).

Many (if not all) of us know about the fabulous arguments against using the term “illegals” to refer to people. We know about the noble struggles of immigrants: how many fight poverty as well as oppressive legal and cultural systems to survive and even thrive. They are not the only people called illegal.

I am not an immigrant. Despite that, I have been illegal. Why? I’m poor and, up until very recently, I was homeless*. While there are long and exhaustive reports about the issues surrounding the laws on being homeless as well as high profile cases of cities making it illegal to be homeless (since rescinded), there is another level to the illegality of homelessness, one that isn’t so readily apparent.

To the police, the homeless are, from the moment they see us, not people but undesirable and inhuman parasites. We cannot trust the police or any other authority that derives power from the state. Accordingly, we avoid the police if we can. Outsiders and law-breakers become the people who feed us, who give us a place to sleep that isn’t cold and uncomfortable, and, sometimes, who give us a way to escape. That escape can be a sympathetic ear or substances that numb the pain and help us relax. We start by being told we’re illegal and eventually become illegal since criminals are the ones will still treat us as human.

Peachtree Pine Homeless Shelter
Peachtree Pine Homeless Shelter

Technically, there are programs that exist to help the homeless. Most welfare programs are not in that category. Since Clinton’s reforms, many state welfare programs require that applicants have a permanent address and a job (SNAP is one of the few exceptions). Since welfare programs are administered on the state rather than the federal level, the laws differ and are difficult to generalize. This also makes it nearly impossible for the homeless to move from any particular area since their welfare access is dependent on them staying in a situation that already disadvantages them (i.e. has left them homeless).

As for shelters, homelessness has been increasing at a breakneck pace since the 2008 housing crash. The shelters in the US were never intended to take on so many people all at once. Many of the states hit hardest by the crisis are cutting support for shelters. Other programs rely on the homeless knowing about them, which we frequently don’t. Government programs here in the US are inherently adversarial as well – we need to prove that we’re homeless, hungry, disabled.

Depending on the city, if you say you’re homeless, the authorities will drive you to the edge of town and drop you off or incarcerate you instead. When it comes to filing charges, there is no option for “transient” on government forms; you must provide an address and a phone number.

This brings us to the woman who was arrested for allegedly lying about her whereabouts. There are two likely scenarios. Either the woman provided her parents’ address (i.e. the one that she uses as contact information since she has no other information to provide), which is a fairly common scenario for homeless people, or she lives at her parents’ home on occasion and would or could not for the same reasons that she is homeless. Whichever it is, her arrest reiterates what the homeless know: that we are illegal and therefore treated differently under the law.

* Due to the laws that make it difficult for immigrants to stay employed and care for themselves, the two groups certainly intersect.

Guest Post: There’s More Than One Way for a Person to Be Illegal

CVS, Tobacco, & Well-Done PR Moves

It’s quite easy for a corporation to make a move that doesn’t affect their bottom line too badly and is along the lines of public opinion. They make the move, garner the praise, and enjoy the defense of the general public against the few who raise their voices against said move.

This is what happened last week, when CVS announced that it would stop selling tobacco products. The move was almost universally hailed. As a former employee, I saw the problems with such a move, which was framed by CVS as made out of concern for people’s health. Update: Fred McCoy pointed out another piece critical of the move that breaks down the numbers fairly starkly: CVS’s decision to stop selling cigarettes has got to be one of the easiest it ever made.

US cigarette sales have fallen nearly a third between 2003 and 2013, and just 18% of adults in the US smoke

CVS Caremark Corp reports that its stores will lose an estimated $2 billion in sales from tobacco products this year, but it still expects to make $132.9 billion in total sales. Moreover, if sales fall further—and they will, barring a sudden resurgence of smoking in America—it’s a smart PR move for the company to pull the products while it still seems like a sacrifice.

It plans to replace lost tobacco sales by selling anti-smoking aids like nicotine patches.

only 4% of US tobacco sales occurred in drugstores in 2012, compared to 16% in convenience stores, 21% in specialist shops, and 48% in gas stations

Though he was far from the only person to criticize my piece, David Gorski aka Orac over at Science Blogs articulated many of the criticisms I received in a way that I found accessible, so I will address them by quoting him here.

It is a story about knee jerk responses to which we all (myself included) fall prey.

My post was actually the result of much talking, thinking, and writing about the working poor I’ve done in the years since my employment with CVS. The #CVSQuits announcement was what inspired me to write the post, but the salient points could be made without any mention of it. The announcement merely highlighted the hypocrisy in a way I found convenient.

Consider this example. Your friend has just successfully quit smoking (example intentional) and tells you he’s reached his one year mark off of cigarettes. In response, you say, “That’s great! Good work. Now, about your weight…” In the same way, skeptics are saying things like, “Great job, CVS. Excellent decision. Now, about that homeopathy…”

This analogy is flawed in that it doesn’t correctly weight the effects in question. Smoking is far more deadly than being overweight. On the other hand, ceasing the sales of tobacco products will not stop smokers from smoking, but ending exploitative labor practices that lead to poverty would have a hugely positive effect on the health of CVS employees and their families.

However, all of this [the phenomenon of food deserts], as unfortunate as it is, has nothing to do with whether or not the decision to drop tobacco products was a rare responsible decision by a large corporation.

It has everything to do with it since CVS claimed that the move to drop tobacco products was to help people’s health. Again, smokers will not quit smoking because of CVS’s move. However, rectifying the problem of food deserts will directly end many problems with nutrition, something that has a lot to do with health.

when a company does something that is good for public health, [we skeptics shouldn’t] immediately attack the company for not doing something else that we think it should be doing. Accept the good action for what it is, acknowledge that it’s good, and resist the impulse to instantly yoke it to criticism of bad things the company is still doing.

It isn’t that great of a move: it will not stop anyone from smoking. As for the “yoking” in which I engaged? A great way to get people to pay attention to what you have to say is to tie it into a current event to which they are paying attention. Much as Orac used my piece to talk about his frustration with his perception of knee-jerk reactions, negativity, and demands for moral purity, I used #CVSQuits to talk about deeper inequalities that often are ignored in the greater discussions of corporate responsibility.

Smokers are not going to quit smoking just because CVS has stopped selling tobacco products; public opinion is squarely against smokers and smoking in the first place. CVS’s move, then, stands to benefit nearly no one and nothing but CVS’s public image and perhaps the consciences of some CVS pharmacy employees. Meanwhile, the company continues to engage in practices that directly lead to adverse health outcomes in its retail employees.

Just because no one is perfect doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as a flaw or that some flaws aren’t worse than others. Just because some of us demand more and better doesn’t mean that we demand perfection: it simply means that we have different priorities. Seeing as smoking rates continue to fall despite the fact that many stores sell cigarettes, CVS’s move, made in the name of “health,” is disingenuous. If CVS really cared about health, it would make the more expensive move that would help far more people’s health in a much more direct way. They are in the business of profit, like any corporation, and so they made the slick PR move instead. It clearly paid off.

CVS, Tobacco, & Well-Done PR Moves

From a Former Employee: 5 Reasons #CVSQuits is a Smokescreen

[Edited for clarity.]

This morning, the Internet was all a-twitter about #CVSQuits. CVS Caremark, the company that owns the CVS Pharmacy chain, has announced that CVS stores will be phasing out the sales of tobacco products. The move is an excellent publicity stunt, but, in my view, not terribly meaningful in terms of helping people’s health. Here’s why, based on what I know as a former CVS employee. (For the record, I left because I graduated college and got an office job, not because I was fired. Whenever I shop there, my former boss still tells me how much he wished I’d stayed.)

CVS isn’t really, or at least exclusively, a pharmacy.

Many of the people praising CVS on Twitter are asking why a “drug store” or “pharmacy” was in the business of selling tobacco products in the first place. The answer is simple: CVS stores are not pharmacies that happen to sell a few toiletries. Really, all CVSes are a full-on mass-merchandise retailers that happen to house pharmacies. In some areas, the local CVS serves as a general store. This is especially true when it’s a 24-hour store walking distance from working-poor neighborhoods.

CVSes in areas like mine actively participate in food-desert-like situations.

My store was the only walking-accessible store that sold groceries for several housing complexes filled with the working poor. Those with cars could shop at the closest grocery store, a Vons whose groceries were far more expensive than those from other local grocery chains. Those with cars who also had the time could go to an even further grocery store whose prices were better. I was lucky enough to have the time, work schedule, energy, and vehicle to make the trip to an Albertson’s several miles away. Many of my customers lacked that option. Their diets consisted of crappy food from our store which, to add insult to injury, could have been obtained much more cheaply from an actual grocery store.

CVS sells quack remedies.

Nearly everyone knows that smoking is bad for their health; smokers don’t smoke because they think it’s healthy. However, not everyone knows that CVS sells homeopathic “remedies” alongside actual medicines that contains active ingredients. The packaging and messaging is similar enough to ensure confusion. Meanwhile, cigarette packaging sports clear and prominent health warnings and tobacco products are hardly sold alongside, say, candy, or without age restriction.

CVS, like many retail stores, employs exploitative retail labor practices that create the working poor class.

Shuffling around hours regardless of people’s family life? Random scheduling at 24-hour stores that throws off sleep cycles? Punishing employees who call attention to scheduling mistakes by erasing their hours from the schedule rather than switching them with another willing employee? I’m not talking about Wal-Mart — CVS does those things all the time. I worked at a location where the regional manager was also the store manager and I knew people who worked at other stores in the region who had similar experiences, so schedule fuckery is hardly a one-off or rare occurrence. This might not be the case for other regions, but I happened to have worked for a fairly busy one.

Retail exploitation of labor leads to poor health outcomes, including nicotine addiction, due to stress and exhaustion. Sure, I read Nickel & Dimed when I was an adolescent, but nothing could prepare me for living like that myself: I was always tired. No amount of caffeine or supplements (both obtained at the oh-so-generous 20%-off employee discount) could alleviate the exhaustion that pervaded my life when I worked at CVS. I had the advantage of not having lived like that my whole life or having dependants. My coworkers were not so lucky. Many of them were parents and had other part-time jobs, which, along with the CVS gig, enabled them to scrape together a meager living. Their working-poor exhaustion reached levels I could not fathom. Judging or blaming them for using their 15-minute breaks to have a smoke would have been cruel.

Smoking rates continue to fall, but exploitative labor practices continue to rise.

The numbers don’t lie. CEO pay is rising while worker pay and benefits are falling. What used to be jobs by which teenagers could earn extra cash (retail, fast food, and so on) now constitute many adults’ main source of income. Remember my coworkers who worked multiple jobs? There are very few full-time positions available in retail; most retail positions these days are “part-time” (read: 35-hour-a-week) jobs designed to ensure that people aren’t eligible for benefits. As a result, people with dependents are forced to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. This means juggling transportation as well as multiple schedules and uniforms, ensuring more difficulties for people whose lives are already difficult.

Meanwhile, smoking rates have been dropping relatively steadily and rapidly. This isn’t to suggest causation or even correlation, just disingenuity on the part of CVS. People who are working poor tend to have worse health outcomes due to a lack of healthcare, nutritious diet, and sleep.

Despite that tweet, CVS continues to engage in practices that encourage such outcomes in their workers, who, I guess, don’t count as “people” to them.

Until CVS starts treating its workers in a way that enables optimal health outcomes, moves like #CVSQuits are mostly publicity stunts to me. The only effect this is going to have is to elevate CVS’s profile and perhaps alleviate feelings of hypocrisy among their direct pharmacy staff. I doubt it’s going to make anyone much healthier.

From a Former Employee: 5 Reasons #CVSQuits is a Smokescreen

Hot Sauce Over Humanity: On Sriracha

Recently, the Internet has been abuzz about the possibility of a shortage of Sriracha, aka Rooster or Cock sauce. Most pieces, even from publications and blogs whose pieces I normally at least somewhat like, relegate what the residents’ complaints are to a parenthetical (literally) reference. It turns out that something truly, sincerely horrible is being glossed over by the breezy, won’t-someone-think-of-the-hot-sauce coverage.

The Oatmeal’s jokes about how gosh-darn delicious it would be to breathe air saturated by the spicy odor notwithstanding, the latest increase in Sriracha production has seriously adversely affected the health of the people living near the factory.

Via CNN’s Eatocracy

According to the complaint filed with Los Angeles Superior Court by the city of Irwindale, the stench of cooking peppers isn’t just unpleasant – it’s painful. Watery eyes, stinging throats and headaches are par for the course, say city officials who have been fielding complaints since the Huy Fong factory kicked up its season’s pepper production.

This isn’t an annoying, spicy odor — I’d call this capsaicin poisoning. If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced what it’s like to have capsaicin directly affect a mucus membrane, I have some stories.

different types of peppers

During his Marine training, a friend of mine get maced, a fairly common practice in military and law enforcement. The next day, he was tased. He later received a Purple Heart for getting shot in the clavicle in Iraq. He has told me that he would rather get shot in the clavicle again or tased ten times in a row than maced another time.

A few years ago, I was slicing a pepper when I hit just the right (wrong?) angle with my knife. A gush of serrano juice went straight into my eye. The pain rendered me senseless. I ran around my apartment, writhing and screaming in agony. 30 minutes in the shower and a whole bar of tea-tree oil soap later, my eye looked like it had been punched and felt like it had been repeatedly stabbed. I’ve had multiple surgeries on my diseased knee and, as a nulliparous woman, have had an IUD inserted into me without any anaesthetic — and getting pepper juice to the eye was far more painful than any of those procedures.

People are being harmed by the by-product created by the processing of a condiment — a condiment, not even some kind of essential nutritional staple — and the best most of the coverage has done about it is make oh-so-hilarious puns, jokes, and references to the matter and wring collective hands over the lack of hot sauce.

Why do we care more about hot sauce than people? The answer may lie in some very telling coverage of the matter via Youngist (emphasis mine).

According to the 2010 United States Census, about 90% of Irwindale’s 1,400 person population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and about 95% is of color. The median household income of Irwindale in 2009 was about $55,000, which was close to the California median. However, during the same year, the median per capita income for Irwindale was at about $17,500, while California’s median per capita income was close to $44,000.

Everything from sub-standard housing conditions to poor urban air quality to reliance on walking and public transit to employment in outdoor or factory work means that the economically disadvantaged are far more exposed to environmental hazards. That the poor, especially those of color, experience the worst of pollution is a well-studied, well-established, uncontroversial phenomenon covered by the American Lung Association and studied by Yale.

sriracha in front of a soy saue pot and ketchup bottle
One condiment among many.

It really isn’t much to ask that the Sriracha factory raise its community health and safety standards to match its increase in production. If the company is truly growing in popularity, it will need to continue to revise such standards in the coming years. For now, it’s not really that hard to look for alternatives (Google and your local Asian market are your friends).

What is hard? Looking at your priorities and seeing that they, however inadvertently, are classist and racist to the point of dehumanization.

Hot Sauce Over Humanity: On Sriracha

Dialects Aren’t “Ignorant,” You Are

Edited to clarify that I, too, was an ignorant asshole once.

In case you weren’t paying attention, George Zimmerman is finally having his day in court. The way things are going with Rachel Jeantel, the witness giving testimony today, it seems almost as though Trayvon Martin and his friends are the ones actually on trial. You can show love for Rachel by tweeting using the appropriate hashtags, as she is facing some real hostility based on, among other things, perceptions of her language.

If you think that “Ebonics” isn’t “real English” or that its use signifies ignorance, you’re really just showing off your own linguistic ignorance: African-American Vernacular English, or AAVE, is a dialect with a rich history, origins, internal grammar, and so on. Period. It is not “broken,” “incorrect,” or “wrong” Standard American English any more than Standard American English is “bad” Queen’s English.

The first time I heard of AAVE, I reacted out of my own linguistic ignorance on the matter. I scoffed at what I saw as a transparently bleeding-heart attempt to make me feel bad for people I thought were inferior — until I realized something about my own linguistic heritage.

I may look super Desi in this pic, but even my Gujarati is actually terrible.
I may look super Desi in this pic, but my Gujarati is actually terrible.

The Indian language I speak with the elders in my family, Gujarati, is a dialect of Hindi. Gujarati and Hindi are close enough that I can understand much of non-poetic/non-literary Hindi in context. At the same time, when I try to speak in Hindi, it comes out as Gujarati. Furthermore, it’s incredibly frustrating for me since they’re so darn close and yet not quite the same as languages. Hindi speakers can generally understand what I’m trying to say, but there’s definitely a gap there both in their and my understanding.

Enter AAVE, a dialect of English.

The same people who offer no argument as I tell them about Hindi and Gujarati will immediately bubble up in pseudo-intellectual frustration at the claim that AAVE is a dialect of English. Furthermore, native speakers of AAVE aren’t exactly afforded any sympathy or help when it comes to the specific challenges of working in a different dialect. Instead, they are labeled “lazy” or some other word that, coincidentally, is all too often used to demonize and stigmatize non-white Americans.

Why the hell is it controversial to say that dialects exist? Again, no one ever argues with me when I, a member of a model minority, relay facts about Indian dialects. What’s the difference between Hindi having dialects and English having dialects? I have a sneaking suspicion that racism, along with classism and linguistic snobbery (it’s not Shakespeare’s English, but Appalachian English is a dialect, too), is at play.


Therefore, when most people hear Rachel’s testimony, all they really hear is their own ignorance. Due to that ignorance, there is a strong stigma attached to using AAVE. As a result, people who speak it usually have to communicate in and/or understand Standard American English as well. This means that they are bi-dialectal. As in more linguistically accomplished than many other Americans.

It shouldn’t have to be said, let alone be a controversial statement, but dialects are real. Even English ones.

Dialects Aren’t “Ignorant,” You Are

Why Are You an Ally, Anyway?

No, really. What’s your motivation to call yourself one, and maybe even to act like one?

This is the part where I talk about myself in an attempt to make it less about me (and you, if you’re also an ally rather than part of a marginalized group when it comes to one or more forms of oppression).

I have class privilege and was utterly blind to it for a long time. Oppression of every kind’s favorite mask (especially in America), the myth of the meritocracy, fit my class privilege pretty well. After all, had my father not come to the United States as refugee and worked his way up? Well after being granted entry into affluent North American countries, had my parents (and, later, my siblings and I) not lived frugally? I grew up watching families with much lower income than mine participating in activities my father dubbed “too expensive” and concluded that we must not be as well-off as others.


Much later, as a young adult, I discovered that such was not the case at all. My family was and is actually quite comfortable. We always lived in nice houses and my parents drove brand-new cars. My father earned enough to make such large purchases; his assessment of priciness with regards to smaller things like karate lessons or sodas at fast-food joints was a reflection of his personal preferences rather than our financial situation. My mother had both the desire and the financial freedom, thanks to my father, to be a homemaker.

I suddenly knew that I’d grown up in pretty cushy surroundings — and, privileged asshole that I was, I felt bad for myself. I couldn’t complain about my childhood anymore! Hell, who knew if the classism police would ever let me complain about anything anymore? Though that initially deep discomfort soon faded, it left behind a sticky residue of defensiveness, one that saw “you have class privilege” as an “I’m going to assume that your childhood was awesome and you got to have and do lots of stuff, you spoiled brat.” I didn’t even realize it until I had a relatively benign and silly Twitter exchange with someone whose upbringing couldn’t be more different from mine. She joked that we were “the princess and the pauper.”


Princess?! How dare she assume that my life had been charmed and that I’d gotten all that I’d wanted?! I started firing off Tweets about how much my childhood sucked. The more I typed, the more I realized that I was whining — acting like the spoiled brat that I was trying to prove that I was not. I was derailing by being the worst kind of so-called “ally:” self-centered and self-absorbed instead of open to listening to the people I was allegedly trying to back up.


I deleted some things and ended the exchange with a simple acknowledgment: “I have all the class privilege.”

I’m still working on it. This is a process, not an instant, magical transformation. If someone ribs — or even derides, is dismissive towards, or is mean to — me for my relatively cushy upbringing, I consciously work to quell the urge to go “but but but–“. I shut up and feel grateful that I only have to feel such a little bit of discomfort. On top of that, that tiny smidgen of discomfort, unlike the actual suffering of class oppression, is helpful to me: it reminds me of my position and keeps me on my classism toes.

It’s really easy to forget that “ally” is not a title that earns you free brownie points; it is, in theory, a state of being. The real me me me problem isn’t characteristic of a particular generation, it’s among those allies who really don’t help much and care more for their status as allies than about actually acting like allies. To appropriate an internet-famous quote, allyship doesn’t mean putting coins into oppressed groups in the hopes that friendship, forgiveness, or status falls out.


To quote a writer who will problematize the word “ally” for you in the most brilliant way:

Falling back on words and phrases that are intended to convey some sort of ideological purity won’t ever trump the transformation you’ll experience within yourself (and others) if you truly put yourself out there, be vulnerable, admit wrongs, take responsibility for your blind spots, hold your damn self accountable, not for show, but for real.

— Spectra on Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists (and Other Politically Correct Labels That Mean Nothing to Me)

Why Are You an Ally, Anyway?