Sep 30, 2010 - Issue 395
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Update: So Go the Days in the Lives of Women of Color - Women of Color - By Suzanne Brooks - Columnist

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From Poverty - ghetto, barrio or �the hood�

to Education in Spite of Discrimination

to Achievement Against the Odds in Education and Employment

to Discrimination in Employment and Education with Retaliation for Filing Complaints

to Poverty

to Recognition and Awards for Community Service and Artistic Talent with More Achievement Against the Odds

to Retaliation with Vengeance for Community Service, Talent and Achievement in Spite of the Barriers

to Permanent Exclusion from Adequate Employment

to Poverty to Denial of Employment Based on Poor Credit History

to Declining Health from Years of Stress

to Increasing Poverty

to Denial of Financial Support

to Entrepreneurial Efforts with inadequate capital

to Last Hope/Survival Use of Home Equity

to Foreclosure

to Denial of Mortgage Modification

to Denial of Government Assistance Based on Alleged Irresponsibility of Applicant for Assistance

to Homelessness, Despair, Declining Health

to Extermination.

Women of color remain the most marginalized people everywhere. Often our concerns and experiences are considered to be addressed in general discussions of women�s issues and �minority� issues. Unfortunately, such discussions rarely consider the reality that women of color experience as the only people to experience both racism and sexism, which creates an exceptionally difficult situation and accounts for several facts:

  • that women of color are dying at the highest rates from every curable disease in the US
  • have received 48% of the housing foreclosures
  • receive the least benefit from education
  • are the least represented in federal and state legislatures and leadership of federal and state agencies

Even those of us who seem to have reached levels of significance frequently have experiences like Shirley Sherrod who lost her Department of Agriculture job unjustifiably and then was expected to be gracious about it to those who irrevocably and permanently disrupted her life. It couldn�t have worked better if the outcome was intentional. There will be those who are tired of hearing about this. However, when it�s being lived, it can�t be discussed enough until a solution is found or women of color stop existing.

Women of color are losing hope that we will ever be lifted from the socio-economic bottom of US and other societies because we have never been in any other position and because, short of some kind of guerrilla hit-and-run suicide strategy that doesn�t offer a desirable outcome for anyone, we are worn out and short of ideas. We have witnessed and experienced the failures of educational gimmicks from �new, improved� teacher training, early childhood education, better prenatal care, mentor programs, tutoring, affirmative action programs, diversity activities, community centers, marches, sit-ins, welfare programs, WIC, job training, administrative internships, orientations to help us accommodate everything and expect nothing to accommodate us, private schools with scholarships, charter schools, foster care, early childhood development programs, school breakfast and lunch programs, after-school care, subsidized childcare, on-the-job training, summer transition programs, public housing, subsidized housing, welfare to work programs, transition programs for those released from incarceration, substance �treatment� programs and many, many more.

What is fascinating about all of these �solutions� which never mention, let alone address the effect of the never ending circumstance of living at the junction of racism and sexism and being forbidden, perhaps attacked for broaching the subject, is that at the end of all of these efforts, women of color have not budged at all from the bottom of society. Saying this out loud generates tremendous hostility, leading many women of color to be resigned to a fate not much different from dying. This probably accounts for much of the suicide. Death is not inevitable to women of color, it is in the only way out - free at - last from endless inferiority, degradation, virtual and actual slavery. Of course those who do not live like the majority will disagree. Overlooking the connections and resources of their families/husbands which they access, there will be those who assert that they have �made it� on their own without help. Whether accurate or not for the exceptions, the majority of women of color do not have such opportunities, connections and resources.

Two years into the current �recession� in which banks and auto companies and other businesses have been rescued from potential failure, after many discussions about whether the super rich deserve continuing tax breaks of $100,000, and with concern expressed about the increasing joblessness among the middle class or those who were once middle class, there is still no mention of the poor except with words like �entitlement� as a synonym for welfare which is a degraded term designating the poor who are alleged to be guilty of being willfully, purposefully poor. The poor are watched in the supermarkets to see if they buy extravagant items like meat or snack foods and then silently criticized and shunned. Poor women (and proportionally most poor women are women of color) are watched to see if they paint their nails or have hair appointments or buy foods that don�t require much preparation or use dry cleaners for their clothes - all thought of as financially reckless and irresponsible.

Now we are coming to the end of two years of lost homes and are set to lose more. Although millions, because of mounting medical debt, lost jobs, lost retirements, and ending unemployment and public assistance will soon be without any resources, there is still no discussion of helping the poor. This is a quiet death sentence, especially for women of color who earn the least wages, have the least job security and are often responsible to care for children and older adults. Adding insult to injury, as the saying goes, the HAMP program which was supposed to help homeowners has been treated as another, undeserved and shameful welfare program. Very few have been helped, perhaps 100,000 out of 10 million. The rest have been kept on a mortgage company treadmill of submitting the same documents over and over again to people who insult them, lie to them, then report to HUD that they are uncooperative, refuse to submit requested documents and/or cannot be located - event though the people are still living in their homes. HUD frequently accepts such explanations without question.

Meanwhile, the poor resident receives harassing calls every 30 minutes for up to 12 hours a day, sends documents by certified mail with signed return receipts and is still called a liar with claims the papers were not sent. People beg mortgage companies for cooperation, for mercy really. It is never forthcoming. Every effort is made, especially with seniors to drive them to distraction. In some instances, men are sent to the homes of women who live alone or with children and are told to take anything outside, like porch/lawn furniture while the residents are still living there. This adds the element of fear which can force some women to abandon their property. In other instances, the mortgage company arranges to send 10 foreclosure notices at the same time so that the mortgagee will be overwhelmed.

Even with HUD intervention and �conciliation,� the mortgagee is forced to submit the same documents repeatedly. If the mortgage company has already asked for and received a tax return, then a request is made for the tax transcript. When this is received, the mortgage company asks for the same documents during the conciliation process and the HUD conciliator advises that noncompliance will forfeit the conciliation effort. When the mortgagee points out that the mortgage company already has these documents, the HUD �conciliator� insists that it must all be done �anew� and that the mortgage company is not required to use the documents they have already requested and received. At every step of the conciliation process, the integrity and the honesty of the mortgagee is impugned and the HUD representative repeatedly advises the mortgagee �to do whatever the mortgage company wants� or the application will be canceled. Both the mortgage company and the HUD representative, generally, refuse to put any requests and/or statements in writing. This includes summaries of telephone discussions - though they make notes the mortgagee never gets to see. Consequently, it is impossible for the mortgagee to prove the things that occur.

The mortgage company routinely makes demands for documents from mortgagee employers and orders the mortgagee to get nearly immediate responses. Even when this is done and the mortgagee is told his or her file is complete, within one to 5 days, the mortgage company says the file is not complete after all and asks for additional documents. For example, if the mortgage company asked for the most recent pay stubs of the mortgagee, the process will be drawn out for months until the file is said to be complete. The next day, the mortgagee will be contacted and told that the pay stubs are too old because they are more than 90 days old in violation of the HAMP program and Mortgage Company policy. Of course, this was not true when the pay stubs were requested and submitted. It is only true because the Mortgage company made the process interminable for months. Thereafter, the mortgage company insists on new pay stubs and letters from employers, which they may reject as �not looking official� enough. Any question raised by the mortgagee is followed by the threatening reminder that failure to comply with the mortgage company�s requests is grounds for denying the modification application. This position is reinforced by the HUD �conciliator.�

These interminable processes and endless games become annoying to employers and add stress to the mortgagee, putting employment at risk. In addition, the requirement to repeatedly submit hundreds of pages of documents, as many as 400 or 500 pages, often interferes with the ability of the mortgagee to do the work of an employer, complete work for clients if self-employed, and/or to get adequate rest needed for work or health with additional negative consequences on employment and employability. Perhaps this is the intention, especially with seniors or those with health issues.

It is not clear why the nation is willing to discard so many of its citizens who are, without fault of their own, unemployed or underemployed, suffering dramatically reduced pensions or facing serious health problems with co-pays beyond their ability to pay. Those who have been without jobs for more than a year or two are not included in the jobless counts, yet there are many who have been jobless or at subsistence levels for a decade or more. In this climate, there is little to no willingness to look at the circumstances of women of color who are at the bottom of the heap. The masses of women of color have become expendable, whether working in fields or nursing homes, as they struggle to keep alive below subsistence levels. Women of color have been disappearing on the border with Mexico for years now. Their disappearances are ignored or they are written off as drug addicts or prostitutes. Women of color deaths from domestic violence are rampant, in some places exceeding the numbers dying from all the diseases there.

In such an atmosphere, it is disgusting to receive more notices of conferences being held by women�s organizations which continue to focus on poor women, who may be women of color, outside the US as if there are no poor women of color in the US. Such organizations refuse to discuss the intersection of racism and sexism in terms that would require change among them, that would require them to surrender the privileged leadership status they enjoy meeting with other privileged women of the world, including legislators, to discuss the poor women with HIV/Aids and to come up with ways to reduce childbirths among women of color which exceed the numbers of those of European heritages - which have become static at best. They continue to patronize grassroots/working class women by only being willing to help with the issues they choose for us, never the issues we identify for ourselves. In every community in this country where there are women of color, there should be a commemoration of Women of Color Day (March 1st) in 2011. It is time to stand up for women of color and to stand with those who really support us. Before any vote, the question should be asked, what�s in it for women of color? If nothing is demanded, nothing will be received. Asking for justice and equity is surely easier than being homeless and jobless. Columnist Suzanne Brooks is the founder and CEO of International Association for Women of Color Day and CEO of Justice 4 All Includes Women of Color. Click here to contact Ms. Brooks.

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