I didn’t expect Proud Welfare Mom to show up at the BlogHer conference. I knew that the minute I got back, I’d need to be on the phone, dealing with the IMPOSSIBLE-to-get-on-the-phone Department of Social Services, because the process of renewing our food stamps benefits wasn’t finished. I wanted to put it out of my mind, until I got home. On the last day of the conference, though, it struck me that the words I was hearing from women of color about the abuse they encounter, when they write about their experiences as minority women, sounded all too familiar. So, when they took questions, I went straight for the microphone.
“Can we just throw income into this discussion?” I asked. “The only time I’ve been treated with the kind of abusive tone I’m hearing described by these women of color is when I write about using food stamps.”
I didn’t feel pride, and I didn’t feel brave, until some members of the audience cheered that they had been there, too – white women on food stamps. The moderator pointed out that those hostile to government assistance programs fail to realize that the person most likely to be on food stamps is an elderly white woman. The women of color shared that many people assume that they are low-income earners, and accuse them of being “takers,” even if they earn well above the average income.
I used money we didn’t have (yay, credit?) to go be with these women, because they are my tribe. They keep me going, and their words and hugs fill up my writer soul. When I stood up in front of everyone who was in the “Grand Ballroom” and told a panel of really impressive bloggers that my family uses food stamps, it wasn’t a confessional. I simply felt that it was relevant. They responded that it was, in fact, relevant, and we also exchanged empathy. Privilege was acknowledged, and so was the sadness at readers who leave hateful comments in response to the words we publish.
Proud Welfare Mom is a sort of persona I’ve developed to talk about using government assistance to help meet my family’s needs, without shame. I’m proud of my family, not proud (or ashamed – it’s simply a fact) that we use “welfare.” I will always be proud of my family, and nothing can shake that. I did feel propped up, however, in that room full of women who responded thoughtfully to my request that we include income while discussing “The Intersection of Race, Gender, Feminism and the Internet.” I spoke up because I couldn’t shake the feeling that income, real or perceived, was tied up in all of this, and Proud Welfare Mom was suddenly right there.
I’m sitting here, finishing this post, while I wait for a very kind social worker to get back to me about finishing our SNAP (food stamps) renewal. Yesterday was a really hard day, with three full hours on the phone, most of the time spent on hold, trying to get everything straightened out, and discovering that I had misunderstood a few things. I’m not supposed to be able to fax anything, but the social worker who picked up my call has allowed me to do so. I’m not in our home town, so I can’t drop off the paperwork at the main office (also not something that’s normally allowed). If she had been strict about following the rules, I would have had to mail everything and let our benefits lapse while we waited for the mail to arrive. I’m waiting for a call, right now, to confirm that I’ve finally gotten it right, this time. I was feeling pretty low, still in my pajamas and fighting a migraine caused by the stress, when I remembered what my tribe had done for me at BlogHer: applauded my contribution.
Contribute what you have, and your tribe will find you. “Trolls” will find you too, yes, because there’s one lurking under the bridge of every controversial topic, waiting to jump out and say something awful. They disappear, though, in the face of the people who stand with you and affirm that every voice deserves a platform. (Trolls, find your own – this one belongs to me.)
This blog began as a place for me to share my experience with anti-anxiety medication and pregnancy; as my family has grown, this space has grown, to encompass my experience with motherhood, trying to pay the bills, needing help, staying healthy. I write what’s known as a “Personal Blog,” and I’m so glad I do. I don’t know enough about “Lifestyle” or fashion or DIY projects to write that kind of blog. I do know that when I share my story, others come to stand with me. I call you my tribe, dear readers, and I thank you for coming here to think and feel with me. I thank you for your comments, emails, silent readership. I have come home from BlogHer feeling more certain than ever that we thrive, when we share our stories. Our communities may not overlap entirely, but they do intersect, and sharing those parts of ourselves can only make us stronger.
Sorry for getting a little bit saccharine. It just felt so amazing to thank these amazing writers for their contributions, and to hear “thank you” right back. I wanted to keep that going.