Kelly Briggs of @TheKooriWoman is spot on in this article of hers in The Guardian. This piece is about her experiences negotiating poverty as an Aboriginal single mother, while also managing the fear that her children might be forcibly removed from her by the state. Briggs is not worrying about whether she cares for her kids enough, she knows she does, she is worrying about what happens if she is perceived to have failed to care for them. In light of a history of racist government policies in welfare and child protection, Briggs knows her routine parenting experiences will be viewed through a very different lens to that applied to a single mother like me. (I’m white, middle-class and employed full-time in a profession). And when shit happens as it inevitably does from time to time, she knows she has much less slack to play with.
I see the advantage I hold in this area all the time. For instance, to borrow from Briggs’ example, my children get to school late quite frequently and they had a number of unexplained absences from school last year, too. Did I fret about what might happen to us because of those oversights? Nope. As part of state government policy the school requires all parents to eventually account for unexplained absences; was I treated with anything but dignity and courtesy in that process, was I treated with suspicion? Nope.
Here is Briggs in her article:
What happens if the small amount of work I have gained dries up and I am back in the position of money being so incredibly tight that the lack of it is suffocating? What if money again becomes so tight that shoes, uniforms, excursions, lunches or transport – issues that I don’t have to worry about when I’m working – become issues that keep my kids from turning up at school on occasion? What exactly is the scope of these truancy officers? Do they give my kids lunch? Buy them uniforms? Will my name be added to some department of community services list somewhere? Will there be a mark upon my name that gives rise to visits from people who can remove my children from my care?
I spoke honestly and frankly with my mother about my worries. She was amazed that this is still happening, after all the trials Aboriginal women have been put through for generations. We spoke of her own mother’s obsession with cleanliness, which sprang from her fear of the dreaded “welfare man”, a government employee who could come to your house and demand to be let inside to ensure your house was clean, that there was adequate food available, that the children were going to school.
She then went on to tell me about her own fears when she was raising me and my siblings: the absolute terror she felt when she had to collect food vouchers of some nameless person swooping in to take us kids off her because she was facing hardship after my father passed away. The tremble in her voice as she recounted this broke my heart.
Aboriginal women have been told for the better part of two centuries that they are neglectful and not fit to raise children. Policy after policy, we have borne the brunt of racist and cruel initiatives enacted purely out of ignorance and the unwillingness of decision makers to listen to what Aboriginal women think is best for their very own children.
For more of Kelly Briggs’ writing you can read her blog.
UPDATE: Just came across this on the same topic.
A decade ago, I sat talking to a young mother on welfare about her experiences with technology. When our conversation turned to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT), Dorothy* said, “They’re great. Except [Social Services] uses them as a tracking device.” I must have looked shocked, because she explained that her caseworker routinely looked at her EBT purchase records. Poor women are the test subjects for surveillance technology, Dorothy told me ruefully, and you should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next.