Let’s hear it for New York (the rest of that quote makes no grammatical sense)

27 06 2011

I’m sitting here, prouder to be a New Yorker than I have been in a long time. No, we didn’t get a new theme store in Times Square. The Mets didn’t do anything remarkable, and the Yankees haven’t been traded to Guam. But Friday night, we achieved marriage equality within my state.

Watching the state senate vote yes on same sex marriage was one of those rare, special moments when you know you’re witnessing history. Even rarer, because you know you’re witnessing history in a good way, not watching events like Columbine or 9/11 unfold on TV. It was like hearing Jon Stewart call the election in favor of Obama, or seeing the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t witnessed that much history.

But Friday night was enough. Sitting and watching anxiously with my roommates, after convincing one of them that Anchorman on TNT could wait. (I mean, we have three copies on DVD.) Trying not to get our hopes up, but saying things like, “I think it’s actually going to happen.”

And then it did! Celebratory ciders all around, victory shouts heard throughout the neighborhood, and it was as if things had always been this way. “Remember way back this morning, when same sex couples couldn’t get married? Weird.”

Of course, there were some downers. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., mostly. I took a drink every time he was asked to wrap up his rambling speech, which was the only thing that got me through it. It contained such gems as, “God, not Albany, set the definition of marriage.” I would say he should stay at his church, not in Albany, if he really feels that way, but unfortunately his church is located in the Bronx. We don’t want him. Though it is gratifying to watch him be left behind by history. It’s nice to think of him being remembered as an even less effective George Wallace of this civil rights movement, an embarrassment to his family and district.

There were others, most notably Senator Grisanti, who really summed up not only being a good politician, but also a pretty decent  person. Grisanti’s speech essentially stated that, though he was raised to personally believe that same sex marriage was wrong, he had to separate this from his work and recognize that all people were deserving of fair and equal treatment.

My social work sense was tingling the entire time.

It doesn’t make everything perfect. We don’t have full equality and acceptance, things aren’t magically better. This is one step, a massively important step, towards inclusivity.

I am already excited for the way that this affects not only the lives of my friends, family, and all New Yorkers, but for how it affects my work as well.

A lot of the LGBT people we work with are young, struggling with their identity, and dealing with being only marginally accepted, or outright rejected, by their families and communities. Some social workers I know, particularly workers I met in Japanese Game Show social work school who fancied themselves the Most Out Of The Box Left Thinking Social Worker There Ever Was, talked about marriage equality as an issue of privilege. Something that didn’t matter to a homeless teen.

But people who say that are kidding themselves. The right to marry might not mean a whole lot to a teenager recently kicked out of his parents home and struggling to make it day to day. But living in a state that grants that teenager his basic rights and recognizes him as a full citizen counts for a lot. Just listen to couples who have been together for ten, twenty, fifty years, talk about what marriage means to them. Being recognized as a legitimate couple and family, having equal rights…that’s good for everyone.

I certainly hope that, if I had been around during the 1960s civil rights movement, George Wallace and other segregationists would have pissed me off just as much as Ruben Diaz did. Because stripping people of their rights and humanity goes against our values, personally and professionally.

As social workers, and decent people, we need to keep fighting for equality. And we also need to celebrate this victory.

Cider’s on me!

Never fear, PC Gal is here! (Fear no, annoyance yes.)

8 03 2011

It’s been a while since we’ve revisited A Series of Unfortunate Events social work school. That magical land where I learned the importance of language. No, I don’t mean not swearing at clients (though I do recommend that you try to avoid this) but of the all important politically correct terminology.

Apparently, I’d been unwittingly oppressing everyone around me. To be honest, I was open to learning.

I think being “PC” has gotten a bad rap. What’s wrong with making an effort not to offend someone? Think of all the times someone has made you feel like garbage, and then explained, “well, I didn’t mean it!” Really? I didn’t mean to stick my foot in your ass, so I guess we’re even.

In the words of Simon Amstell (whatever, I like curly haired, insecure, English comedians) “I like that political correctness exists, though, otherwise we’d all still be racists.”

While this view is a bit simplistic, it is also a bit accurate. Language evolves. Some words that used to be offensive no longer are. Some words that used to appear on government documents will now earn you a gasp and shunning in polite company. We need to pay attention to that.

But what I learned in social work school was that it wasn’t enough to be politically correct. You had to be the most politically correct. You had to win the non-racist, non-homophobic, non-transphobic, non-sexist, non-classist, non-sizist, anything else you can think of award.

If there was an actual trophy up for grabs, I might have been more interested in playing along. Instead, it just seemed that we were playing for smug satisfaction, and the right to make other people feel stupid.

One girl, a repeat offender, informed us all that we were to refer to people as being “white-skinned” rather than white. I think she explained, but I had stopped listening. Like I said, repeat offender.

This is the same girl who told our class that we should be referring to Native Americans as “first nations peoples.”

After doing a little research, it was determined that I was the only one in the room who actually knew any native people. I explained that my cousins liked the term “native” and had banners reading, “Native all the way!” decorating their MySpace pages. They had never heard of the term “first nations people.” If asked, they said they were Navajo, because that was more accurate.

What’s that, someone speaking from experience? Silence!

I was also not open-minded in my disdain for “Stop Snitching” t-shirts. Apparently, the viewpoint that this movement primarily benefitted drug dealers and brought stuggling neighborhoods further down was not welcome. I had no right to say such things because…again, I stopped listening.

Once I referred to a client as “overweight.” This caused a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

Let me remind you that I said, “overweight.” I did not say, “What a raging fatty-boombatty” or call her a “heifer.” I referenced the fact that her weight was higher than what was recommended and healthy for her height. This was a factor in her low self-esteem.

I then got a twenty minute lecture on being “fat positive,” and how saying that someone is “overweight” is offensive, because it’s too clinical.

Since learning more about that particular issue, I think there’s a lot to be said for it. But (prepare to be shocked) being told in a room full of people that I was wrong, that everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to you, I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul (sorry, I had to) did not make me want to open up and listen. It made me think that this girl was kind of a jerk.

That’s not a PC term, but I can use it because I am one too.

I appreciate what these other students were trying to do, kind of. I understand that they wanted to empower clients to accept and love themselves.

But the problem is that a lot of our clients don’t talk or think like this, and this isn’t the problem they come to us seeking help for. I think PC Gal would catch the vapors and drop dead of shock if she heard some of the things my clients say.

“Miss! Sorry to be ghetto, I’m throwing down the key!” yelled one mother out her fourth floor window. (Ghetto? Ugh, how judgmental!)

“Yeah, my mom beat us. But she’s mad Dominican.” (Painting an entire culture with such a broad stroke? For shame.)

“You can’t discriminate against my kid based on his sex, religion, political affiliation, or the fact that he’s queer as a three dollar bill!” (OK, that last one was Burt from Glee. But I think it illustrates my point nicely.)

I don’t know that telling someone that everything they say (even about themselves) is wrong and offensive is really going to help. It’s a tricky, delicate, issue, and pretending that it’s not just really doesn’t help anyone.

I just hope I figure it out by March 17th, so I can celebrate with all the other drunk micks.

All times of the year have been evaluated, and the results are in–this is the most wonderful

22 12 2010

Looking for a last minute gift for that special social worker in your life? For shame, there’s only three days to go! And if this is a Jewish social worker, you’ve missed the boat entirely.

Oh well. If you hurry, you make use of these recommendations. (In case you’re wondering, I barely even get paid to do my actual job, so I am definitely not making money here.)

SocialJerk Book Club (I’ve always thought that Oprah and I have a lot in common.)

  • Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
    Work in the Bronx? Love the Bronx? Wish you were cool like the Bronx? This is the book for you! It’s also an incredible, true story of one family going through the cycle of poverty. Not entirely original, but the love and respect with which this story is told unique.
  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle
    Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. But it’s an amazing look into welfare reform, and how it affected actual people. Not just those welfare queens in their cadillacs that we always hear about.
  • Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care by Nina Bernstein
    Warning: This one isn’t what you’d call uplifting. A teenager is part of a class action law suit, claiming that the NYC foster care system is discriminatory and unconstitutional. While all this is going on, she has her own son, whom she relinquishes to care. Many things have changed for the better, but so much of what I read in this book reminds me of what drives me crazy today. But it is an amazing analysis of foster care, at least in New York, and the changes that have been made and what still needs to be done.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Not exactly a social work book, but it is the most stunning book about teenage depression I’ve ever read. I read it in one day when I got it for Christmas, at age 15. I felt like I was reading the story of my life and someone finally understood me. (Whatever, 15 year olds are supposed to be dramatic.) I’d recommend it to anyone who works with teens. Or who likes awesome books with fabulous mid 90s references.

Practical Necessities

  • Mace
    Don’t worry–only for emergencies, never for unruly children. I swear.
  • Comfy sneakers
    It’s fine, Letterman made professional dress matched with sneakers cool and acceptable. Necessary, because we do a lot of walking. Often in bad neighborhoods. Which means sometimes we have to do some running.
  • Glee Christmas Album
    Do you need any more reason, other than “it’s awesome?” OK. Sometimes, the job is hard, holidays aren’t happy for everyone, and the Christmas spirit gets dangerously low. (And we all know that’s what powers Santa’s sleigh.) Nothing lifts my mood like Glee. If it doesn’t do the same for you…well I just don’t know if we have anything to say to each other.
    Aside from that, nothing makes me happy like inclusivity and a lack of heteronormativity. A couple of cute teenage boys chasing each other around while singing a love song, on national television like it’s no big thang? Love it for my teens.
  • Spanish-English dictionary
    Avoid sounding like an idiot. A former co-worker was constantly asking kids how many anuses they have, instead of how old they are, and saying, “I love you?” instead of asking if they wanted a snack. Seriously. Don’t be that crazy person.
  • Subway/bus map
    You’re going to be on public transit, and you’re going to get lost. Prepare for it now.
  • Silly Bandz, slap bracelets, whatever the latest trend is.
    Nothing gets you in good with a reluctant kid like nonchalantly flashing proof that you follow the latest fads.
  • Play Doh
    Because everyone loves it. You’re never too old. I have my own set that I don’t even let the kids play with. (What, they always mix up the colors. I hate that.)
  • Pens
    I believe we’ve gone over this.

Well, I hope I was able to help. (It’s kind of why I got into this profession.) And if your own budget is a little too tight, maybe you can hug a social worker this holiday season. We like that sort of thing.

Back to School (or why Billy Madison skipped grad school)

27 07 2010

Here we are, back in social work school. Where the students are crazy and the teachers are enablers. A hint to anyone considering entering the field: tell your professor that you were struck by the “white privilege” or “heteronormativity” in the article you were asked to read. Instant bonus points.

Allow me to take you back to my social policy class. Here we learn the history of social work, how social policy has developed over the course of US history, and how politics affect the work we do.

We also complain. And try to one up each other with our liberalism.

“I’m a socialist!” “Really? I’m an anarchist. Socialism falls short for me.” “Anarchy? Interesting. It’s so male oriented. I’m a radical transfeminist cyberpunk.”

And so on.

One day, a fresh-from-undergrad student who still lived with her parents on the Upper West Side had a thought to share. (I knew that she still lived with her parents, because she put me on her phone one day to tell her maid, in Spanish, not to clean her room.)

“You know, there’s that old saying. I really believe in it. It’s like, don’t teach a man to fish. No, don’t give a man fish…give someone fish, he can eat now, but teach him to fish, and he’ll eat forever. Something like that. But I think that’s, like, what we’re supposed to do.”

Eloquence was not her strong suit. But I wouldn’t regard her comment as controversial.

Because I forgot where I was for a moment.

The focus in social work school is always on the circumstances that created the problem. We don’t want to blame the victim. This sometimes leads to us running to the “victim’s” defense, cloaking him in social work practice and railing against anything that contributed to him getting locked up, abusing his children, or living in poverty–the court system, the police, his parents, racism, too much TV, not enough vegetables, a culturally insensitive education system. (If you can think of at least six more factors, you win the liberal award!)

For this reason, the other, mostly older, more experienced students, felt the need to put this girl (and maybe her cleaning lady) in her place.

“Yes, but we need to consider where the person would be getting this ‘fish.'” “True, and where will they get supplies to ‘fish?'” “Right, and if they can catch any ‘fish,’ how are they going to prepare it?”

Yes, and what about mercury content? You have to be so careful these days. Honestly, some people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near metaphors.

I don’t know what we accomplished that day. My head was spinning as we all got completely turned around from the issue at hand.

But one thing is certain-as I bit into a spicy tuna roll that evening, I felt, for some strange reason, that I was on the side of the proletariat.