After finishing my first book, I realized I was already ready for my second.
Thanks to Medium, my first book is in the shop, so to speak. I learned about an opportunity for diverse voices to pitch books on Twitter on April 19th from POMQA (a Medium community), and I used that as a deadline to finally finish what I had been working on for years. I pitched my book on the 19th, and an agent picked it up for review.
We Were At You Mercy, my 303 page, 98,642 word manuscript about the first 18 years of my life explored the theme of children growing up at the mercy of not only their parents, but also of the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, educational, welfare and income maintenance systems, and finally, the mental health system.
I have lofty goals for the impact of the book. First, I want students who are going to be going into the fields of mental health, child welfare, criminal justice, and social policy to be assigned this book by professors who understand its implications. I want them to do that so that they can talk about 1) who ends up using the welfare system, 2) why people end up using the welfare system, 3) what the best interventions for children in circumstances like ours, 4) how can the juvenile justice system duplicate outcomes like my brother’s, 5) how can the child welfare system improve its interventions with families. This list goes on and on.
Second, I would like people to talk about the implications of polygamy or sister wives for teaching daughters messages about relationships that are not healthy. I would like more discussion of rape culture and how rampant rape, sexual abuse, and inappropriate sexual interactions are harmful to young girls. Looking back, I see how misogyny created circumstances for me that left me as a child making bad choices and facing multiple assaults.
Third, I would like to introduce the discussion of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which examines the consequences of long-term childhood trauma on the mental health of many young adults. For example, this is likely to be a key factor in dropping out of college for poor kids.
Finally, I just want to give my family a voice. We’ve been pressed down by the weight of poor wages, joblessness, and a child welfare system that needed to do a better job. We were being abandoned by people all around us. I’d like the chance to tell our story about growing up ghosted by society.
I thought I would be at a loss for what to write next, but immediately, I realized I have all the years from age 18 to 45 to write about as well, and in many ways, there are much more compelling life lessons in those years than in the misery of youth. The key lesson I learned was that our country is crawling with “poverty experts” who understand only partially what poverty is about.
I worked as a research assistant for a few years at the Center for Poverty, Risk, and Mental Health at the University of Michigan in the 1990s. The director of the Center was Sheldon Danziger. When I asked him why he studied poverty, he responded that his adviser in graduate school did so, so he just kind of followed suit. He had no passion for the subject matter, no personal connection.
Another professor at the University told our seminar of students that black women didn’t want to get married, “because the research shows that to be true.” A black woman who was a friend of mine shot her hand in the air at the same time I did. We were both ready to protest vehemently. We even went to the professor’s office hours for a sit-down about the incorrect assessment of poor, black women. We were from “the hood” and we knew better. But our life experience was dismissed.
My next book, The Poverty Experts, will continue to show the impact on poverty on our family even as I studied it intently in graduate school. The poor are all too often under the microscope for their “behaviors.” It’s time to turn the lens around and examine who is doing the research and why conservative “researchers,” in particular, get it all wrong.