Black Women and Femmes Time Poverty & Reciprocity
by Womanist Working Collective
Kiana Marcus & Time Poverty: A Vignette
Meet Kiana Marcus, a Black woman and mother working 2 part-time, low-wage jobs. Her day job is being a nanny to a child of a wealthy white couple downtown, while her evening hours are spent at a local fast food restaurant where she is usually scheduled to close down the business at the end of the night. These two jobs usually averages out to between 60-75 hours per week, including weekends and not counting commute time which adds an additional 2.5 hours to her day.
Kiana raises her children in her ailing mother’s 2 bedroom apartment, which allows her to make sure her only living parent is being taken care of. Her mother also watched Kiana’s children afterschool while she is at her second job. The apartment is very cramped with 4 people sharing 2 rooms, but after gentrification displaced her and her children, this was all she can afford even combined with her mother’s dwindling social security benefits. Moving way on the outskirts of town, where it takes an hour to get into the city, was the only way to ensure neither of them became homeless.
One day at work, she got a phone call from the hospital explaining that her mother had just been rushed to the emergency room after collapsing. This was also an issue since the kids would be getting home from school pretty soon and there would be no one there to watch them and they were too young to stay alone the rest of the night. So she contacts her first employer to explain why she must head home immediately and is permitted to leave but warned that if she didn’t return the next day or find another nanny to cover for her then she’d be fired. She then calls her night job to inform them they she must call-off because there is no one there to watch her kids, except here she faces an immediate termination because this would be her third time calling out this month.
Earlier in the month, her kids were very sick and needed to be taken to an urgent care clinic or wouldn’t be permitted back to school and of course their health could worsen if untreated. Since her mother is very ill herself and practically immobile, Kiana had to call out of work to take them to see a doctor immediately. The kids were kept overnight, resulting in her two unexcused absences and since she lives in an At-will state, her employer can fire her at anytime for any reason.
She doesn’t have much of a support system, just her mom, and doesn’t have any additional time to spend building relationships with any of her neighbors which could potentially be a source of support and emergency childcare. Right now, she just knows that she can’t afford a babysitter and doesn’t really know anyone well enough to trust them watching her children. So she stays home with her kids the rest of the evening, loses her second job and spends the night applying to new job listings on her phone.
In between applying for jobs, Kiana scrolls her social media only to see memes stating “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, “Keep up the grind or get left behind”, and “if you strugglin’ then you ain’t workin hard enough”. Even the music she has playing in the background is singing “...I’m a boss, you’re a worker b*tch…” and “...if you ain’t got no money, take yo’ broke ass home...” and “...”Everyday I spend my time...Drinking wine, feeling fine...”. These media messages serve as a constant reminders that she is not where she aspires to be and can’t even see a way out of this cycle, which adds to her lowering self-esteem.
All of this causes Kiana’s societally-induced anxiety and depression to skyrocket while her physical health declines. She has no time for herself, her kids, her mother or her community and that is what we call Time Poverty.
The Problem of Time Poverty for Black Women and Femmes:
As Black women and femmes we’re experiencing time poverty as a result of Neo-liberalism’s scarcity culture. While Capitalism ensures that those who own the means of production are positioned securely at the top, neo-liberalism prioritizes the needs of these same wealthy people, their corporations and all things private above the needs of the people, the public and the health of our planet. In relation to time poverty, neoliberalism and capitalism creates a Culture of Neglect in which everything we need to thrive in life in positioned out of our reach, expecting us to merely survive as workers, consumption-addicts and mindless drones.
Most folks living in this society are not immune to the effects of Capitalism or it’s very intentional and strategically created scarcity culture, however, folks without many marginalized intersecting identities don’t experience this at the same severity. For many Black women and femmes, the inequality we experience due to our gender/perceived gender identity, class, sexual orientation, education background, employment status, marital status, disability status and general ability to navigate this White Supremacist society are all identities that are intensified by our Blackness. The racialization of all of our overlapping experiences leaves us vulnerable to increase violence, subjugation, anti-blackness, anti-woman rhetoric, femme phobia and every other attack associated with our other marginalized identities.
What makes time poverty so insidious and not just a “time shortage” is its function to have us spending majority of our time meeting very basic needs and possibility of pulling yourself out is very difficult. It keeps us stuck constantly moving between what psychologist Abraham Maslow described as the Physiological needs (Stage #1) and Safety needs (Stage #2). And similar to socio-economic poverty, the solution according to the elitist, neo-liberalists and time wealthy bourgeoisie is to “use your time more efficiently” and “do more with less” and “spend time pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”. These aren’t real solutions to any problem...
Missing a weeks worth of pay or even being several hours short on a paychecks can be the difference between us who experience time poverty losing our housing, utilities being cut off, losing access to reliable and timely transportation, not having quality food or unqualified for health insurance through an employer which already places us in many potentially vulnerable situations. However, when you add that to the dwindling amount of time you’re technically “off-the-clock” (or simply not being paid for like caring for loved ones or providing emotional labor to others), then what is being created is a Culture of Neglect in which you don’t even have enough time to build new or nurture existing Support Systems to help alleviate some of our burdens. And yet, the biggest trap is there isn’t even enough time to fight back against the very systems (Capitalism, Neo-liberalism, Imperialism and White Supremacy just to name a few) that contribute to our time poverty in the first place.
An Interactive Activity
Use the Liberation Health Framework to identify a few more ways in which Kiana is experiencing time poverty. In the bulleted section below, list 2 examples for each section: Personal/Internal, Cultural/Community & Institutional/Systemic. When you’re done, reflect back on our answers and your own to imagine what real support and radical transformation could look like for Black women and femmes who experience time poverty.
Liberation Health Framework: A theory of human behavior which conceptualizes that the problems of individuals and families cannot be understood in isolation from the economic, political, cultural, and historical conditions which give rise to them. A method of practice which helps individuals, families and communities understand the personal, cultural and institutional factors that contribute to their problem and act to change these conditions; to liberate themselves from both internal and external oppressions.
Time Poverty: Having an insufficient amount of time to thrive typically outside of paid labor (read: Capitalism structures) that demands our life force in order to survive; not having enough time to acquire or build resources to sustain yourself, health or wellness outside of this system
Time Wealth: Alternatively, someone could also be time wealthy, which means having and abundance of time that doesn’t have to be dedicated towards working to survive. For many people this is time spent thriving which can look like building new or strengthening existing relationships with people, participating in activism or local politics, having hobbies, practicing self-care or just enjoying leisure time.
Physiological impacts on her mental health and physical health; Depression, anxiety, isolation, stress
Feelings of hopelessness because she can’t see a way out of this cycle
Guilt, for not “working as hard or long enough” to escape time and economic poverty; guilt for not spending enough time with friends, family or community
Ronald Reagan’s Welfare Queen Trope permeating the dominant consciousness causing social stigma around asking for government support; Institutional misogynoir
Neoliberalist policies that allow corporations/employers to fire employees At-will for hindering their profits
Devolution of welfare programs like cuts to social security for seniors
Grind Culture in our media (a derivative of Capitalism) perpetuates the idea that we must always be working to be valuable and attain success; the memes and music that Kiana engages with support this
Community Breakdown occurs when Kiana doesn’t have a support system also known as a core economy; Edgar Caan’s defines the Core Economy as the love and caring, coming to each other’s rescue, democracy and social justice, which is expressed from family, friends, neighbors and one’s own community
Societal consciousness that Capitalism is the only acceptable way of life