Rabbit: Ms. Pat on Hustling and Humor

Review of Patricia Williams’ Rabbit: A Memoir, with Jeannine Amber (Dey St, 2018)

Total Fan Now

I knew as soon as I heard Patricia Williams—aka, Ms. Pat—on The Joe Rogan Experience (episode no. 1312) that I had to get her book. Ms. Pat is devilishly funny. I was a fan by the end of the interview and wanted to support her content.

Listen to her on Rogan’s podcast below to see why I was immediately smitten with her brand of comedy:

Unnerving Childhood

What struck me most about Ms. Pat’s description of her childhood, growing up in Atlanta, was how much of it seemed very familiar to anyone who’s spent some time living abroad in poorer, underdeveloped countries—what academics smarter than I used to call the Third or Fourth World but now the “developing world.” Grueling poverty is simply a fact of life in many of these places. I’m reluctant to place poverty at the foot of all our social ills, but in the case of so much of the developing world it really can explain a lot. However, I’ve never deluded myself into thinking that there were not pockets of this type of misery in America. But for those who may have, Ms. Pat’s memoir is a wonderfully pointed reminder of how completely shitty one’s childhood can be in the United States.

The more unnerving side of Ms. Pat’s childhood for me was her family life. Her mother drank and smoked a lot and was involved in a zillion different petty crimes. As a preteen, Ms. Pat and her sister were molested by her mother’s boyfriend. They often had very little of anything nice to eat. A day-old hotdog bun laced with ketchup was a common dinner. At thirteen, Ms. Pat was pregnant. Her crap boyfriend beat her regularly whenever he wasn’t knocking up some other underaged girl. And throughout her teenage years, Ms. Pat sold crack to the black community of Atlanta to keep food on her own table.

Parts of Ms. Pat’s childhood made me think of many of the characters from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. It’s as if magically they were transported to a metro Atlanta of the 1980s and 90s.

Funny as Hell

In spite of all the mishaps and misadventures, Ms. Pat’s retelling of it all is priceless. There are too many scenes from the book to recount here. But for a quick example, here is one about her mother cooking outdoors in downtown Atlanta:

Mama had a lot of ideas that made sense only to her. Like the time she decided to cook dinner out in the yard. I was ten years old and we’d moved to a run-down duplex at the bottom of a hill in a shitty part of town known as The Bluff. We didn’t have any gas in the house because it got cut off from Mama not paying the bill. So she went out and bought herself a charcoal barbecue grill, which she set up on the screened-in porch, right outside our front door.

The only problem was that grill wasn’t made for frying up a skillet full of catfish, like Mama used it for. One evening while she was cooking dinner, the whole porch filled up with thick black smoke. It was so bad that Mr. Willie, who lived in the other half of the duplex, came outside and started hollering.

“Mildred!” he yelled. “Bitch, you tryna kill me?”

“Mind your gotdamn business, you high-yella muthafucka!” Mama yelled back.

They kept up hollering at each other until Mr. Willie decided there was no reasoning with Mama, and called the fire department instead.

The fire truck pulled up to the house with sirens blaring. Mama stepped out of a cloud of black smoke with a fork in her hand, and asked, real casual, “What the hell going on out here?” like her stupid ass wasn’t the reason for all the commotion. When the fireman told her she had to move her grill off the porch before she burned the whole place down, Mama threw up her hands in exasperation:

“Where I’m supposed to cook then?”

“It’s up to you, ma’am,” said the fireman with a shrug. “As long as you keep the grill outside.” That’s when Mama moved her little cooking operation to the front yard. She’d be out there in her faded housedress and a plastic shower cap pulled over her Jheri curl, like she was in the privacy of her own kitchen, not out on full display. As hungry as I was, I would pray for the middle of the month when Mama would run out of food stamps and was low on food, and stop cooking in the yard. Eating ketchup sandwiches for dinner was better than getting teased all day long by kids in class who passed Mama on their way home from school.

Becoming a Comedian

Ms. Pat ends her memoir with the story of how she got up the courage to start standup comedy. A social worker encouraged her to get into comedy after hearing the way Ms. Pat would talk about how she grew up.

Ms. Pat starts to make the rounds of comedy clubs in the South. She eventually finds her way onto a few popular podcasts, where she ends up reaching a larger audience and getting attention of the journalist Jeannine Amber, who helps her put together this book for publication.

Toward the end of the book, Ms. Pat reflects on her experience and the way she uses her real-life experience for material:

But I don’t know if I want to be the poster child for growing up in the hood. Not everybody had it as bad as I did. Plenty of poor black girls don’t get knocked up by married-man predators, and not every kid has a mama who looks the other way. There are lots of poor folks who work hard and take care of their babies. There are teenage moms who make it out of the hood without ever selling drugs or dropping out of school. I just had the extra bad luck to be born into a family that had been beat down for so long, all that was left to our name was a bunch of hustlers and addicts. I had no one to show me the way.

I could have easily have turned out different, ending up like my sister…or all the other girls who I saw get lost to the streets. Instead, I feel like I was specially blessed.

People ask me all the time how I turned my life around… I wanted to turn my life around, and what got me there was love.

Highly Recommended

Ms. Pat’s book Rabbit: A Memoir makes for a wonderful read and I highly recommend it. Consider following her podcast entitled The Patdown with Ms. Pat, which is also a lot of fun! I’m looking forward to her doing a special sometime soon.

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*Rabbit: A Memoir Reviewed by T. F. Rhoden. The image-photo credit for the top of this post goes to the talented Seattle artist Iosefatu Sua. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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Scales of Injustice: The Complete Fiction of Lōa Hô

Review of Lōa Hô’s Scales of Injustice: The Complete Fiction of Lōa Hô, translated by Darryl Sterk (Honford Star, 2018)

Review

The newest English translation of Lōa Hô’s fiction in Scales of Injustice: The Complete Fiction of Lōa Hô is a fascinating reminder that Taiwan’s literary history began well before the Nationalist Chinese retreat to the island in 1949.

To say this is not to downplay the importance of pre-WWII literature in Taiwan—far from it as the thoughtful and picturesque short stories of Lōa Hô (Lai Ho) evidence. Rather, when fiction from Taiwan is translated into English, these stories often reflect the contemporary social world where individuals both thrive and struggle in a nation that is not quite recognized as a state on the international stage. What little Taiwanese fiction is translated into English tends to be from the post-war period.

Lōa Hô’s life spans the period between the start of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894) and the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1945). This middle period of Japanese occupation of Taiwan during the 1920s−1930s is the setting for all of Lōa Hô’s stories. Lōa Hô’s willingness to compose more in Taiwanese vernacular as he matured as a writer ended up preserving a unique perspective for later generations.

Lōa Hô’s short stories explore the day-to-day machinations of foreign power on a very small scale. These stories capture the… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review of Scales of Injustice: The Complete Fiction of Lōa Hô, translated by Darryl Sterk, originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit for this re-post is via Wikipedia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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Beyond the Refugee-Migrant Binary? Refugee Camp Residency Along the Myanmar-Thailand Border

Abstract

Processes of mixed migration beyond the reified “refugee-migrant binary” of migration studies are an empirical reality along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Utilizing a survey of 3,874 mobile individuals from Myanmar in Thailand as a case study, this paper examines the impact of past experiences of migrants on the likelihood that any one of them will reside inside a refugee camp instead of outside of one in Thailand. A dataset is constructed that specifically intersects “refugee” communities with “labor migrant” communities in order to measure the importance of factors of socioeconomic, self-identity, past persecution, and social network considerations. Though indicators like religion, ethnicity, and the fear to return are salient in the likelihood of living inside a camp, family location is the strongest single predictor variable for whether or not an individual from Myanmar will inhabit a refugee camp. Future research may benefit by researching across migrant communities normally considered disparate.

Introduction

Human mobility across the 2107-km border that separates the national states of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is a complex affair. From a macro perspective, vast disparities in economic wealth, political governance, and social conditions be- tween the two countries for the last half-century have materialized in a movement that is primarily mono-directional—from Myanmar to Thailand. From a micro perspective, the mobile identity of individuals who move has conceptually fallen under categories as varied as refugee, labor migrant, émigré, student activist, family member, escapee, soldier, political prisoner, worker, ethnic fighter, and others. Furthermore, the social scientific argumentation as to the what, when, where, why, and how of this mobility from Myanmar to Thailand has encapsulated, at one time or another, all those traditional binaries of migration studies such as push-pull, forced-voluntary, structural-agential, political-economic, national-international, and so on. There are valid reasons to justify one identity, one concept, or one chain of events over another depending on the argument at hand. Yet, there should be one point upon which all can agree to begin this article in the realm of factuality. Regardless of what we call them or why they are there—today, more individuals from Myanmar can be found in Thailand than vice versa.

This article aims is to revisit one of those binaries of migration studies. Specifically, the refugee-migrant binary will be challenged by an exploration of factors that lead to an individual residing inside or outside a refugee camp. The dependent variable under study here is mobile location after crossing an international border.

This study is done in light of recent work that emphasizes the “mixed flows” or “mixed migration” nature of contemporary movements across borders. Utilizing the Myanmar-Thailand border as a case study, the main argument is that both the mobile self-identity and the mobile location of individuals who are normally called “refugees” and individuals who are normally called “labor migrants” intersect in complex ways beyond that normally argued by the refugee-migrant binary. What it means to be a refugee and to be a labor migrant are not mutually exclusive. These creatures of the lawyer’s, the humanitarian’s, and the social scientist’s—indeed, of the politician’s—imagination overlap in important ways. There are unquestionably good legal, humanitarian, policy, and ethical reasons to make a clear distinction between a “refugee” and a “labor migrant” at times. But in those cases where some overlap in identity and causal backdrop are observable, the researcher has an obligation to explore the empirical evidence as to just how they overlap in order to better theorize and, if possible, test claims about human mobility in a field of reality.

Rather than look at those cases where the refugee or the labor migrant fit some uncontested role, this article seeks to explore the exact opposite. More can be learnt by exploring a case where… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in the Journal of International Migration and Integration by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via the Faces of Hope Fund. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Malay Sketches

Review of Alfian Sa’at’s Malay Sketches (Gaudy Boy, 2018)

Review

Exploring identity in a multi-ethnic community through fiction can be a sensitive subject. The importance people place on identity is often a prickly topic these days—especially in multi-religious, multiracial communities like that of Singapore’s five and a half million citizens. In November 2017, the Singaporean Institute of Policy Studies presented evidence that for the first time more Singaporeans identify with the city-state than with their own ethnic lineage. The remaining half of survey respondents, however, still felt a “simultaneous” identity of both Singaporean and racial heritage.

Yet these statistics only go so far in understanding the subject’s sensitivity for many people. Alfian Sa’at’s Malay Sketches is a short story collection that achieves a balance between the sensitive nature of analyzing race and ethnicity from the perspective of a minority and a playful inventiveness by making the discussion seem lighthearted. First published in 2012 by Ethos Books, it be will released early in 2018 for the international market by the new imprint Gaudy Boy.

In ethnically-Chinese dominated Singapore, Aflian’s perspective in these short stories is valuable for investigating the daily lives of those individuals who may not fit the stereotypical, Chinese-looking Singaporean. Alfian, who is himself a Singaporean Muslim of mixed Hakka, Javanese, and Minangkabau descent, is a creative interpreter of Singapore’s unique society for outsiders.

In total, Malay Sketches contains forty-eight stories. Some stories are… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Singaporean Islamic Hub for this re-post goes to this 32cravenfan. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons license.

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