Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams

If you take away one thing from this book, make it this: she called President Jimmy Carter the N-word and gave him a free cheeseburger.

Okay, so I totally forgot I had this book until I was cleaning out one of my storage cubes. My friends and I have been exchanging bags of books over quarantine and somehow this one got away from me. It's actually really amazing, though, and if you're looking for Black authors to read in solidarity of BLM, this is a great one to add to the list because not only is it really fucking funny, it also is a serious reminder of how much poverty is influenced by racist infrastructures that perpetuate segregation on an institutional level and let people "slip through the cracks."

Jeannine Amber, who co-wrote this memoir, has a great author's note at the back where she says that part of the reasons she wanted to be involved with this memoir was because she felt like there were way more books that showed what it's like to be young, Black, and poor, but often, the female perspective was omitted. And I think that's often true across the board, but probably especially for Black women.

Patricia Williams is now a comedian named "Ms. Pat," and Rabbit was her childhood nickname turned street name when she was selling drugs in the street. She talks about her bootlegger grandfather who kept a chain around his fridge and didn't think twice about shooting people who interrupted his favorite television shows; this is the first story and it's told with fondness because she says it's the only time in her childhood that she never went hungry.

Williams's mom was abusive, physically (firing guns in the house to get their attention, beatings) and neglectfully (no food in the house, facilitating child abuse). One of her mother's boyfriends touched her and her sister when they were kids, and when, at twelve, she was seeing the twenty-year-old who got her pregnant with her first two kids, her mother basically just lifted an eyebrow and decided it was none of her business. Shortly afterwards, she turned to selling drugs to keep her and her kids fed, which eventually landed her in jail. One of her caseworkers turned her to comedy, which she became a raging success at, both because of her candor and for her penchant for turning tragedy into humor.

I loved the positive influences in her life-- the teacher, Ms. Troup, who brought her clothes and personal hygiene products for her to use before class so she wouldn't get bullied by other students, broke my heart. That is the epitome of good teaching and I wish all teachers were that compassionate. I also loved the social worker who was so good to her when she was thirteen and pregnant and really tried so hard to get her all of the information and options she could. It made the bad influences even more awful, like her creepy adult boyfriend and the molester who groomed her as a child.

This is a pretty depressing story but it has a happy ending, and it shows why it's so offensive to romanticize a hard-scrabble life. I think there's a tendency in the U.S. to think of suffering as "the way of life," like it's the first step in a long stairway that leads to success, when actually it's more like a trapdoor without a ladder. And that trapdoor is often way bigger and steeper for people of color than it is for white people. Selling drugs is obviously not great, but when that's the only option other than starving, it becomes pretty clear why people turn to crime for lack of better solutions.

I really enjoyed this book and loved her sense of humor and honesty. I think others will, too.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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