The Violence of Stealing our Sacred Stories
Akkkademiks and Artists Steal, rewrite and co-opt poor/indigenous peoples stories for profit & acclaim no matter what the impact on us.
By povertyskola aka tiny gray-garcia
Watching the beautiful movie Leave No Trace for the 3rd time was just as hard as the first, because each time I relive my own life of homelessness, PTSD, depression and terror - truly a beautiful and heart-destroying movie for any povertyskola to see. And dangerous.
Instead, the following PSA (PovertyScholarshipAnnouncement) aka review is brought to you by a disappointed and indignant povertyskola.
The movie Leave No Trace and My Abandonment, the book bu Peter Rock upon which it was based, is a frightening example of casual literary extraction, exploitation and what I call literary colonization. .
For the purposes of this critique, I am illustrating how this type of HERstory and history exploitation even happens, and the dangers to povertyskolaz and everyone when it does, and why that violence needs to end in cultural art, theatre, literature and cinema. And conversely, as a society, we need to turn to poverty scholarship informed narratives about poverty and homelessness for many reasons. Check out my story on the cultural performance of poverty- from Nomadland to White Tiger here.
Leave No Trace opens with the softest brush stroke, the camera following a day of off-grid survival by a father and young teenage daughter in “nature,” employing many amazing survival tactics of fire-starting, sewage, and foraging to name a few. We have no idea where they are. This could be a “camping trip” with middle class, wite people who believe in off-grid technology and speaks to one of the many things I teach on and speak on: the classed and raced criminalization of our houseless and poor bodies of all colors and cultures. The direction and acting in the film brings us in close to these characters’ lives.
Note for clarification: the first part of the story/book/film is based on the real lives—albeit used without their permission, consent or inquiry—of a houseless father and daughter in Washington State who were living houselessly in a state park.
After we are introduced to the main characters, they are the victims of a violent arrest and sweep, something common to houseless residents of every settler town across the United Snakes. CPS and social workers seize the father and daughter and barrage them both with psych evaluations and robot/AI invasive testing processes to determine their mental “fitness,” asking idiotic questions directed to the daughter such as “Where are you living, and do you feel safe,” to which she consistently answers, “In the park and yes, why wouldn't I be safe?”
Eventually, the family is begrudgingly “released” from State incarceration, sort of, to a home of a well-meaning wite savior Christian Krapitalistmas Tree Farmer. Dad was ordered to work in the tree farm with triggering “Desert Storm” style helicopters. In addition to isolation, purposelessness and ongoing CPS surveillance, the duo were now enmeshed in the external forces and fruits of colonial “civilization.”
This is when the POV of the wite middle class author colonizes their HErstory/History, writing in the cult of angst and colonial temptations into the daughter’s heart and life, with no clue of this—I might add—because houseless people’s actual lives are never important enough to ensure narrative accuracy. As a matter of fact, our lives are open for interpretation, co-optation and re-writing. We have no agency over our own stories, because, as I often teach on in PeopleSkool, we suffer from the violence of exposure. Our lives, our bodies, our images, our struggles and even our solutions are exposed to the world to “see” to allegedly “know,” fodder for media, art and akademik theft, fetishization and erasure. One of the many reasons we poor people launched POOR Magazine.
“I heard they were sighted on the streets of Portland last year…. My reaction was, no, that isn't true, I know what happened to them, and that's not what happened to them.” In the end of a video by Peter Rock about My Abandonment, he illustrates the kind of elitist literary arrogance it would take to steal someone’s story, rewrite its ending, its beginning, and erase the characters’ real life agency. People who—might I remind readers—are already silenced, predated on, and harassed people trying to survive in a colonial reality of occupied Mama Earth and the lie of rent.
Rock begins his class washing and re-writing of their story after the father and daughter “disappear,” aka escape the missionary home and no-one hears from them.
In his book, Rock not only writes a fake ending but a prequel that has the father kidnapping the daughter, thereby not only stealing their stories but criminalizing and incriminating their lives for his literary gain.
Rock’s devastating ending is a frightening example of what we teach in Poverty Scholarship - Poor People Led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth on the transubstantive error in media, akkkademia and art.
The idea of transubstantiation is that in looking at the surface behaviors of a people, you can draw conclusions about the meaning and values of behaviors, but the meaning and the value comes from the deep structure of a people’s culture and values. And so you have African people behaving in a certain way, based upon the African deep structure, but you have a person like Daniel Moynihan looking at that behavior and trying to interpret it from his own European culture deep structure. He draws the wrong conclusions. Dr Wade Nobles - excerpt from Poverty Scholarship TextBook
In wite middle class Peter Rock’s worldview, referred to as Deep Structure” in Black Psychology, he is unable to “see” the agency, the resistance or even an alternative notion of success for the houseless father and good daughter. This is also a classic example of what my Mama Dee would refer to as the danger of someone who “hasn’t missed a meal judging us poor people at all.”
This body of work is something we teach on at PeopleSkool to help colonized, mis-educated artists, teachers, researchers, and akademiks to stop hurting, co-opting, lying and profiting off us with disconnected, deluded saviorism, non-profiteering, fetishizing and cultural theft.
The father and daughter are wite themselves. But as my fellow light-skinned/mixed race sister- teacher-povertyskola Junebug often says: Poverty is a culture. Our survival, our choices, our resistance moves aren’t seen or overstood by people born and bred into krapitalist middle or upper class lives. People who haven’t struggled just to stay alive and cancel out the day and night terrors in our minds and eyes. People like the stolen protagonists in My Abandonment.
In me and my mama’s work in Poverty Scholarship, we lift up the harmful act of transubstatiation as an applicable concept to class privileged peoples in positions of power and access making decisions about our lives, criminalizing our bodies and our children, stealing our stories and incessantly making subsequent harmful actions about us without us.
Rock has the protagonists making choices, feeling things, making moves, informed by the only POV/deep structure he has to draw from, choices like what I call the “away notion,” the cult of angst and on and on.
What is rarely, if ever, seen with class privileged eyes is the resistance, thriving, and heroism of families and individuals to make our own sovereign decisions, rooted in what I call radical interdependence, care and love.
Another example of this harmful theft for art and acclaim is the heavily acclaimed documentary Daughter from Danang, leaving the “subject” aka protagonist with depression and sorrow and the filmmakers and “docent” with an Oscar and more kudos on their portfolios.
For Yale educated, NEA and Guggenheim recipient Rock, happiness would never look like father and daughter remaining together.
In Peter Rock’s world, there would only be one kind of “happy” or positive ending, and them taking care of each other, in collaboration wouldn’t be it.
I referred to this movie and book as dangerous because it erases our agency, our sovereign choices, our ability to take care of each other even in the most dire of circumstances—a survival trait of poverty skolaz. Some people might call this resilience. I reject that facile label. It is us, living interdependently, it is us with so little sharing so much, and surviving.
At this point, the only solution to this literary colonization is to enact what I call literary reparations or cultural reparations. This can look like many things -like Peter Rock giving any proceeds from the book and movie (if he got any) to the family. To make a public apology in the media to them and to make an offer to ghost co-write their truthful biography just to get started.
One of the other things we poor and houseless cultural workers teach and live by, is that poor people should be compensated for their/our stories. We enact this in many ways at POOR Magazine by teaching class privileged people like Rock about Radical Redistribution of their hoarded wealth and occupied land. This is the model that enabled us poor people to launch and build Homefulness, which now houses 18 formerly houseless families, youth and elders. Including this povertyskola and my sun.
The story of the father and daughter was very similar to years of homelessness, sweeps, CPS predation and saviorism me and my mama barely survived through, But we did, and stayed together and worked together and built POOR Magazine and Homefulness—a homeless people’s solution to homelessness—and thanks to the teaching of Poverty Scholarship, we are working together with our comeUnity of houseless skolaz, supported by radical redistributed dollars by our Solidarity family, to write our own books, articles, radio pieces and now—if we can raise enough resources—a movie based on a play I wrote in 2022 entitled Crushing Wheelchairs about our lives, lived, died and criminalized on the streets of this occupied land. Written, acted, and directed by us for us and everyone else. Stay tuned for the truth.