I don’t work with bums.

The worst line that has ever been used to ask me out started with, “You work with homeless people? Awesome. I met this bum the other day…”

“Bum?!” I hastily replied. “That’s reeeeeal nice, I bet you made him feel so special when you called him that…” And then proceeded to use enough colorful words to ensure we no longer had a ride home and would be taking a taxi out of downtown San Diego. (tact has never come easy for me.)

Now, I understand that, that word is often used in a way that is not meant to be offensive and to be honest, I think it’s used by some of the most well-meaning people, but this should not be. Homeless people are not bums. Homeless people are not junkies, crackheads, hobos or hookers. Homeless people are human beings without homes.

I recently asked a group of my residents what, when they were six, they wanted to be when they grew up. I heard several firemen, professional athletes and doctors. (Mind you, I was the only one who said bunny, grandma and dolphin trainer.) Nobody said they wanted to be mentally ill, a slave to addiction or shunned by their family for loving someone of their same gender. Nobody said they wanted to make bad investments, put trust in the wrong people or lose their family in a tragedy. Nobody said they wanted to be outcast by society. And certainly nobody said they wanted to be called a bum, a crackhead or a junkie. So let’s stop.

This last week I was given the great honor to meet and soak in the words of one great artist named Micah Bournes (That’s pronounced Bourneigh for all you uncultured folks. read: me.) Right out the gate he shared a piece that left me cheering, raising my fist and in tears. I obviously had to befriend him.

Below you will find a video of said piece and the words to accompany it, check it out and long, pray and fight with me, for the days when we will learn to value each one of brothers and sisters as such, taking the time to see, not just look, listen, not just hear and love, not just tolerate.

“Hello, I’m Micah, what is your name Sir?”
After loitering unshaken, my palm blushed
and returned to its pocket.  The man responded
“I don’t have a name.”
“Oh, well, what have people called you your whole life?”
“I don’t wish to be bothered.”
And that bothered me. Not his lack of courtesy but his namelessness.
Were his parents really that indecisive?
Maybe he has a name and just likes messing with people’s heads.
Maybe his stone cold persona is a façade as he snickers on the inside knowing I’m trying
to figure out how or if to respond.
Maybe he’s a junior, named after the piece of scum that left his mom.
Maybe he’d rather be called nothing at all than the name of the man who abandoned him,
or body slammed him, or touched his private parts.
Maybe his name rhymes with some type of private part.
Maybe he’s still traumatized by the jingle kids sung on the jungle gym.
Maybe he has a lisp and can’t pronounce his own name right so he refuses to try.
Maybe he’s been called everything except his name for so long that he forgot what it was.
Maybe he’d be quicker to answer to bastard, or nigger, or hobo, or bum.
Maybe he had some regrets, and sees everyone as a threat, afraid of what we would do if
we knew who he was, or what he’s done.
But speculation is dangerous, so regardless to the series of events leading to his present
state, this man claims to be nameless.
And he doesn’t wish to be bothered.
Nor does he bother to wish.
He just ,sits, hoping to be ignored, or, expecting to.
Because before I made an exit,
he found me, and apologized, for being so rude.

(***oh and also, do yourself a favor and check out the rest of his work…and then thank me, I accept cash, checks and uncracked iPhones.)

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5 Responses to I don’t work with bums.

  1. The beauty of relationships over charity. Thanks for sharing, Rachel. I previously worked at an agency in Philly that served folks getting out of prison, many of them were homeless. I got to help teach a creative writing class with our participants. I learned from them many of the same things you’ve shared here in this space- the stigmas + identities they’ve been unable to shake. One participant described in a spoken word piece he had been working on that, “Although he was free, he wasn’t really free”. Anyway, thank you for reminding us to choose wisely the words we use and to uphold the inherit worth + value of each person.

    • Ahh yes! Thanks Kelsey! It’s so easy to use words and project stigmas that are so shaming and then we sit and wonder why people lack the self-efficacy needed to move forward. I’ve done some creative writing classes with some folks I work with as well and it’s amazing how cathartic, bonding and inspiring it is to hear, see and feel what life feels like in shoes that are not our own. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. caroline says:

    So raw. Love that. Thank you for sharing!

  3. D. Shaw says:

    It’s great to be passionate, but you will get a lot further and be heard a lot better if you do it with honey and not vinegar. No one likes to be berated.

    • Those of privilege can use some vinegar poured on their oppressive views sometimes, eh, no, a lot of times…This, spoken as a white girl who took an institutional racism class taught by a professor at university who poured vinegar on our ugly views + assumptions every class (ended up being my favorite class in undergrad because it challenged me the most)… Again, vinegar can do us some good.

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