Poor Bashing




People on welfare shouldn’t be allowed to buy booze, cigarettes or TVs. Why should we be paying for that kind of stuff?

If you spend any time on social media then you’ve probably seen these kinds of poor bashing memes that pop up on a regular basis, including those that demand welfare recipients be drug tested in order to keep receiving government assistance. UnknownThey not only piss me off, they also make me cringe and make my blood pressure go up when they pop up in my own Facebook feed. After all, it means some of my own friends are perpetuating many of the worst myths about people who live in poverty.

These memes suggest that people on welfare shouldn’t be using any of their welfare check on alcohol, cigarettes or electronics. Some memes take it even further.

Unknown-1It’s not enough to claim that – apparently unlike the rest of us – welfare recipients should be banned from having electronics, booze, tattoos, cigarettes or lotteries, they should also have to undergo regular blood tests to make sure they’re not on drugs.

This kind of ignorance annoys the hell out of me. For one thing, moral panics concerning people on welfare have always blown the problem vastly out of proportion, with plenty of research finding that not only is welfare fraud rarethese tests actually waste millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money, while also adding to the shame and stigmatization of welfare recipients.

In fact, drug tests for welfare recipients are not only expensive and inefficient (What 7 States Discovered After Spending More than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients), pilot studies have found virtually no evidence of any drug abuse. Of course, these are all rational, logical arguments for why this kind of thinking is flawed, never mind the questionable ethics of bashing marginalized people with a lack of power. So how come we don’t have more memes which highlight and mock all of the tax dollars and breaks going to large corporations? Why aren’t there more comments on Facebook about all of the taxpayers’ money going to rich corporations in the form of tax subsidies?

And why do we love bashing poor people on the Internet?

That’s just a few of the many questions I’ve been considering and plan to continue to explore over the next few years, as a PhD student in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.

I grew up in Point St. Charles, an industrial slum in Montréal that was then described in a documentary by the National Film Board as the “Toughest Neighbourhood in Canada.” Along with my five sisters, I was raised by a militant community activist single mom, Eileen Dobson, who didn’t hesitate to use guerilla style tactics while fighting for social justice in our neighbourhood. Although I grew up on welfare and dropped out of high school at the age of 15, I did eventually manage to go back to school and went on to complete an undergraduate and master’s degree.

A few years ago my book, With a Closed Fist: Growing Up In Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood (Véhicule Press) was published. It shares the social history of some of the grassroots organizations that fought for healthcare and educational reform in Montréal during the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the development of Québec’s first Community based Healthcare Clinic (which went on to serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country’s socialized healthcare system). My book also shares an insider’s view of the culture of poverty and examines the impact and ripple effect it can have on all aspects of one’s life. Although she passed away nine years ago, my mother continues to be my inspiration and the reason I want to examine, and perhaps even challenge, some of the ‘official’ dominant discourses around poverty. I hope to continue my mother’s work.

My research at Carleton University is looking at the construction, circulation, and reinforcement of particular cultural narratives concerning poverty issues and those living in poverty. In other words, I’m examining how the poor are represented, including by social welfare and government agencies, media platforms (such as the news media and also social media such as Facebook and Twitter), etc., and how this perhaps reinforces certain self-conceptions of those living in poverty.

For instance, the idea that people living on welfare are lazy – is this narrative in part propagated by the actions of particular social agencies, programs and initiatives? How is this narrative constructed in the public consciousness? At the same time, is it a way of thinking that is internalized by people living in poverty themselves?

I think we need to stop blaming the poor for their own poverty.

Calling bullshit on some of those Facebook memes might be an important first step.

Does Public Speaking Make Everyone Feel Nervous?


After speaking at the Montreal “Books and Breakfast,” an event I wrote about a few months ago, I thought I had mostly overcome my fear of public speaking.

A large audience, including many from the publishing industry, all gathered in a large ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel had their eyes trained on me for fifteen minutes straight while I babbled incoherently about my recently published book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.

Looking back, it was sort of like peeling the Band-Aid off all at once. With a machete. For someone with a fear of public speaking it was a ‘trial by fire crash course’ kind of scenario.

In the end, as I’ve previously wrote about here, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Sure, I didn’t exactly sound off-the-cuff with my crumpled-up cue cards scrunched between my sweaty, shaky palms. But I had been afraid that when I walked up to the podium, I’d forget how to speak, becoming temporarily blind, deaf, and mute.

I admit that, looking back, anticipating it was much worse than actually doing it. (Okay, that’s not actually true. Doing it was much worse than anticipating it. I just say this to make myself feel better.)

After the Books and Breakfast event, I figured I’d be up for anything. I was now a war-hardened, veteran public speaker. Compared to the Books and Breakfast, speaking at the Ingleside Public Library would be like just talking to a small group of close friends. Right?

So naturally, I was a complete nervous wreck.

At the Books and Breakfast, something that was surprisingly comforting was the fact that I felt like I couldn’t see the audience. My field of vision was limited to the three inches between my face and the cue cards. The ballroom where the event was held was so large, and the lights were so bright, it was almost like the audience was lost in a fog. Sort of like that saying about “not seeing the forest because of the trees.”

But in the library, I was going to see each individual person. They weren’t some large anonymous crowd who, if I utterly humiliated myself in front of them, I could cry and run off the stage and drive 500 kilometers away and begin the slow, painful process of blocking the memory out and hoping it never resurfaces.

This was a room filled with people whom I’ve known for years and consider many of them to be pretty close friends. People that I really care about what they think of me. Especially considering how personal and raw and vulnerable the subject matter of my book is.

I’d be speaking to people like Jackie from the post office, who my son Scott, at age four, vowed to marry one day. And Sandy Winchester and Margaret Power, two of my children’s favourite teachers, the kind of teachers who make life long lasting impressions on many of their students.

In the end, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry- that it really would be like speaking to a group of my closest friends. And that I think I’ve finally overcome my fear of public speaking.

Yeah. Right.



Writers aren’t just writers anymore


One of the things I’ve been surprised to learn about the book publishing industry is how much of a crucial role today’s author must be willing to play in order to help promote their own work. 

Writers aren’t just writers anymore. They’re marketers, publicists, lecturers, and public speakers.

It seems naïve to me now, but last year I thought my only job was to write the best book I was capable of writing, then just be open to any suggestions regarding final edits and rewrites from my publisher.

After submitting my final draft of “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood,” a part of me was happy to be finally finished with the whole damn thing. After all, it had pretty much dominated my life day and night the entire time I was researching, then writing, and then editing the book.

Come to think of it, the research part took just as much- if not more- time than the actual writing part.

Yet even before I had finished the happy dance around my home office after completing the final draft and pressing “send” on the email to my publisher, I quickly realized that my job wasn’t quite done yet. Next I had to help find my readers.

I’m not sure what I used to think- that my book would somehow magically find readers on its own?

My publisher, Simon Dardick at Véhicule Press, has gone above and beyond in his support of “With a Closed Fist.” But I’m not his only author of course. Nor his last. As I’ve been quickly learning these past few months since my book’s launch in Montréal back in November, I have an important role in helping to get the word out there.

So I Twitter, try to update my Facebook status and website with any news about my book, happily accept all press interviews, speaking engagements, and swear a lifetime debt to the few individuals who- quietly behind the scenes- are trying to help me reach some other important goals in regards to my book.

But I admit, it feels a little weird sometimes. I’m a writer. I feel most comfortable sitting in front of my laptop, doing research and working on my current writing project.

Not that I’m complaining, because really I’m not. Talking about my book is actually turning out to be much more fun than I ever expected it to be.

But to be honest, I just hadn’t realized just how hands-on today’s writer has to be if they want to reach as wide of an audience as possible.



Kathy will be in the Cornwall area on February 13th, at the Ingleside Library at 6:30 pm, for a reading, signing, and discussion about her book, “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.”

National Post’s Best Books of 2011: Reader’s Choice List


With a Closed Fist has made the top 30 of the National Post’s Best Books of 2011: Reader’s Choice List! Thank you to all the readers who voted!

Over 1,000 titles were submitted, here are the top 30, starting with #30:

30. Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk (Doubleday Canada)
29. Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly)
28. Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult (Simon and Schuster Canada)
27. Snuff, by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK)
26. Embassytown, by China Miéville (Del Rey)
25. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (Harper)
24. The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster Canada)

23. With A Closed Fist, by Kathy Dobson (Vehicule Press)

22. Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach
21. The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady
20. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
19. The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht
18. The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
17. The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay
16. City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
15. A Good Man, by Guy Vanderhaeghe
14. The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain
13. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, by Zsuzsi Gartner
12. IQ84, by Haruki Murakami
11. Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
10. Bossypants, by Tina Fey
9. The Litigators, by John Grisham
8. Before I Go To Sleep, by S.J. Watson
7. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
6. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin
5. 11/22/63, by Stephen King
4. Suitable Precautions, by Laura Boudreau
3. The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt
2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
1. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

CLICK HERE to see more Blurbs and Reviews about With a Closed Fist!


Book Launch Announcement in Globe & Mail


Here is the ad that will be running in the October issue of the Montreal Review of Books. It will be inserted in Quebec edition of the Globe & Mail, and the Ottawa edition too. With a Closed Fist hits bookstores November 1st. Don’t miss the official book launch!



Friday November 4, 2011

Saint Columba House

2365 Grand Trunk, Montreal





It still feels a little unreal to me that by the end of October- before Halloween- my book will actually be finally published. It was around this time last year that I signed my contract with Véhicule Press. I did a happy dance all around my kitchen when that thick envelope first arrived.

According to Chapters online and Amazon.ca, my book will be ready to ship October 1st. That’s in 42 days. Not that I’m counting or anything.