An Open Letter to Matthew Inman, of The Oatmeal

Dear Mr. Inman,
Let me please start this letter by telling you how much I’ve enjoyed your work. I love your stories of growing up in Idaho, especially the demon horses and the mini-Hitlers from the compound. “My dog: the paradox” brought me to tears.  And every time you write about running, you inspire me for a total of 3.6 seconds, before I remember how I fractured my heel at the age of 19.

 

In short, you are funny, smart, and talented.  That’s why I was so disappointed and angered by your most recent comic, “Homeless man vs your cat.”

 

Perhaps you are not aware, but the homeless population in the United States is incredibly diverse.  There are homeless people of every gender, race, and age.  There are homeless athletes and homeless students.  There are homeless couples and homeless children.  There are homeless people with full time jobs, and homeless people frantically searching for work.  You undoubtedly have fans who were homeless once or are homeless right now.

 

I have a lot of experience with homeless people.  In 2008, I was homeless myself for a period of about six months.  My homelessness was somewhat self chosen, I will admit, but the choice was between that, or an unlivable home situation that was robbing me of my sanity and dragging me down into a deep depression.

 

Between November of 2011 and February of 2013, I volunteered and worked at a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  There I met some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever had the honor of meeting, and I’m not talking about my coworkers (although they were nice too).  I met residents who were waking up at 4 am to attend medical school, and residents who were volunteering with other branches of our organization.  I met residents who became homeless after the dissolution of a marriage, and would walk miles to visit with their children, in rain, snow, or ice.

 

Perhaps the hardest part of working in the shelter was knowing that we had limited capacity, and had to turn away many more people than could fit in our building. Some of the people we turned away were the “stealth homeless.”  These are folks who are sleeping in tents or in cars, but who wake up at the crack of dawn to work out and shower at the YMCA, and then dress in tasteful, new-ish clothing, while they hammer away on their battered laptops at Starbucks or the local library, tracking down job leads and sending off resumes.  Why do they have gym memberships? Why do they have “nice” clothing? Because you’re less likely to get beaten, harassed, or arrested for being homeless if you look like just another average college graduate (or professor) in khakis and a fleece pull over.

 

Your comic, “Homeless man vs your cat” is frankly awful. You used a cheap stereotype of a dirty homeless man, jammed it in a venn diagram, and called it a day.  What’s worse is that there are homeless people out there who fit your stereotype, but their problems are brought about by a combination of mental health problems, ignorance, and societal neglect.  That’s not funny, that’s cruel.

 

I know that you’re better than this!  You’ve written and illustrated such fantastic comics, covering such a wide variety of subject matter, that I cannot fathom why you would stoop to this level.

 

As I mentioned above, I have some experience with homeless people. I was homeless, I worked in a homeless shelter, and now I’m starting a non-profit company to further my mission to provide food to people at every level of income, which necessarily includes many homeless people. I toured the US for 6 months in 2013, serving free pies to both the homed and the homeless in over 30 cities across the country.  I will be putting homeless people on my board of directors.  Obviously this is a passion for me.

 

You care about Nikola Tesla, and bears, and dinosaurs, and those things are all awesome.  I’m not asking you to devote a comic or a blog post to the plight of homeless people, although that would be pretty cool. I’m just asking you not to use my friends as a punchline for a venn diagram.

 

Thank you,

Sarah Fertig

 

PS – For a very chilling glimpse into temporary homelessness, please read this Cracked article – http://www.cracked.com/article_20720_7-things-no-one-tells-you-about-being-homeless.html

 

And please tell Mr. Inman not to use homeless people as comic material. He has Twitter. Please be polite.  https://twitter.com/oatmeal

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