Acknowledging your privilege is a crucial step to fixing social problems. This privilege could be race, sex, gender identity, gender orientation, socio-economic background, education, along with a handful of other critical components to one’s character. It is important to understand that everyone comes from somewhere. Nobody chooses the situation they are born into, but all people are sculpted by choices made by them in their lives. With privilege, it is sometimes easy to oversee the struggles that so many people face in their upbringings and day to day lives. But with acknowledgement of these privileges comes accepting differences, and reaching out to make change to help with equity of lifestyle. Some people just need to be heard, and to acknowledging their stories is the first step to helping them. Mark Laita is the owner of Soft White Underbelly, a YouTube channel that gives acknowledgement to those forgotten by society, to those who come from all walks of life and are having a hard time.
Soft White Underbelly (SWU) is a YouTube channel along with a podcast that was founded by photographer Mark Laita to showcase the forgotten. Mark Laita is a Los Angeles based photographer who has spent the last three years of his life dedicated to SWU and showcasing the victims of society. This channel is rapidly growing, sitting at 1.96 million current subscribers. This is because these mini documentaries are addicting due to their intense and oftentimes tragic story lines which bring personas to the faces of many people that are passed on the street daily.
Many of the people interviewed by Mark Laita come from areas such as Skid Row, a rough neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles where many homeless people live, and Figueroa Street an area of Los Angeles known for prostitution. This “community” of Skid Row holds many people from troubled pasts who have wound up on the streets consumed by drugs such as: heroin, crystal meth, crack/cocaine, and spice. Many of the subjects of his videos are sex workers, pimps, drug addicts, tricks or a combination of the above. The people are of all genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, and ethnicities.They offer a unique look into the lives of those who are often overlooked by society.
I was hooked as soon as I watched one video, the story of “Teenage Prostitute interview- Faith.” This was the story of Faith and her life which was filled with violence, physical and sexual abuse from both her biological and foster families, along with her kidnapper. She was kidnapped at 14,forced into the sex working buisness at a young age. Shebegan working on Figueroa Street in South Central Los Angeles as a teenager. This video showcases her complicated family history, drug addicted parents, and relationships with her “boyfriends” and “pimps”. I soon realized that this girl dressed in a tight red dress with a fishnet pattern, covered in head to toe bruises was just a girl, in fact she was 16 years old. She is five years younger than I am and I have been through a fragment of the trials she has faced in life.
Faith continues to share about how she felt like she was looked at by others, she shares that after her kidnapping “everybody just like treated me different, you know?” Because of the way people treated her and looked at her, she turned back to the streets and to prostitution. This goes to show you that if we don’t open our arms to people and accept that everyone comes from different backgrounds and carries around different stories, then we will perpetuate this lifestyle. I cannot stress enough how much this series of documentaries has opened my eyes to the world and make me truly consider how mental illness needs to be properly addressed in this world.
Most of the people who are interviewed for this show demonstrate serious forms of mental illness. These illnesses range from anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, to schizophrenia, and many of these people turn to drugs to self medicate. The presence of drugs on the streets is incredibly high, and most of the interviewees have drug coping mechanisms. This shows how important it is to provide mental health and rehab opportunities and resources available to everyone, not just the people who can afford this care. Along with addressing mental health, there are other apparent problems that recur in this series such as housing, family planning, hunger, and employment opportunities.
You should give this series a listen, not only because it is incredibly riveting, but also because it brings up important societal conflicts. It is so important that Soft White Underbelly is bringing awareness to this huge gap in society here in the United States and I hope we can all use this as a wake up call that there is a need for systemic change along with personal and societal behavior changes. I hope you can use the voices of the overlooked to expand your visibility, and use privilege to speak up for those who aren’t heard.
Soft White Underbelly YouTube: