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When they strike you on top of your head, they are strengthening your neck. – Ghanaian proverb

Many Americans are still reeling from the effects of corporate greed and government malfeasance that resulted in the world financial crisis.

It is a quintessential example of how the actions of few can affect the masses—for better or for worse.

The story of this woman and this line in particular touched me.

She says: “I did everything I was supposed to do to have the bright, amazing future I was promised by my teachers in school. Life doesn’t always turn out the way it does in storybooks.”

I heard her loud and clear– the recession certainly blew my sense of security and blind faith in the marketplace.

As a woman of color, I have always been suspicious of meritocracy, disenchanted by clear examples of ways that systemic “-isms” can deny even the greatest talents their liberty, justice and pursuit of happiness.

Still, I believed that if you worked hard, made strategic decisions with the long-term in mind you would progress, maybe not to the “finer things” but to certainly to the “basics.”

I took this as birth right.

The truth is:

I never knew to eat was a blessing;
To have somewhere to sleep an act of grace; and
To keep bills paid a minor miracle.

This reveals both my naivete and privilege.

At the end of the day, social capital saved me.

Despite my financial woes, I never waited in a food line at a pantry; nor placed a flip flop on the communal shower of a shelter.

Yes, I wallowed in self-pity (more than I care to confess), but in some ways my quiet desperation and anxiety connected me to others and the centrality of livelihood to one’s well-being and peace of mind.

My rage over my inability to gain traction despite countless informational interviews, CV revisions and applications showed me first-hand how the bulges of youth around Africa and the Arab world must feel – their simmering resentment of the perpetual stagnation that comes from not using your talents to build yourself up the world.

This experience gave my middle-class-self exposure to the day-to-day fragility of those on the economic margins, both in the US and abroad.

But I wonder….

Do you think the US will be a stronger nation? Will the world? Will we be more prudent? More responsible? More aware and empathetic to the way our economic structure empowers the wealthy and disenfranchises those eking out a living?

How strong is our neck?

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