I watched in my lifetime as my nation turned against me and others like me, calling us the very reason America is failing or has failed at every turn people had to say it. Instead of calling the brutal dictators of the world, the bad guy, they were feted and treated to the best and finest at the tables of Washington from the White House to the festivities of business leaders in America. They were given hundreds of billions of dollars in cash on top of military equipment at our expense and every kind of social service for people, education resource and business building grants supposedly available but not – to American people.
At the same time, our nation’s leaders turned to us – to me, to other women who were and are single mothers, and divorced women, and the disabled, the elderly, the poor like me along with minorities from various races including black and Latino, calling us the bane of mankind and accused us of causing the downfall of America. The richest of all in my nation made it clear in every opportunity with the press that the real problems of America were caused by me and people like me even as they took from our cities, states and counties every single small business grant and incentive their armies of accountants could find. While my life and the communities where I could live became more and more depleted of resources to help, these same powerful decision-makers took even the most charitable organizations from churches to social organizations that were intended to help the community and diverted those resources to think tanks and powerful conservative lobbies and political activities. Then they cut services, funding, opportunities and resources available to help the poorest of the poor which included me and my children and my community and the America where I was supposed to pursue opportunity and my dreams of an American life.
All the while, I was supposed to believe that an American dream was available to me and to my children if only we worked hard enough, smart enough, passionately and responsibly enough, if only I believed it enough, if only I was a good enough person who worked hard at it – if only. But that wasn’t the truth of it, and from what the people in black communities tell me, it would have never been the truth of it in America either for it had not been for many generations of their families. At every turn that a job could be found and worked, it would pay enough to barely make it worthwhile, but the costs of everything else that money should buy continued to move farther out of reach from childcare to housing to owning a car to paying the light bill to buying foods worth having that wouldn’t leave the body sickened, obese and whatever other unhealthy condition. Although, to be honest it hardly matters as much as that might seem considering only a few places are available to live that can be afforded at that level of income anyway and most of those are either with other people who are dangerous or the house and area surrounding it are dangerous because of crime or dangerous because of pollution, mold, mildew, asbestos, lead and chromium something or other.
And, try as any of us might, as our nation fell more and more into economic blight rather than financial prosperity taking our lifetimes out of the opportunities we needed along with cheating our nation out of those innovations and successes we might have offered as individuals and groups – we were the ones that were blamed. No one wanted to hear what the poor had to say about anything. There has been this idea prevalent during my adult years that with money there was an unspoken “truth” that a person must be right and without money, a person was therefore either not right or “wrong” or “bullshit” or basically worthless along with anything they might bring to the table. It has yielded the wholesale theft of time, ideas, efforts, work, hopes, dreams, self-esteem, decency and has excused not showing decency for others as a basic way of doing things among many groups of people throughout American society. In practice, it meant people could consider it okay for their teenage sons to beat to death a homeless person or a father of two that was coming home from work simply because he was Latino. It was the de-valuing of women because their husbands had left them or divorced them. It was the de-valuing of anyone who couldn’t get a job or whose job let them go even if it was because the business decision was to downsize or layoff while their profits were low.
Honestly, I don’t think the profits of businesses ever were low until 2008 maybe anyway. But it became an excuse for dropping well-trained good people from payrolls every time the business needed their paperwork look good to investors or banks or the press or Wall Street or to shareholders. It didn’t matter what that did to the community. It didn’t matter in my lifetime, what those businesses were doing to people’s lives doing that either. Later I discovered that businesses in America weren’t living off their own money during all this time regardless, they were borrowing to cover their overhead including the payroll and not using the sales coming in the door to do those things.
It also became apparent when the markets went to hell in 2007 and 2008, that most of the large employers had been putting money into portfolios that included toxic instruments with large payouts if they ever came due, which happened more often than just in those years and what businesses had been doing was to borrow every time that happened until they couldn’t.
And the reason this is important to me is because at the same time nearly every business in America was playing and profiting by using money that didn’t belong to them to do it, I and others like me were told that we weren’t worthy of having any money invested in anything we might make a business of, while the same people were using someone else’s $50,000 to make bets. Poor women, single mothers, disabled people and certainly blacks and other minorities were told things like, why would anyone invest in what you’re trying to do when you don’t have collateral in a house to put up against it? And we were told some even more obscene things like the money talks, bullshit walks thing, which meant if a person didn’t have the money, they didn’t have right to be doing it and nobody else should be helping them do it either. It was a Catch 22 in the worst of ways.
In fact, it took me a lot of years to finally realize there was a double standard at work that I could exactly nail down in it. One day it occurred to me that if a person my parents knew, didn’t have a job, had never had a job, was never going to have a job, didn’t produce anything of value at all or ever help anybody at home or otherwise, but was rich – it meant they were a person of value in my parents’ and their friends’ estimation. There was almost a tape recording that came spilling out at me about why money isn’t what is used to determine a person’s value but how the person described was a good person regardless and whether or not they had ever had a hand in earning the money entitled to them.
And, I said but they don’t have a job, neither do they contribute in a positive way to anything and neither are they making a living in any other way nor ever likely will. And it genuinely didn’t matter to people, including my parents and their friends in making the judgment of worth and value of that person’s life and of them as a human being. But, that isn’t what they tell me about me or others about their worth and value when the person doesn’t have a job, isn’t making a living, but doesn’t have money from some inheritance that wasn’t even earned. That is the double standard. And then apparently, the rest builds upon it from there with this excuse and that one for treating us as less than or second and third class citizens in a nation supposedly free of the constraints of the caste system, and equal in opportunity, justice, rights and freedoms. But, it isn’t.
What shocked me most about that was to see the genuine admiration that my parents each conveyed to that person (which I didn’t give a name from among many who would certainly fit with unearned riches, it wasn’t like I was speaking of some specific celebrity they may have admired for some other reason). When I said they may have gotten in trouble for doing drugs though too, my mother piped up and said, “well people like that with a lot of money have troubles and stresses we don’t understand.” How could even drug use be excused provided that the person is basically rich already and doesn’t have to work in order to have the money needed to survive but if anyone else does it, there’s a bad person who had every chance and no excuse for doing such a thing and on and on and on. That was when I knew, hard work and being as good a person as possible meant absolutely nothing in the estimation of worth and value that many families, communities, leaders, churches, pundits, academics, friends, mental health professionals, teachings, political policies and even my parents have been using in America.
Unfortunately I didn’t know that. Or maybe I had known it at one time and realized that it didn’t make any sense to me, so I tried to ignore it or fight against it unsuccessfully. But what it really means in this country for people trying to work their way into a better standard of living or a better life in general is that the deck is stacked against it unfairly. It means that the first crime in America is not being a murderer but to be impoverished and poor, without money and without means. And sometimes, I feel like the only real sin in America is to be born a woman, but people who are black tell me that its to have been born with black skin rather than white and elderly women have told me the only sin in America is to be old, no matter what good things you’ve done with the rest of your life – it is just being old. How is that possible?
It is possible because we’ve been being treated as second class citizens in a nation of wealth and prosperity while the nation we get to enjoy is kept closer to looking like 3rd World America than it should. It is possible that each of us for reasons specific to us have been conned into believing that we deserve it for one reason or another, whether it is because of the color of our skin or our financial status or lack thereof, because of our aging or youth, because of our gender or sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack thereof, our differences, our diversity and our very specialness. It is possible that those things were a lie as an excusable reason to treat us deplorably, to remove opportunities from us or exclude us from access to them, to use police to harass and oppress us, to tell us our lives and contributions are worthless because we are those things.
Worst of all while blaming me and the rest of Americans having economic difficulties for all of the nation’s troubles, leaders in the United States were gifting hundreds of billions of our taxpayer dollars to the most heinous, horrific abominations of the human race that have ever lived. Yes, they did things with the money. They made their toilets out of solid gold while my life and my community lay in a wasteland. Then our leaders gave hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to cover losses for banks and brokerages on Wall Street that didn’t even have the credit score of the worst of us and neither had any collateral, because of what they had done illegally, immorally and unethically with everybody else’s money entrusted to their care. But, yes they did something handy with that money. They backed truffle farming and a video game that allows a person to piss on a urinal to move the cursor around and win the game.
What would I have done with that money? Would my designs and inventions and innovations have been brought to fruition and success in the world? I don’t know, but I couldn’t have done anything worse with it than they did and they knew what they were doing. I couldn’t have rotted, destroyed, tortured and killed as many people as they did, nor would I have found that to be acceptable nor satisfying – but apparently that was acceptable to those in the United States making the decisions about who was to be worshiped and who was to be vilified. Single women raising their children to be vilified while Noriega, Gaddafi, Mubarak, Hussein and countless others like them were treated to the finest of everything at the White House and the keys to our US Treasury for dessert to take anything and everything they might want.
It is called, economic oppression and exclusion that America gave me to work with as an adult. What did you get?