I am a poor and often jobless writer. I have little to no faith that anyone will pay me for the most valuable work I see myself doing. Paying the rent is an uphill battle. Feeling okay about how I manage it is damn near defying gravity. Last fall I lost a job that broke my body and paid me shit. I am still getting over it. I am still forgiving myself for it. I cried every time a letter came from the unemployment office because I knew that one of them was going to tell me that I did not qualify because I was fired from the only real job I held for more than four months. It'd been a tough year.
One of the worst things that I can feel happening to me is that I wake up or stand still for too long, and forget to fight for a little while. In that instant I begin to believe that I (and my work and abilities) don't matter. That is the easiest and perhaps most common feeling that seeps across whatever differences separate oppressed people.
The most insidious forms of oppression operate as background noise. In America there is a cultural narrative telling some folks that they are unimportant (because we're too fat, or too poor or much of a homo). Now, it is not just these messages that oppressed folks must ignore, but we also have to fight these notions within ourselves. Those messages have been coming at us since before we learned to fight. They are part of our thought process and value systems. Thus life becomes a continual battle of reminding yourself that yes, you do matter. The actions you take and the things that you are building do matter. There is value in your humanity.
The moment after writing that statement my brain backlashes. Because I've been told so many times that it isn't true. How can such a thing get infused in us down to the bone? Is it as innately human to tell people they don't matter as it is to be compassionate? The humanist in me wants to say no, but history has proved otherwise. We have all experienced oppression from somebody/somewhere (being bullied, ignored etc.). The feeling of imposed unimportance/insignificance is one that we can all relate to. Its constancy is the thing that frightens me. It is what haunts me.
Its ghost shows up in my life again and again.
- As a lower income individual I experience this through having to repeatedly and aggressively tout my importance to potential employers. I have to justify my importance to them, justify why I should matter to them, as if I already don't. While looking for work, I must divorce myself from any dream of defining the value of my own actions and skills.
- As a female-bodied person my importance as a whole person is denied by people who insist that I only matter if my body is shaped and moves in a certain way; when my father touches my stomach and tells me I should “get rid of” the soft part of my belly that sticks out over my jeans; or when a man assumes that it is okay to relate to me only on the subject of my looks. This behavior denies that my identity is as important as I say it is. These actions let me know that it's definitely my looks that are most important.
- As an out queer person I endure peoples assumptions about my feelings. They let me know my feelings don't matter because, they aren't like their feelings, and they assume (to their detriment) that they can't relate to them. This is as simple as someone responding to the fact that I am attracted to women or that I'm in multiple relationships with the response of "How can you do that?"
You other me when you define the terms of my difference from you. I work, love, and live just like anybody else. I do it with my identity and my body and my soul. I do it by listening to what I want and then pursuing what I want in a way that I deem most appropriate. That is what I call being alive; what is it to live powerfully.
Alice Walker says that “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” There is a weariness that comes from living powerfully in dis-empowering circumstances. This weariness comes from constantly opposing those who would define me without respect for my consent or humanity.
Sometimes I can't take it. I forget, and for a moment, I believe that ghost are right about how much I matter. Those are what I'd call the bad days.