Sometimes I think about my education and I have to laugh. The whole thing is really ironic (although I’m convinced that I, like most people systematically misuse that word). As a student in Sociology, I learned about all sorts of interesting and sad relationships between variables like ‘race’, gender, education, geographic location and their impact on other variables like poverty, socio-economic status, income, and… unemployment. My current unemployment, which I discussed/whined about two weeks ago , has made me a part of that category. Back then, I never would have seen “unemployed” as a relevant personal adjective… But, Kevin O’Leary probably did.
Holy smokes, do I ever hate that guy.
In graduate school, I had access to the most recent census data, and would run correlations just for kicks to see how all of these abstract variables worked together in real life. Looking back, it was kind of a callous and voyeuristic thing to do.
It was just really cool to see strong significant relationships between certain variables…
“Well what do you know? People living in X city are highly likely to report that they have mobility issues. That’s so interesting. Wait… most Canadian women my age are married?”
It wasn’t just me; the other social scientists in the lab would all get excited when a statistical relationship was strong enough to support whatever argument we were trying to make.
“When we take X out and add Y, the data shows that there is a strong statistically significant relationship between X measure of poverty with both ‘race’ and gender! This evidence supports that shit I thought up last week. I’m totally publishing it, then I’m going to put on a suit and present my findings at a conference, where I get to wear a lanyard with a clear plastic pocket containing my name in typed in a large font!”
I’m not saying that sociologists don’t produce important findings. If they go on to inform progressive changes in policy, or attitudes, which they often do than that work is extremely important. But, looking back, the irreverence with which I sometimes treated these abstractions makes me feel icky.
Formerly sanitized, I am part of the quickly expanding unemployment statistic (which recently hit 10% in Toronto) … a figure that I used to hear, and empathetically shake my head. Now that I’m “a statistic”, albeit a bit of an outlier, I’m feeling pretty sheepish about some of the attitudes I held in the past.
I should clarify that I was never one of those people who think that unemployment is a personal rather than public issue. I was never guilty of saying any of the tired hateful shaming shit or posting the charming anti-welfare memes that I see online. In fact, as I saw it, I was a good leftist, even an ally , but, by virtue of my belief that experiencing terrifying economic insecurity myself was not a possibility, I clearly felt, on some level that the poor did something to bring it on themselves. And that’s pretty shitty.
Ok. *Trigger warning * I’m about to quote W.E.B. Du Bois out of context and relate it to my own experience, which I realize might be interpreted as a stupid entitled white girl appropriating some seriously sacred shit. And fine, I see your point. You’re probably right. But, hear me out. And please know that I am not comparing my plight to Du Bois’, because that would just be stupid.
“To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem?” – Du Bois
As students in a seminar course, we would often discuss various forms of oppression. We would sit around a table, making concerned faces at each other, quoting Michel Foucault or bell hooks, or Gayatri Spivak (Ok, so I wasn’t smart enough to quote her accurately or coherently) to make sense of these forms of oppression. And, I like everyone else in the class was genuinely concerned.
When I was outside of the classroom, a combination of intellectual curiosity, empathy, privilege, show-offery and total ignorance (and probs booze if I’m being honest) would lead me to want to engage people who were members of groups that experience oppression. When I saw an opportunity to discuss colonialism with someone who was Native, fro example, I would be all over it. And if she was a woman, she was not going to leave our conversation without me dropping Sandra Lovelace’s name and discussing her legacy. That was a sad fact. I cringe when I think about how annoying I was.
My point is, looking back, I wasn’t a perfect pure of heart sociologist… no one is. In fact most of us, whether we will admit it or not, are raging misanthropes. And by sometimes focusing on the dimensions of certain people’s identities that were affected by structural inequalities, I was treating them like “a problem” Despite what I thought were good intentions, it was objectifying (like me running stupid cross-tabs with Census data).
I didn’t know how patronizing and annoying this was until recently.
I’ll be having a conversation with a casual left-leaning acquaintance. We will be talking about something topical or interesting, and then something like this will happen:
CLLA: “So, I heard that you’re not working right now [Quiets voice- which all of the sudden sounds serious, places hand on my knee or shoulder, furrows brow]. You know, this part of a larger issue… blah, blah, Noam Chomsky, blah, blah… And a lot of economist have made pretty strong arguments for universal guaranteed income… there have been pilot projects, you know? [concerned face softening into empathetic smile].
This has happened to me a few times, and I truly appreciate that these folks have the best intentions. They were my intentions at one point too. And I just never knew that I sounded so patronizing and arrogant.
The whole experience hasn’t been fun – although, one of the perks is that I haven’t gotten sick this winter, since I’m rarely around other people. But, being made to feel like a problem, and the patronizing undertones (subconscious or not) have added a surprising dimension to this experience.
Admittedly, I can be particularly difficult to talk to about sensitive issues like this. I have this involuntary talent for turning even the most supportive things people say into scathing insults and taking great offense.
So, there are evidently many ways in which I take up ‘annoying’.
I should probably make a list (it is the Internet afterall, and it works like a charm for buzzfeed): “Ten things not to say to an Unemployed Person”, or something…