Sunday, September 13, 2009

The recession's racial divide

Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad have done an amazing job of elucidating the issues faced by African American families in the past few years. Theirs is a story of being classless, of being middle class and falling into a black hole. Unemployed and underemployed, in strong jobs earning substantially one day and unemployed the next.

I can relate to this story on many levels. I was working as a political appointee to the mayor of a major US Capital city for over 5 years. During that time, I developed a disability - bipolar disorder. In the beginning, it was a relatively easy transition - my boss, the chief of staff, was accomodating, as the ADA required him to be - the subsequent chief of staff was equally accomodating - I shall never forget his kindness as I wrestled with mood swings, exacerbated by stress and numerous changes in medication. Unfortunately for me, the last chief of staff had a sister who was bipolar. She was always "on and off her meds" and " in and out of jail" - how do I know that? Because he told me so in a closed meeting in his office. I filed a grievance against him and did not prevail - I naively thought that the system would work in my favor.

I subsequently became unemployed when I could no longer work in such a stressful environment with an overbearing and discriminatory boss - I resigned under great duress. I loved my job and made an above average salary for a woman.

I am now homeless, living doubled up with my mum - it is a wonderful place to live, please don't misunderstand me - I just want to make it very clear that I am homeless, statistically speaking, nonetheless. I am moving out to my own place in December and shall miss my mum - she has been my friend, roomate, confidante and rock.

Some of my black brothers and sisters are not as lucky - indeed a classmate is a former employee of UBS - she is living in a hotel with her family after having lost her home as well after becoming unemployed.

That story we hear about - 1 paycheck away from the streets - as a former volunteer at the homeless shelter, and as a person who was forced from her home as she could not commit to a one year lease - I can testify to that.

If you have the means, please donate to your local shelters and foodbanks - if you have family in transition and have the space, please, please, please, take them in.

Just more food for thought and one person's opinion.

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