I am learning that most of us hold different meanings for social justice, and that is why nothing gets better. Yesterday I overheard an educator/administrator explain that what “we” do in rhetoric and composition is prepare people for the professional world because, historically, rising up the ladder has been racist, sexist, and only open to privilege (classist). Therefore, those of us in rhet/comp have been working tirelessly and thanklessly often enough to help people gain access to the privileged spaces in careers.
My problem is that I do not view this as social justice. It neither works for everyone, nor does it challenge the hierarchies in place that keep privilege alive and well.
I have to face it: I am bad at capitalism.
Now this statement is something my lover and partner has said to me over the last 2 years about himself. I am coming to realize that I, too, feel the same. But for my own reasons.
My reasons are completely ideological—and, in the spirit of feminism, personal. Growing up, I watched my dad lose everything in pursuit of the American dream because of financial ruin (thanks to the government), and then, after a decade of destitution, instantaneously rise to riches thanks to a legal settlement that brought him “social justice.”
My mother, on the other hand, worked as a nurse until an accident made her incapable of working. To support her two children, she chose to make love to meth cookers, turning our house into a lab and illegal drug ring. Good times. Fun times. Poverty. Police raids. Homelessness.
After my mother quit speed cold turkey when I was 17, she re-educated herself and became a caretaker for the elderly. I watched a woman who had ruined my childhood due to “social justice” reform herself into a person who woke up every morning happy and in love with her job because she made people’s lives better. Justice justice.
This teaches me that I am bad at capitalism. I do not wake up every day in love with my job. I do not believe that preparing people to do well in capitalism is social justice. I am living a lie where I am teaching lies. And I cannot wake from this because this is reality.
Some part of me knew this going in, coming here. As I travelled halfway across the country in a U-Haul for a job that would finally give me “social justice” in the way of a comfortable, secure financial job, my internal ability to function slowly collapsed.
These last few weeks have been some of the lowest in my life. My ptsd has returned making it difficult for me to process the stress of living these lies for capitalist security. I began taking it out on my brother, my son, and my lover. Luckily, my brother understands my pain and knew I was not myself. He holds no grudges. I made amends with my son in the best of ways; we are working hard at trying to figure out what it means to be a family here in a place neither one of us wants to be. My lover? Yep, question marks.
I worked so hard for this place in my life. I sacrificed eating food, healthcare, and sanity to arrive at this career destination. And I hate myself for it. All the money I could need to live, and I am lying to people to get it.
And I am losing people.
My friends are far away. Texts with my best friend only hurt both of us because the absence is all there is. I see my mentors from grad school in a new light: how they supported me, and know what this world really is. I yearn for a short walk to their offices for a healthy, invigorating chat—a reminder why I am doing this rhet/comp thing.
The truth is that I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if I can work in academia by violating my ethical constitution. I don’t know if I can work any job in this world for its paycheck. I don’t know if I can sleep at night without someone who will understand that this is hurting me, and that I am trying to find a way to be okay with it.
I am trying. So hard.
That is the one thing with me, though. I will never stop trying and I will never stop finding a way to make a place in this world for people who aren’t good at capitalism. I’d love it if you joined me.