In 2009, when I got laid off, my dad cutely asked me, “Well, will they rehire you later?” When my dad used to work at a glass company, they would occasionally go through temporary layoffs due to lack of services requested. When the requests for glass installations decreased, team members would get let go, and when the requests increased, they’d get called back. So my dad thought that maybe this would how it would work in the white-collared world. Nope, that’s not how it works. Once you get laid off, you’re laid off. Though I have heard of some snafus where some individuals who were laid off were requested to come back months later, that is pretty rare to non-existent.
My mom tried to be comforting, but she was a total wreck. She thought she was thinking about how I was feeling and being sympathetic. But from what I could see, all she felt was shame for herself to have to say that she had an unemployed daughter. She sent me a hundred bucks to make me feel better. But that’s kind of where the comforting ended. She insisted many times, at varying volumes, that I move home (yeah, I would have rather dropped dead). She insisted that the recession was so bad “because of that Black man in the White House!” that I would not find another job in New York, so I should just give up. She also didn’t want me socializing with anyone, saying that everyone would look down on me for not having a job. She didn’t even want me to go to my cousin’s wedding the next month (I still went). She made me feel lesser than for not having a job. I obviously moved on, but I never forgot how she made me feel worse about myself based on no wrongdoing of my own.
That’s the thing, though. That type of thinking is not necessarily unique to my mom; as Americans, it’s nearly ingrained in us that our jobs define us. That’s why most of us are assholes, and when we in America meet people for the first time, we immediately ask after exchanging names, “What do you do (for a living)?” Why? Because our (paid) work defines us. Because our paid work makes us valuable to society. Our paid work contributes to our national GDP, our sense of self-worth, our sense of being. Our salaries say to us, “this is the dollar amount you are worth as a human being.” But… isn’t that sad… and just… wrong? How can your kindness be measured? How does your generosity factor in? What happens to all the good deeds you’ve done so selflessly? Do they just get completed and then taken for granted and forgotten?
I would love to exist in a society that did not measure people based on their salaries and net worths, to be viewed as a contributor of society based on my passions and strengths as a person. But that is a utopia and so far from what the United States would ever be — a country that devalues so much that is important about human beings.