Recently, I came across a status update in my newsfeed from a friend of mine studying to become a midwife. She wrote that she was reading about PTSD and childbirth and that everything you need to know about it is right there in her brain. She later clarified that she meant specifically PTSD that comes as a result of childbirth and not PTSD that comes prior to childbirth.
I responded that I personally loved being treated like a baby-making machine/worthless lump of flesh because it taught me the invaluable skill of dissociation. If I hadn’t learned it by then, that surely seated it firmly in my bones. And, hey, who doesn’t love a good flashback?
I then wrote parenthetically, “(Christ, how is it that we come to treating people with such inhumanity? And at their absolute most vulnerable, too…)”
We have this stupid and pervasive notion in our society that some people are worth less than others and, therefore, we don’t have to treat them with the same dignity and respect that we deem ourselves deserving of.
Nobody is worthless. Nobody is worth less. There is no such thing as someone beneath you unless you’re hosting a party and one of your guests just had four martinis (see Dorothy Parker). You are not better than another person. Neither are you worth less than another person. This is no longer a four-legs-good, two-legs-better sort of society; like it or not, we’re moving past that. The notion of ‘underlings’ is a false concept.
My mother is a secretary and has been for pretty much most of her life. Do I really think she’s worth less as a human being than her executive boss? Well, sure, right? That’s what society teaches all of us, isn’t it? She’s just a secretary. Why is that even remotely a respectable career choice? Why couldn’t she have aspired to something better.
As a society, we generally treat janitors, trades people, office workers, administrative assistants and secretaries, nurses, cab drivers, and those in the service industry, whether waitstaff and delivery drivers at a restaurant or housekeeping at a hotel, with a sort of repugnant disdain, overtly or indirectly, failing to remember that – holy shit, guys, wait for it – they’re people. Just like you and me. They’re people.
The Queen of England is a person. The pope is a person. All-Star footballers and football players, actors, media personalities, CEOs, late night talk show hosts, lawyers, university chancellors and tenured professors, scientists, doctors, world leaders. Middle management, cleaning staff, consultants, environmentalists, activists, police officers, farmers, oil workers, politicians. Beggars, unemployed, every other marginalized member of society. They’re all just people, like every other person on this planet. They have bodily functions just like you and me. They need to eat; they need water; they have digestive issues; they fart when they don’t want to and at inopportune times; they pee; they shit. They’re not better or worse as a human being than anyone else. They just make different amounts of money. More money does not a better human make.
You get pissed off if there are no cab drivers, so you’re glad they exist but they’re cabbies so you may feel like you can treat them like crap because they drive a cab for a living. I’m not saying all cabbies are honest; that’s not the point of this, so don’t derail.
Imagine how hindered administrators would be if they had no staff to do all the so-called menial tasks? Imagine how screwed you’d be if nurses just stopped coming to work one day or janitors just stopped doing their job because no one wanted to get shit on (sometimes literally, in the case of nursing). Transit workers and garbage workers are vitally important to the function of a given city. I’ve lived through transit strikes and garbage collection strikes. It sucks, guys.
Imagine how fucked the whole system would be if people just stopped voting. If everyone stopped going to university to get their education. We need each other. We need to listen to each other. We’re all tied to each other. When we place more value on a person because we think their job has more worth, that creates huge interpersonal problems. When people buy into that, it shows how insecure they are about their own lot in life.
Imagine how hard it is in a dead job market when you want out of your job into something more fulfilling because you get continually shit on by colleagues who think they’re better than you, despite your having the same level of education as them.
Imagine how hard it is to have a job that society deems as Dead End and be continually looked down upon when all you’re trying to do is make ends meet.
People really need to check their overarching attitude with regard and respect to the whole of humanity.
Social hierarchy is nothing but a construct that was developed and can be (needs to be) dismantled. We are all made of the same types of cells, the same types of atoms, got most of the same body parts, all have the same basic physical needs. Some are more physically gifted, through brawn, grace or a mix of the two. Some are wittier or more intelligent. Some are more nurturing and empathic. Some make really good spotlight people, others make better behind-the-scenes people. Some are really adept at serving as bad examples. Some are sublimely capable of serving as good examples. Most are a mix of both. Everyone is necessary.
Nobody should ever be treated as less than another person and yet we collectively do it every damned day. I’m not excluding myself from this assertion. I work constantly to treat everyone I come in contact with as deserving of human decency and compassion, whether stranger, beggar, friend or foe. I’m also fallible and make mistakes.
It’s ok to make mistakes. That’s how you learn, if you’re paying attention.
Pyramidal structures, ultimately, are only useful for buildings. As a social structure, they tend to leave wakes of disenfranchised, frustrated, angry people at the foundational levels. This is why bloody revolutions happen and why we need to shift such that there’s very little to raise our hackles against. Our whole society is a sort of pyramid scheme and we’re all conned to buy into it. The American Dream. Keeping up with the Jonses. Trickle-Down Theory of Economics is pyramidal in structure and we saw how well that worked out.
As an expat American, I was taught a weird sort of dichotomous history of being told that the Founding Fathers are the ones to thank for creating the nation (never mind that most of the governmental structure is based on the Iroquois Confederacy) while also being taught that the slaves stolen from Africa made the economy work in the South and the abolitionist movement was the cause of the Civil War, and that the immigrant Chinese linked the nation’s coasts together. But we don’t like to talk about the brown people who created the nation. Only the white men. We value what white men have to say. We value the positions in society that white men tend to hold. We feel shame about how we treated and continue to treat slaves, immigrants, people of colour. We feel shame at holding the jobs they have stereotypically been relegated to. I like what this white guy has to say on the matter:
Michael Lee – “Anvils” (TGS 2013)
“Do not call yourself a Christian nation and forget Christ was a carpenter. Do not oppress the people closest to the man you pretend to worship: the humble, the poor and the working.”
Music artist, Janelle Monáe always wears a black and white suit. Why?
Monáe always wears what she calls her uniform: always a jacket and pants, all her clothes are black or white and her hair is done up in a Fifties-style quiff.
That uniform has caught the attention of fashion royalty like Andre Leon Talley, editor at large of Vogue, who in 2010 included her in an editorial. In August this year, Monae also became a COVERGIRL, joining the ranks of Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks and Sofia Vergara who have become spokesmodels for the beauty brand.
During her acceptance speech at BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012 Monáe spoke candidly about her family and said she wears her uniform in honor of them.
“When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses. My parents—my mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them,” Monáe said, fighting back tears.
“This is a reminder that I have work to do, I have people to uplift, I have people to inspire,” she said after explaining that she grew up in Wyandotte County, “the poorest county” in Kansas City. [source]
This is something worthy of respect, in my opinion. And it should be noted, when talking of classism and the disparity between rich and poor, Wyandotte County is the poorest county in KC. Just to the south is Johnson County, the wealthiest in KC and one of the wealthiest in the nation. Rich and poor living side by side.
My great grandmother died when my grandmother was 10. I asked my grandmother if she remembered anything about her mom. One of the things she told me her mother had said to her was, “Don’t ever think anyone’s better than you ’cause they’re not.”
Words to live by. Words I live by.
Words that help me remember that we’re all in this life thing together, shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye. Imagine what we could accomplish once we all start acting like it.