The Slavery of Freedom
However, I occasionally have a thing or two to say, so maybe I'll continue just a bit longer.
Today's offering is twofold, but both borne of the same incident. We were in the Greensboro Housing Authority offices for recertification today. For the uninitiated, each year we have to report our income and family composition -- prove that we're still poor enough to live in the projects*, if you will -- which determines if our rent will stay the same, increase or we'll be booted out altogether.
The first realization came as I was filling out the reporting forms and looking over the voluminous rules and regulations the office receptionist handed me. I realized that although my family is living in the most free nation on earth (arguably), we are not free.
Gasp! Horrors! Must be one'a those pinko reds!
Wait, put down the pitchforks and I'll explain. It occurred to me that if I owned my own home, I would not have to do this every year. My private affairs would be just those: my private affairs. How much money I made and how I made it would be my business. Who I had over and why they were there would be my business. What Mama does in her spare time during the day when I'm at work and the kids were in school would be her business. Where the kids went to school and how well they were doing would be their business. Our lives would be -- our lives.
Instead, we have to report on our financial and some social activities to the Overlords, in order to keep a roof over our heads and heat around our bodies. And if we don't report, the roof and heat immediately go away. In addition, we have to submit to inspections pretty much whenever management feels like it; report if I make more money, temporarily or not; report who in the house is working and why or why not; how well the kids are doing in school and why or why not; and always, always dread the next inspection or recertification where we may have forgotten to dot some arcane i or cross some obsolete t that'll land us right back on the street.
I pass by houses every day and I envy those within. Sure, they have their own set of problems, but they're not sweating losing their home just because they can finally tell some bigwig "none of your business" when s/he wants to go poking into their private affairs.
Yes, I can almost hear the rebuttals: "But you're better off than when you were homeless." "But at least you have a roof over your head." "At least you're still alive." "Well, you got to go through some of that if people are helping you." But show of hands, now: how many of you like having to strip naked -- socially speaking -- for whoever orders you to do it "or else"?
The other thing came from a poster I saw on the wall at the GHA offices. It was a PSA** for health care services. The headline was "Poverty Doesn't Make You Sick, But It Can Keep You From Getting Well." How sadly true, but I submit to you that poverty can indeed make you sick.
Poverty can make you mentally sick by making you worry all the time. About money. About the rest of the family's health. About who's going to screw you today, or tomorrow. About the bills piling up. About everything in the universe that you could knock out of the way if you just had your hands on some money. And some people wonder why others play the lottery. All that worry leads to stress, and all that stress leads to...
Poverty can make you physically ill as well. Most of it comes from the mental stress that builds up over worrying about money so much. It's been scientifically proven that stress makes you fat and does horrible things to your immune system. In addition, poor people can't buy the right kinds of food -- fresh fruits, vegetables, foods with low fat and high nutritional content, even dietetic foods -- because they're more expensive. So we end up eating the wrong things. Pretty soon, you're flat on your back with a bug, a stroke or a heart attack. Or you're listening to your doctor (if you can afford to see one) utter those dread words "it's Type 2 Diabetes. There's no cure."
So to sum, I say that poverty can make you very sick indeed. It can also make you a slave. And neither prospect is very pleasant.
* The irony being, of course, that if we were making enough money to leave the projects, we would've long since left.
** Public Service Announcement, but you knew that already, didn't you?