The Un-Shaming Part One: Apply
This series of blog posts is important. I believe that we as women, Black women, Black American women, are shamed into believing that seeking the fulfillment of our needs is wrong. We are made to believe that strength comes in a “one-size fits all” package. We are made to believe that if we cannot do it all, all the time, by ourselves, we are not worthy or deserving of praise. This series of blog posts will work to dispell these falsities.
The interviewer called while searching the room.
I stood to walk towards her. She peered at me over her glasses with a calculating gaze. I imagined that she was performing some mathematical equation to configure the amount of money that I spent on the clothing I was wearing that day, which wasn’t much, but I could make myself look like a million bucks without two nickels to rub together.
I followed her to the back where there was a row of dull, outdated, blue and gray cubicle-like spaces filled with equal amounts of interviewers, applicants, and white noise. While standing you could see the entire space but the short dividers gave the illusion of privacy.
I sat in the chair, deflated, tired, defeated, but still in need. I had already been at this office over an hour and it took even longer for me to gather all the documents I needed before getting there. This was literally an all-day process that could turn into a multiple-day process if I didn’t have everything they wanted. I wanted it to be over.
The interviewer, an older stone-faced Caucasian woman sat across the small, half cluttered, metal desk from me. With each and every question she asked her judgemental vocal inflection wrapped around my brain choking my sense of pride. There was a lump in my throat that seemingly grew with each word I spoke. I shrank in my seat and the cubicle walls grew taller and closer with each passing moment.
My thoughts raced! It felt as though I was being punished because I asked for help. I had to remind myself of who I was. I am a person that has worked my entire life! I used to sell homemade cookies and suckers in the sixth grade, I was a babysitter for my cousins, I helped my mother with administrative work, I helped with sewing projects and weddings, etc. I got my first “job job” when I was 15 making survey calls for a company. I worked upwards of 4 part-time jobs at the same time juggling the schedule while in college. I got tired of that and decided to work 1 full-time job and kept 1 part-time just because the part-time job allowed me to continue to provide home healthcare for my friend. I was CLEARLY no stranger to work.
I fell on hard times, was laid off, had my first child, and needed some assistance, Food Stamps, insurance, and whatever else they were going to give. At this time I didn’t care. I needed help. I paid taxes EVERY paycheck, EVERY year, and I am the one in need right now!
It still felt like the walls were closing in on me but, I took a deep breath, swallowed that lump down into my throat and continued to answer the questions, now with a little more self-confidence and pride. Then she said, “In order to receive these benefits we have to file for child support, do you know where your baby daddy is?” She stared at me with a cold and unflinching glare as if to dare me to be pissed because she said baby daddy.
My mind raced once again.
Wadafubih?!?!?!? … If I didn’t look like a melanated hood qween, would you have said child’s father instead of baby daddy? … Would this even be a question? … Why wouldn’t you simply ask for an address? … Oh I get it, someone else done tore you a “new one” already for asking if they know WHO their baby daddy is! … WOW! Baby daddy is surely a funny way to pronounce ni……
I again collected myself, looked her in the eye and responded “no.” She continued to probe on the whereabouts of my baby daddy continuing to use the phrase baby daddy as we exchanged unbroken death stares during the whole transaction.
“Well I mean you must know something.”
“You’re not able to tell me where he could be?”
And at this time I legitimately could not. This was a strained period between us, we were not good co-parents at this time. He and I were split, we didn’t live together, I didn’t know where he was sleeping. He would contact me from time to time or show up at my house, he was unemployed as well, so I truly had no information for her. However, none of this actually mattered because at NO point did she EVER ask for an ACTUAL address, phone number, workplace, or any other normal information you would ask for when trying to locate a person.
Our stare down broke when the interviewer took a second to start populating my lack of information on the forms and just as this happened, my phone rang cutting the tension in the room. I reached to pick it up so that I could silence it and finish the interview. As I reached she said loudly “Oh is that him?”
I froze, breathing stopped, teeth clenched, background noise stopped, cubicle walls shrunk, every eye in the building on me. There was no longer gray and blue or a white woman there was only R E D.
Phone still ringing
She stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to look at the phone and answer her query.
Phone still ringing
I was LIVID, embarrassed, exhausted, uninterested, internally violent, but still in need.
Phone still ringing
I imagined myself standing up, flipping the desk over on her head, and pinning her underneath it with force while repeatedly inquiring the whereabouts of every family member that allowed her to become the type of haggardly draggle-tailed guttersnipe urban urchin that would be so insensitive and crude in her demeanor and behavior as to carry on like this! I then saw myself walking out of that place with every ounce of my dignity and no assurance of food or medical insurance for my child.
Phone still ringing
I just wanted to leave and knew I would feel stupid after going through all of this and not getting what I came for.
Phone stopped ringing
I said nothing. We concluded. I got my benefits. I physically walked away.
There are parts of me that never left that desk.
I had already gone through a lot before needing to apply for benefits. But, the humiliation I experienced at the hands of the interviewer was overwhelming. I went through all of this the first time I ever applied for assistance. This is just a small example of the things that people who ask for assistance have to endure.
Listen, and hear me clearly, you cannot “LIVE” on welfare and food stamps as neither of those equals a “LIVING” on par with any state’s COST OF LIVING, you can only EXIST. Even if you add public housing or Section 8 into the equation, it does not! Quit talking about benefits recipients like they are living high-on-the-hog just because they get food stamps and make a seafood pot once a month.
The majority of this rhetoric is targeted at black women with children. Allow me to clue you in on something here, if she is a MOTHER and needs to provide for her child/ren, LAZY is not a thing that should ever be attributed to that woman (no matter the color).
Even if it was the case that a black woman was literally LIVING off of the government, staying home, raising her children, it’s funny how people can call a black woman that does this lazy, but if she had male accompaniment there would not be a problem. Then she would be called a housewife, pure, honorable. So I guess having a man in the home is the difference between her being worthy of raising children without stigma and being a THOT.
I am not blindly stating that no one gets over on the system. I am stating that the level of occurrence is not nearly what people make it out to be.
Here is what I can tell you, there are plenty of two-parent homes that receive assistance as well as single men and non-poc. There are actually more non-POC receiving government assistance than there are POC. Many benefits recipients also work and are underemployed. Getting benefits is extremely time-consuming. Trying to complete all the activities/paperwork required to retain benefits, and doing that around your job schedule while dealing with caseworkers who dig into every nook and cranny of your life is exhausting, especially if you have children and no transportation. (Let’s not even talk about housing inspections!) Also, benefits recipients still have to provide utilities, clothes, hygiene materials, medications, transportation, etc for themselves and their dependents. Nothing covers ALL of this.
It’s called POVERTY in AMERICA people!
A day in the life of a benefits recipient is no cake walk and the people that stay shouting about it more than likely would not make it 2 months before leaping off of a steep curb.
My story is not unique. I, an American that has worked and paid into the system her whole life, came to the system for help and was greeted with a traitor’s welcome, interrogated, disrespected, demeaned. Even if I had never worked a day in my life, I would still be a citizen, a human, a person in need.
I paid into this system so others could receive.
No one deserves this treatment.