Those people

I got an e-mail the other day from a colleague at work who was passing on to a whole bunch of us a forwarded e-mail that she had received. Here’s the content of what the e-mail said. It was entitled “Urine Dip”:

    Like a lot of folks in this state, I have a job. I work – they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to get that paycheck, I am required to pass a random urine test with which I have no problem. What I DO have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who DON’T have to pass a urine test. Shouldn’t one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

    Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I DO, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their ASS, doing drugs, while I work. Can you imagine how much money the state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check?

    Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don’t. Hope you all will pass it along, though. Something has to change in this country — and soon!

My colleague hadn’t written this e-mail. It was a forwarded chain letter, and all she was doing was forwarding it to the rest of us. She did ask us what we thought about it, though. My initial desire was to dash of an immediate (and very heated) response to everyone on the recipient list. Cooler heads prevailed, however (I am still a very new employee, and I’m not sure how I feel about making enemies this early in the game), but I did want the opportunity to air my thouughts on this. So hello my delicious little annonymouse blog, aka venting-opportunity-extraordinaire.

What do I think about this? Well, I think it’s a very condescending, priviledged and uneducated point of view. It’s an excuse that people make for not having to care as much about “those people who do drugs” or “those people on welfare” or “those people who sit around on their asses doing drugs while I’m working”. While there are always a few people who are bound to take advantage of a system like welfare or medicaid, I don’t think the majority fall into this group. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were receiving welfare–would you be sitting back on your ass, taking advantage of it, and doing drugs? I think many people are embarrassed and ashamed to be on welfare, but unfortunately, the system focuses on the hand-out aspect of it, rather than on teaching and educating and empowering and giving people the tools and resources they need to get off of welfare. I think it creates a system of dependency and complacency, and I think THAT’S what needs to change.

Those of us with good jobs are privileged in so many ways we may not even recognize. How did we get those jobs? Because we have an education. How did we get that education? Because we were blessed with an attitude or an upbringing or a teacher or a mentor or a relative or a friend who believed in us and taught us that education is important, and that it matters. How did we pay for that education? Because we were blessed with scholarships or grants or friends or relatives who could help us out, or banks that had enough faith in our future potential that they were willing to loan us money, and because we were blessed with enough cultural capital to know how to ask a bank for money in the first place. Or because we were blessed with the knowledge that education is worth it, even if it takes you 7 years to pay for every cent of it yourself from your hard-earned paycheck at MacDonalds. How did we get into college? Because we were blessed enough to finish high school; because many of us we weren’t growing up with violence or drug abuse in the home, because most of us had a stable life and a roof over our heads and food to eat and time in the evenings to do homework and someone there who was going to make sure we DID our homework. Of course we had to work for it, and want it, and put in lots of our own hard-earned blood, sweat and tears, but the desire to get where we are right now is something we shouldn’t take for granted, and not something that everyone is lucky enough to have. The “well, why don’t they just get a job?” attitude is a blanket statement of privilege, which fails to acknowledge how difficult it is to obtain a good job, and all the ways that getting an education and therefore getting a good job is a learned behavior, and a cultural gift, and that not everyone is lucky enough to have that passed on to them and instilled in them, especially at a young age.

The other fallacy in this is the fact that drug use is an ADDICTION. What makes people take drugs in the first place? Depression, loneliness, feelings of helplessness and despair? A sense that they’re trapped, that there’s no way out, that life is shit and there’s nothing to do but try to enjoy what little time you’ve got on this earth in any way you can? Trying to belong to a particular group, trying to fit in, trying to feel like you’ve got a community or a family or friends? Whatever the reasons, the decision to habitually use drugs rarely stems from carefree flower-child experimentation or laziness. People who start to use drugs are driven to it because something is pretty damn bad in their life in the first place, and then, once they’ve started….they can’t stop. Hence the ADDICTION part of it.

To make it sound so easy and so simple–I have a job, I don’t use drugs, I take a urine test, so why can’t “those people” do the same?–is a very narrow-minded point of view, and fails to address any of the larger issues; it’s patronising, simplistic and judgemental, at its very core, and because we all know that the majority of people on welfare are certainly not white, it’s also racist at its core. Cutting people off from the help they need by forcing them to take a urine test before receiving public assistance will probably only make things worse, not better, and only addresses the symptom, rather than the root of the problem. The root of the problem is: what is it in this person’s life which drove them to take drugs in the first place, and how can we address that and help that? I don’t believe in free hand-outs either, but drug addiction is not something that people can just stop overnight, no matter how much they might want to (and usually if they’re deep in addiction, they don’t want to anyway), and it’s not something that people can usually do on their own. It’s so easy for the non-addicted to say to someone who’s addicted…well, just stop using, get off your lazy ass and quit doing drugs…but has that person ever stopped to consider just how HARD that is? Have you actually put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and tried to walk a mile in them? Help, compassion, non-judgement and true understanding would go a lot further, in my very humble opinion, than the “get off your lazy ass and quit abusing the government dole” attitude. Respect for “those people” would make a huge difference, too, but if you see “those people” as lazy (and if you see them as “those people” in the first place)…you’re never going to be able to respect them enough to make any kind of positive change.

Where does the midwifery come into all of this? LISTEN TO WOMEN and DON’T JUDGE. Those two lessons, all over again. The respect and the need to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is inherent in that.

Now, the next question is…should I go ahead and send this back to everyone on the e-mail list? What’s it worth? Making a good impression at my new job and not pissing people off right off the bat…or speaking my mind and being upfront and honest about my beliefs, even at the expense of creating work conflict? Aargh, really tough call.

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