The Pain of Being Poor: Masculinity & Manhood In A Recession: My Latest for The Good Men Project

I saw the pain in their eyes when I sat in the barbershop.
The conversation was about money.
The posture was hunched over,
The pupils lowered;
the heart…heavy.
Phrases echoed across chairs:
“not enough”,
“they won’t pay me”,
“can’t find work.”
At times there were interjections of ambition initiated by Jay Z’s  voice on the radio:
“I invented swag/puttin’ super models in a cab”…

After Jay Z the tone of the space would shift,
Someone would say: “I heard they are hiring at this spot in the Bronx!”
“My boy has this plan..”
Were gonna get on this deal…”

It was as if Jay And Kanye’s economic example was a spark of light. A potential, a possibility.
But when the song ended, the spark faded. And the space was no longer filled with optimism, or pity or sadness. Just the weight of all. The full, heavy robust weight of it all….

I know what that’s like.
The first time I was unemployed was in 2007. I had  been “released” from a job that was spiritually draining and emotionally destructive.
I stayed for the comfort.  And the regular check every month. Even after the scars had started to pile up on my soul. Even after the bags had started to encircle my eyes.
When I was released from that prison, I was still devastated. In my eyes, my economic independence  had been stripped away from me. I was forced to find other means of income, which often meant asking for help from others.

It was a very hard thing to do.
Not simply because of my ego. But because of my socialization. You see as a spirit born into a body marked as male by this culture, I had been instructed from birth that to need help, particularly help with money meant I was wrong.
I was wrong because as a man I was supposed to fend for myself.
I was not supposed to have hard times. I was not supposed to get down on my luck.
And to support this theory; I could turn on the radio to hear all the rappers talk about people like me “Who needed to get their money up.”  Who were “Broke bitches so crusty/disgust me.”
In support of this  I could hear all the hetero black women’s narratives of
“sorry ass broke niggas.”
In support of this I could hear all the black men narratives of “broke ass queens.”
In support of this theory I could hear all the prosperity teachers saying that my lack of income flow was connected to my spiritual impoverishment.
No matter where I looked, I was always to blame.
Not systems.
Not inequity.
Me.
I was wrong.
The shame of not having money sent me down a spiral of internal emotional abuse.
I recanted how dumb I was, how wrong I was, how stupid I was that I couldn’t find work and didn’t have money.
It was so easy to fall into a pit of shame and that shame immobilized me for weeks.
It was so hard to dig myself out of it.
Sitting in that barber shop that day looking at all the brown and black faces I realized:
Some of us never do….

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