What does the word “disempowerment” even mean for someone who fits into all the majoritarian identity categories (white, cisgender, heterosexual, married, father, etc.)? Can I even use it in earnest? Or, since I have not experienced the structural biases that others have continuously experienced, am I just complaining? I grew up in a house with two parents (most of the time), in a safe suburban neighborhood; I had access to enrichment activities at school and earned two engineering degrees without taking on student debt; I bought a condo when I was 24 and settled into a shit career in engineering, which I left because it was, well, shitty. (Technically I got laid off from a fancy engineering firm, but I had already applied to my doctoral program and was planning on doing both at the same time).
I earned a PhD in 2016 which is evidently worthless, at the cost of $300k, if you count my student loan debt, the 401k that I cashed out from my engineering life, and the spoils on the sale of the aforementioned condo. I’ve taught 26 classes since graduating (a full time faculty member would have taught about 15 in the same time span), I have advised students and served on committees, and I have moved various writing projects into various stages of the publication pipeline. The only employment prospect I have for next year is pretty much what I’ve been doing for three years: 8, maybe 9, maybe 10 classes, in various departments on multiple campuses.
But I am exhausted. I am angry and bitter and frustrated…but I know I don’t have it as bad as others. I was just talking a friend a few nights ago who had been involuntarily committed to a psych ward last year, and who was expressing his anger at how he was treated as a black man. I have another friend with multiple higher education degrees who is trapped living with a family member and working in retail because she can’t find teaching positions. I’m in a better spot than them, I know. I learned from Harney and Moten that the way to relate to people in these positions is to never try to see myself in their shoes, but to say, “I hear you — things are fucked up for me and I see they are fucked up for you. I’ll never know what you’re going through though.” I’m paraphrasing, but I hope this is enough for them to know that I genuinely do care. Can I do more? Am I obliged to do more? If so, is part of it because of my own position in the world? How do I relate my own becoming-poor, becoming-minoritarian to theirs? I feel alone, I feel abandoned, I feel ignored, I feel lost too. Is this even harder — that’s not the right word…is this even more intense because things have generally come easy for me, in that I’ve never been looked at suspiciously for having dark skin or that I’ve never been ignored or dismissed or held to a different standard for being a woman. I’m sure it’s more difficult and more painful to have never had the privilege that I’ve had, but I will never know. What I do know, however, is that falling deeper into debt, into self-doubt, into disempowerment, into frustration, into bitterness, into confusion, is horrible. Is my experience just one of white fragility? No, I haven’t read that book yet but, yes, it’s near the top of my list. I’m drowning in ressentiment and I’m looking to throw everything away.