The Valuable People
November 26, 2011, 2:17 am
Filed under: Human Potential, Race, Society | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The first time I considered suicide I was 16. It was Friday night and my twin sister had gone out with her friends. When I think back to my high school days I remember wearing baggy jeans like the girl rap group TLC, but I think I wore them only in 9th grade. I wore my hair in a stressed pony tail, stressed because it was tight, and the hair in the back fell and stuck out. My hair was chemically straightened then, like all the black girls I knew of (except Whoopi Goldberg, and she really disappointed me for this reason). Also, “pony tail” is an exaggeration because I wore something like a banana clip to make my hair look longer.

Hair was always a problem for me, knowing that all cute black girls had “good” (curly) or long hair. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to wear my hair loose, not in braids or hair bands, because I thought it was more of a grown up style, and most certainly like a white girls’ style.

Anyway, I’m telling this because baggy pants and “bad” black-girl hair (and many other imperfections I was aware of) made me feel unattractive, insignificant. This may have been partly why I felt expendable.

But the main reason I wanted to disappear that night was because I felt like I was not doing what I was supposed to to enjoy life. I had no friends. Because of that I never went to parties or events. This may sound unworthy of suicidal thoughts.

But I believe being a valuable part of society is very important to human beings and is likely a key reason people consider suicide. We have very narrow definitions of what makes someone valuable in America. These are some standards I’m aware of:

1.) For one, being unsexual seems important. Whenever politicians are exposed for being sexual (for example, sending women shirtless photos of themselves) it threatens their job. Also, it seems a lot of people have sexless marriages, since psychologists and magazines often offer tips for couples to get back “that spark.”

When I first learned about sex at 13, and went to school the next day, I looked at all my teachers and wondered, “Does Mrs. So and So have sex? She’s married, so she must…” But none of the teachers I looked at, with the definition of sex (and a sex scene) in mind, seemed at all sexual.  Maybe they looked too unhappy, or uptight, or perfect, and sex seemed to involve getting messy. I’m not sure what seeing my teachers as unsexual meant to me then, but today it means that none of my teachers had good sex. So, first rule of fitting in is hiding your sexuality.

3.) Another rule of being valuable in society is: Make a lot of money. People sometimes kill themselves when they face financial trouble. In two instances I heard about in the past year, people killed their whole families and themselves, reportedly because of financial problems. I thought more recently of killing myself because I didn’t want to be penniless or go into more debt to pay bills. I think feeeling like a failure is what really makes one feel expendable, not just having no money. But having no money is considered failure in America, and probably lots of other places.

I really wish more suicidal people would stay. America needs people who see that life here could be better, and one way to do that is acknowledging that the contents of our characters matter more than the contents of our wallets.

3.) Marriage also seems very important in making someone seem alright with the group, and someone others can hang out with. It used to really bother me that one of my coworkers tried so hard to make friends with another woman at work who was married, like her. It also bothered me that she seemed not to try to make friends with the people in the classroom who worked with her, such as myself.

Hmmm, now that I think of it, all of the people in the class, including me, were black, but the friend-seeking coworker was white. One man in the class was married, but he was much older. Still, people put too much value on external things like age, race, and marital status in making friends.

4.) Being white helps a lot in making someone valuable. In a very stereotype-based society (where employers tell employees to smile at customers to be “friendly,” for example, rather than just being one’s self), white people have the closest thing to being valued for the contents of their characters because they are portrayed in almost every movie, television commerical, magazine article, and news story there is. They have hundreds, thousands more opportunities to be seen as having various kinds of personalities.

Also, they more often have money, and spouses (than black people), and are more likely to have features we consider good-looking, such as straight, long, blonde hair, and blue eyes. (They also tend to be thinner than black women.) Those features describe the models gracing every Victoria’s Secret ad I get in the mail, except one that had a lot of models featured. One of the models was a light-skinned, black-looking girl with long, silky brown hair. (It could’ve just been me, but I felt I could see her insecurity, and insecurity speaks louder than beauty or sexy lingerie.)

There are probably lots of other appearance-driven values that make individuals valuable in America, but these are some major ones that come to mind right now. My advice is to rebel against these values as often as possible. Get married because it means something to you personally, not because getting married by age 30 is on society’s “to do” list for you.

As mentioned, these standards can be deadly, driving some to suicide for falling short of “perfect.” Many others will find themselves unhappy after pursuing such trophies (whiteness, money, marriage) and neglecting their dreams, true desires, true selves.


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