I have had a lot of jobs in my life. My first gig was as a paperboy which entailed getting up before the crack of dawn going from house to house delivering papers to many people who would take the paper and then do everything they could to avoid paying me for it. My cut came out of what I collected so when the people didn’t pay me, I was essentially delivering papers for free. They didn’t care that I was a poor kid trying to make an honest dollar in an area where I could have made more dollars dishonestly. It didn’t occur to them that they were doing me harm.
My second and third jobs were both “under the table”. In the summer, I used my free time washing dishes at a soul food restaurant and helping put up fences. Since I was under 15, I couldn’t get a work permit, so the owners paid me in cash at a rate that was a little lower than what was standard. They weren’t bad people. They were actually cool people, but they saw a deal when they came across a kid willing to work for cash. It saved them a little money and helped my family out too. Heck, it’s the American way right. Wasn’t this country built on paying people as little as possible for their labor or paying them nothing at all?
Now, before you take this as a racial issue or some political statement, let me tell you what it really is. This is an intervention. Because I love you America, I need to come out and tell you this: America you are an addict. You are addicted to cheap labor. You always have been and I think you always will be unless you go into rehab.
All Addictions Are Created Equal
Below is a list of symptoms of drug addiction I found on the Mayo Clinic website. Having spent time with people struggling with addiction, I can see some of these symptoms mirrored in your addiction to cheap labor. I hope you can love yourself enough to see them too and then start taking the steps to recover before this addiction gets what’s left of you.
- Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — this can be daily or even several times a day
- Having intense urges for the drug
- Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
- Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
- Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it
- Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
- Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
- Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug
- Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug
- Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
While ego and lack of imagination may prevent you from seeing the correlation between other addictions and your addiction to cheap labor, I invite you to consider how you would react if, as of today, we had to pay every worker in the world the same wages and benefits for the services they were providing regardless of the country. What would you do? Would you bring the jobs back to the USA so that you could save on fuel and travel at least or would you create more crimes that people could be arrested for so that you could expand on the prison labor system. Oh, but what would you do if you had to pay prison laborers the federal minimum wage plus benefits? You see where this is going right? You wouldn’t know what to do. You have never known what it was like to not be in pursuit of cheap labor and eventually it is going to catch up with you. Now look at this list again.
Think about the debt the country is in. Only an addiction could justify that. Think about the promises that you make and then fail to live up to. Anyone who has spent time with a person who has an addiction can see the signs. Remember when you tried to get off of free labor, but then put that loophole in the 13th Amendment and then immediately started arresting black people for no reason and leasing them out in the convict leasing program? That is the symptom, “Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug”. Remember how you kidnapped free Africans and enslaved them, turned a blind eye to countless injustices, and broke treaties with Native peoples so you could get more land to feed your perceived needs? That’s the symptom, “Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing.” Now look at that list again.
The First Step
I’m sorry America. I am not putting you down. I love you. That’s why I’m telling you this. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There can’t be great disappointment without great love.” You need to know that, because there is a lot of disappointment right now and because of your addictions, you don’t know how to be honest. You have people thinking their jobs were stolen when they were sold. You have people thinking that their jobs are coming back because you’re too afraid to tell the truth which is as long as we can pay less somewhere that is where we are going; wherever we can place automation we will replace a person, and whatever Artificial Intelligence can do makes a human obsolete. This is because in the end this is the cheaper way to go. Saving money is called a “DISCOUNT” for a reason and it’s time to acknowledge what that reason is. People are being discounted.
I know that this seems harsh. And I know that the toughest part about getting sober is admitting you have a problem. After that, the challenge is going over that inventory. For some people, looking at that inventory of the harm they caused when under the influence makes them go back to the substance for comfort. So America, I won’t pretend that this will be easy. And I won’t put this all on you. I’ll do my part. Maybe if every American decided that we will take some responsibility for the fact that this nation has an addiction, we could help the healing together rather than always looking for someone to blame. As the Twelve Steps teach, addiction is a disease and should be treated as such. This cheap labor addiction is a manifestation of our basic addiction–the addiction to more–which shows up in countless ways. This is a very tough disease and the fact that we’ve spread it to others makes recovery even more of a challenge, but I believe we can do it over time. We just have to take the first step.
The Sober American Dream (SAD)
The American Dream under the influence of cheap labor will not be the same American Dream when we’re sober. The fact is, no one even knows what that world will look like. But if you have ever tried to maintain a lie and then finally had the truth come out, you will be familiar with the liberation that comes from not having to pretend anymore. At a minimum, we have some hope in this. Beyond this, there is a value shift that happens when a person’s addiction no longer has top priority in their lives. Imagine companies thinking first and foremost about the contribution they are to the world and the people they serve. Imagine schools measuring success by unlocking potential rather than simply trying to get students through a pipeline. Imagine the innovation possible when “faster cheaper” is no longer the clarion call of industry.
I think the greatest thing about the times we are in is that “rock bottom” is usually the beginning of the shift toward sobriety. Of course it would be great if that were not the route that we have to take, but it seems like that too is the American Way–doing the right thing only after we’ve exhausted every other option.
Last But Not Least
For those of you who have felt left behind by this country I want to say “Welcome”. I mean this in all sincerity. Many of us have been so used to serve America’s addiction so openly that we barely feel the impact of the disappointments anymore. Sadly, this realization is just getting to some of you and so you are reaching for the last glimmer of hope that this dream you bought into wasn’t always an addict’s dream. I feel genuine compassion for this uncomfortable awakening. But the good news is we’re waking up. Withdrawals are tough. Let’s not pretend. And this is what we’re going through as a nation. During this awakening season, there may be a lot of moments when we will look likely we’re collectively losing our minds, but I think we will see that we are actually finding it for the first time.
This post was written in November 2016 when I could see the writing on the wall very clearly. I am sharing this again to offer insight into the powder keg that was ignited by the sacrifice of George Floyd.