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7 tips for the unemployed for a happier New Year

At my last visit to the JobCentre I was heartbroken to witness an advisor kneeled on the floor trying to comfort an older black guy, who appeared to have burst into tears during his appointment.

When you’re unemployed it can be so easy to slip into that abyss of despair. Some days you feel more gung-ho about the future, on others you don’t even have the energy to come out from under the duvet, especially now, in winter, with such short daylight time.

I too have had weeks when I felt so overwhelmed by life, I had to pop some pills just to get through the day, but I never went back to the levels of depression I was in when I was last on the dole. I’ve mastered the art of keeping the scary Black Dog at bay.

Two days before Christmas I received a letter from my flat’s management agency saying my rent would be going up by £40/month in 2017. That’s £480 more I will have to earn per year to cover my living costs! I felt sick in the pit of my stomach, and angry at the agents’ insensitivity in sending such a letter just before Christmas. I ranted about it on Facebook, which got me my friends’ sympathy and made me temporarily feel better, but, come to think of it, why should the agency even care whether I’m despairing about not having an income? They’d probably say they were only doing their jobs.

Some battles you simply can’t win, so what’s the point in causing yourself stress by resisting them. Rents, energy bills, train fares, the price of groceries, they all go up in the New Year. It sucks, but, right now, there’s nothing I can do to change those things.

I know when it’s useless to wage war, rant, scream, swear, cry. These actions only produce more stress, not resolution. Just because I’m out of work, the world is not going to stop throwing unpleasant situations my way. I cannot control what will happen in five minutes’ time, tomorrow or next week, but I can make a conscious decision that I’m not going to let these things affect my cool. The image of me becoming a pauper because I cannot pay my bills is a projection based on fear of a future that may never come. It’s a fictional movie of myself I’m watching, not reality.

Choose not to suffer.

Suffering is what happens in our minds when we resist what is, when we think something is happening that shouldn’t be happening. When we allow ourselves to be open to the idea that everything is happening for a reason, even things that are seemingly adverse, even the loss of a job, the lack of money, the illness, the end of a relationship, whatever it may be, then we can return to a place of acceptance, peace and serenity.

It’s taken me years of working on expanding my self-awareness to achieve this state of surrender, but I’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and I’m now much less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life.

To help you kickstart the New Year on the right foot and avoid the winter blues, here are a few practical tips based on what’s worked for me. These are mainly tips for keeping a sane mind and do not include TLC for the body, such as exercising, eating healthily, etc, but I figured you knew about those already.

    1. Stop being a victim – This is important. Feeling sorry for yourself will only attract more circumstances that will make you feel sorry for yourself. Ever heard of the Laws of Attraction? What’s happening now is happening for a reason that has to do with the totality of your life, and the world/people are not “out to get you”, even if it feels that way. You didn’t lose your last job because someone wanted to punish you, even if you had the boss from hell. It was meant to be that way. If you didn’t get the job you interviewed for, it wasn’t the right job. You missed a bus because the bus drove off before you could reach the bus stop? The driver may well have been a grumpy old fart, but their action wasn’t aimed at harming you. Who knows…on the next bus you may bump into an old friend, who happens to know of a job vacancy. Stop blaming your ex-boss, the government, the JobCentre, your mother-in-law for everything that’s wrong with your life. Your life is perfect as it is right now. Your job at the moment is to look for a job, so assume that role with dignity. Trust the mysterious ways of the world, accept each moment for what it is without labelling it as good or bad. Instead, keep your focus firmly (and by that I mean 24/7, not only when you’re in a good mood) on the future you wish to see, and feel the joy and gratitude associated with it. Tip no. 6 will help you with this.
    2. De-clutter – You finally have the time to go through junk you’ve accumulated over the years, and get rid of everything you no longer need nor love. If you need inspiration, Marie Kondo has a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising. The UK edition was called Spark Joy for a good reason: purging things that no longer adds anything positive to your life creates joy! You can check out this piece in The Guardian to get an idea of the content. I haven’t read the book, and doubt I could ever be as radical as the Kondo method advocates, but since I stopped working, I’ve been taking great delight in tidying up one corner of my home at a time and made several trips to charity shops and the local dump. When you clear your space of things that no longer serve you, you make room for new things to enter your life, quite literally. It is like an unblocking of life’s stream, a mental detox of sorts. Try it. If you notice no positive effects, at least you’ll have a very tidy house!
    3. Re-arrange – while you’re on the de-cluttering, why not re-think the layout of your favourite room? I never paid attention to feng shui, but last month I was donated a small bookcase by a kind neighbour, so I decided to move the position of the sofa in my living-room and placed the new bookcase next to it. It made all the difference in the world! The room now looks more spacious and warmer, and I am LOVING my flat for the first time since I moved in. Sometimes a little move goes a long way.
    4. Connect – when you’re not working, it’s easy to end up stuck at home. Leaving your home means spending money. You need money to take public transport, and once you’re out, you’re likely to buy things you don’t need so it can be more economical to stay at home. Or maybe you do the opposite, you go out everyday and get drunk or high to forget how hard your life is. …Or is it? Remember tip no.1? Be NOT a victim. I’m of the former type. I love solitude anyway; I can go days without speaking to another human being, except on social media. But I’m also aware that connecting on social media does not replace actual human contact, and social isolation can bring on a bout of depression. Therefore I make sure I do a programme once a week, even if by myself, usually a classical music concert, a trip to the library, or a visit to a friend, just to get me out of the house. I also discovered local social network Streetlife is a lovely way of meeting nice neighbours you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
    5. Read (books you can learn from) – you may have a long Amazon wishlist or a pile of books by your bedside you never had time for because your job was too busy. Now is the time to catch up on your reading, and I don’t mean just trashy novels. Time not working is precious time for learning and reflection. Pick up books with depth that make you think (in a different way?), inspire you, challenge you, enlighten you. Your future new job is as an opportunity to start a new phase of your life, so why not enrich yourself mentally during this “interval” life has awarded you. No money for books? Look up libraries near you under Local Library Services, and plan a visit to each. I’ve got memberships in three now, and I’ve read more books in the past couple of months than I have in any year for the past few years.
    6. Meditate – It’s an excellent tool for getting focused and calm before a job interview, for instance, but it can also be life-changing. Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety, relax mind and body, increase concentration and improve overall health. Most people’s excuse for not meditating is lack of time, “I’d love to but I’m too busy to meditate.” In truth, if they meditated even for a minute, their productivity would improve and they’d end up with more free time. Why not start the habit now, while you’re unemployed, and learn to have a “zen” attitude towards life (remember tip no.1?). There are several free (at least for the basic functions) meditation apps that can get you started, including the well-known Headspace. Or do it free style, with no app. Relaxing background music can also help, and YouTube offers a large choice of meditation music. A long meditation is not necessarily better than a shorter one so don’t worry if you can only sit still for a minute or two at first. The trick is to persist with it and often. Finding your inner stillness is the quickest way to a more enlightened and consequently happier life.
    7. Embrace change as your friend – we tend to see change as a problem, an obstacle to our progress, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you embrace change, you’re embracing life itself. Not having a paid job isn’t convenient for anyone of course. But can you see it as a grand opportunity for change that may have a domino effect and lead you to places you may not have imagined would be possible to get to? What kind of person do you envisage yourself to BE in the next stage of your life? Don’t waste this chance life is offering you to step UP. Not in your career, but as yourself. Now is the time for you to dream big, think big, act big. I will leave you with these beautiful words from author Neale Donald Walsch:

“Change is not a break in the flow. It is the flow. Change is not a shift in direction. It is the direction into which all of life is moving.”

Hurrah to change! Happy New Year and happy job hunting!

 

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How one ice-cream can change the world

It’s been a month and a half since I became unemployed. My bank account is starting to feel the strain but so are my nerves. Round-the-clock job hunting can be soul-destroying, and all the days in the week seem to blend into one long despondent journey…

One of the few luxuries I still indulge in regularly, for the sake of my mental health, are classical music concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. I am such a classical music aficionado, if it ever came to a choice between going to a concert or eating, I’d happily starve for the music.

Luckily, such a drastic measure hasn’t yet become necessary. The main reason I now frequent the RFH more than any other venue is that it offers cheaper tickets, at the lower end of the scale, than the Barbican, the Cadogan and the Wigmore Hall. For £10-11 you can get a seat at the back end of rear circle or top of balcony with unobstructed view of the stage and great acoustics. It’s a small price to bear for a two-hour immersion in classical heaven and incomparably cheaper than shoes-and-handbag shopping.

The RFH also offers heavenly ice-cream tubs in multiple flavours at £3 a shot. Ice-cream at concert halls is like popcorn at the cinema – junk food you know you shouldn’t be having but whose consumption enhances the totality of your experience.

A few weeks ago, however, I made a decision to abstain. I convinced myself that if I ate an ice-cream every time I attended a concert, I’d put on weight, and there could be nothing more degrading than being unemployed and fat.

But that isn’t the main reason I sacrificed ice-cream consumption. I reckoned if I didn’t buy one, I could suddenly afford to give away £3 to at least a couple of the homeless people that gather along the Southbank’s Golden Jubilee Bridge in the hour before and after a concert.

I never used to give money to beggars before I lost my job. But the moment I realised that no matter how little you have, you still have enough to give to others, was hugely empowering. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I no longer had an income and might soon be so impoverished I’d have to give up on my concert treats, I gained back control…over my capacity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

One ice-cream not purchased was all it took to make a couple of rough sleepers happy and make me feel a little wealthier (and healthier). Of course I have no way of verifying these men and women are indeed homeless. Some of them may be using the money to purchase alcohol or drugs; even then, they’re less fortunate than me.

This attitude has kept me in a mindset of “enoughness” and has greatly helped reduce my anxiety over work and money. I stopped suffering in anticipation from the effects of a tragic destitute future, which may never arrive. I stopped starring myself as the heroine of a tear-jerking movie. In other words, I got real: things are a little bit bad, yes, but in relative terms, if I think of Aleppo, or if I think of the homeless population in town, I still have enough to be grateful for

The secret is this: remind yourself circumstances don’t create unhappiness but your thinking about them does. Stop being a victim.

You can choose to be anything but unhappy whether you have a job or not. It’s not so much about thinking positive(ly) as it is about being positiv(ity).

When I go to the JobCentre to have my dole signed off, I’m not thinking, “I hope my advisor will be nice to me today.”  I am cheerful and courteous regardless of her attitude towards me. Whether I’ve been having an amazing day or I’ve accidentally stepped on stinking dog poo on the way to the JobCentre, I’ve got enough sense of humour left to share in case anyone’s having a tough day.

Compare the two perspectives below.

  • Thoughts of lack: I’m so poor I can’t even spare £1 let alone £3. The homeless may not have a roof over their heads but I may lose my roof soon too, so my situation is just as dire, why should I help. I don’t have. I may lose. It’ll be taken away from me.
  • vs. Thoughts of sufficiency: I didn’t buy ice-cream. I have £3 to give away. I made someone happy today. I’m happy too. I have. You need it more than me. You can have mine, there’s enough.
  • Thoughts of lack: I’m unemployed = I need everyone to have compassion for me = I’m not in a position to give compassion to others = how come you’re not feeling sorry for me?!  I don’t have a job, money nor status; I feel like a nobody, poor poor me.
  • vs. Thoughts of sufficiency: I’m unemployed = yay, new opportunity in life = I’m compassionate and understanding = who can I offer my compassion to today? I suffer, therefore I understand your suffering. I have compassion. How can I help? 

Can you see the difference? When your perspective is one that focusses on having maybe not much but certainly enough, the power’s back in your hands. You’re not waiting to receive anything from anyone (except your benefit payment..) and looking for opportunities to give what you have enough of: money, security, love, kindness, compassion. When you’re in “give mode”, you don’t feel life (with all its hardships) is happening to you but that you’re in charge of your destiny, making life happen through you.

Try starting each day with a prayer of gratitude even before you get out of bed. You can address it to God, Jesus, Allah, Buddah, a dead relative, Tinker Bell or your teddy bear depending on your faith or lack thereof; it makes no difference as long as you actually feel grateful in your heart.

Be thankful for what you know you have but also for what is still to come. By thanking rather than pleading/asking as in traditional prayers, you’re not allowing any doubt to creep into your mind that these things will happen: “Thank you, Tinker Bell, for the new exciting job coming my way, which will be aligned with my values. Thank you for the material abundance it will bring me. Thank you for the opportunities it will give me to fully express who I really am. Amen.”

Unemployment give us all the reasons in the world to be miserable: no job, no money, no dignity. No ice-cream in my case. Depressing JobCentre appointments. Yet when I choose to be what Maya Angelou called “a rainbow in somebody’s cloud“, like magic, a rainbow dissipates my own clouds… I can see clearly again.

Try it. You too may come to the conclusion there are greater pleasures in life than eating ice-cream on your own.

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Back on the Dole

Yikes! The unthinkable happened: the merciless axe of redundancy came crashing down on my neck, and I found myself back on the dole queue last month.

The unexpected loss of a job, as opposed to when I had willingly left the job in the past, had the effect of a knockdown punch. I was so numb for days, I couldn’t even understand why my best friend was frantically calling Unite to ask about emergency membership for me while accusing me of being “too Japanese” in not fighting back and standing up for my rights.

I wasn’t being deliberately passive. I needed time to process what had just happened and what that meant in terms of my future. Ranting, swearing, crying, none of these emotive behaviours would help bring what I most needed – clarity. In crisis situations I tend to switch to a zen mode where I say little, remain impassive and allow the turmoil to settle.

Most importantly, I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I’m old enough to know in this life shit happens. A lot. These are the so-called “little deaths”: the end of a relationship, the termination of a job, a financial loss. Most humans don’t cope well with endings of any kind, but we are more resilient than we think, and life has an uncanny way of always working out in the end…if only we can bring ourselves to trust its natural process.

Signing on for Jobseeker’s Allowance is a drag, of course, but it’s the price you pay for the privilege of receiving £73.10/week (if you are age 25 or older; otherwise £57.90/week) in unemployment benefits. Unlike in 2009-2010, when I was last unemployed, all new claim registrations can now be done online, except when the site tells you it can’t be completed online, and you need to call the JobCentre anyway.

Whereas previously you had to handwrite the action points you took to look for work in a paper booklet, you now set up an online account on Universal Jobmatch, where you can upload your CV, look for and apply for jobs and type in your jobseeking activities daily, which your advisor then checks to authorise payment of your JSA every fortnight.

Upon losing your job the best favour you can do to yourself is to stay pragmatic. You may be upset or angry but ranting about it to all your friends, getting smashed, or kicking your dog (no animal cruelty please!) are not going to bring your job back. Think survival of the most practical and promptly take the necessary steps to claim what is yours by right if you’ve been contributing National Insurance for the past two tax years.

  1. Sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance as soon as possible. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) rarely accepts backdating your claim

I made that mistake. I waited for the outcome of an interview I had in the early days after I stopped working, hoping I might get the job and not even need to claim JSA. I subsequently signed on and asked for the claim to be backdated to the day after my last pay as an employee, but the request was bluntly declined. The letter from the DWP simply said: “…the law contains a list of specific reasons that allow claims to be backdated. We can only backdate your claim if the reason you did not claim earlier is on the list.”

What law? What list? I searched online and on http://www.gov.uk for the aforementioned list, but could find no list nor an explanation on the law governing this arbitration. The letter invited me to call or write if I disagreed or wanted further explanation on the decision, so I phoned. “Being available for work and actively looking for work is not one of the reasons we can accept for backdating,” they said. I asked them for an example of an acceptable reason, and where was the “list” mentioned in the letter? “We don’t have to give you any reasons, only tell you that we can’t accept your reason.”

This sounded too arbitrary for such an important decision that can affect the livelihood of an incomeless person. On visiting the JobCentre this week, I asked my advisor if a backdating request was ever accepted. “It happens very seldom”, she said, “and only if the jobseeker refrained from making an earlier claim because they already had a job offer, which was then retracted for some reason”. I can only conclude it is a lame way of saying, we never let you backdate, but we need to be seen as offering you the opportunity to ask. Red tape. Conclusion: don’t bank on backdated claims; they are fiction. Instead, sign on fast. (How to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance)

2. The “waiting days” have been increased in October 2014 from three to seven days. This means you’ll not be paid for the first seven days of your claim.

For instance, if your claim started on 21/11/2016, you would not be paid for the period between 21st and 27th November. I also asked my advisor why the DWP withholds payment on those days. “It’s the law” she said. “Waiting days” is then a misnomer. They might as well re-name it “waiting for Godot” since nothing ever arrives.

As the festive season approaches and job ads start drying up, I notice the not-coming-out-from-under-the-duvet days start to outnumber the I’m-going-to-kick-ass days. Emails from friends go unresponded for weeks, as my brain is at overcapacity and can’t digest what they’re saying. My social life has disappeared because eating out is out of the question and “drinks before Christmas” is a cruel joke. In a couple of weeks I’ll also be turning off Facebook, closing my curtains, and stocking up on St. John’s Wort. Needless to say, no Christmas cards this year.

Trying to keep upbeat when your future is so uncertain burns up far more energy than going to work everyday knowing exactly when your next payday is. I’m constantly fatigued and overwhelmed these days.

When what we perceive as “bad fortune” descends, perspective is the key to survival. You can either be a sorry victim of your circumstances or the creator of a brilliant reality by staying focussed on the things that matter. But what are they?

In the next few posts I’ll be sharing tips that have kept me from losing my marbles.

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There is more to life than unemployment misery, says a letter from the Thatcher era

Last weekend I unearthed a most wonderful piece a 25-year-old unemployed young woman sent as a letter to the Guardian in 1985, mid-Thatcher era, and which the author recently reproduced in her blog.

Even though it was written 26 years ago, the content is as relevant as if it had been penned this morning.

Fed up with getting nowhere with job hunting through the JobCentre, Kim Blake Baker decides to stop looking for work and, instead, spend her days writing novels on an “ancient borrowed typewriter”.  For that, she becomes a much happier person, who is interested in and enjoys life.

Her insight into the devastating effects of long-term unemployment is surprisingly mature for a young lady. She talks about the impact of long-term unemployment not only on those who suffer its effects directly, but also on the next of kin: the parents’ sense of helplessness, marriages that crack under the strain of financial stress,  even children feeling guilty about birthdays and Christmases.

In the meantime rejections to job applications pile up, despair increases by the day, while everyone labels you a benefit scrounger… Nothing changes.

Baker, now 51, proved by example that there IS an alternative to the endless pursuit of misery. Her letter provoked a “furore”, and “sackloads of letters” came pouring through her door (this was pre-email times) in response. One person “someone reported [her] to the DHSS (the current Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)) for not actively looking for work”…

Baker says in her letter:

“[…] there is an alternative. By refusing to accept the ‘work ethic’, which is not the same thing as ‘a day’s work for a day’s pay’, which measures a person’s total worth in terms of whether he or she works at all, you can stop the rot. If you accept that continually chasing non-existent jobs is harming you, and that by not doing it you can be a healthier and happier person – and have time to devote to whatever it is you would really like to do, be it brewing homemade beer, or reading, or gardening, or learning judo – then you can start to respect and value yourself again. You can truthfully tell yourself that it is not your fault that you do not have a job; you have tried and it did not work out. That too is not your fault.”

Her comment about the government of the time still rings true:

“The last thing that the Britain of the 1980s needs is a government without understanding, without vision, and without even the most superficial regard for large sections of its populace.”

Whether it is actually feasible for the unemployed to follow in Baker’s footsteps in 2011, and be successful, is a debate for another day, but her chutzpah and her resilience in the face of hardship filled me with inspiration and pride.

Kim Baker, I give thee a standing ovation.

Read Kim’s blog in full here.

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Ethnic minority schemes: is positive discrimination really positive?

Ethnic minority is the theme of a standing joke at home between myself and my husband. Whenever I see a job ad welcoming applications from “members from the ethnic minority groups”, he says, “It’s for you. Go for it.” And my stock answer is an indignant, “But I’m not ethnic minority.” It makes him laugh that I am so reluctant of being called “minority”.

Bizarrely, as a child, growing up in Brazil as a second-generation Japanese Brazilian I was always conscious of being “different”, the odd one out, the kid that never quite blended in in a classroom. When I went to work in Japan, I was relieved not to stand out in a crowd at last. But the physical alienness was only replaced by one of psychological ostracism, as,  being a Brazlian at heart, I felt very much a foreigner in my thoughts and values among the Japanese.

I had to come to terms then that wherever I went, East or West, I would never be quite the same as the natives in the land. When you grow up on the borderline between multiple cultures you don’t belong anywhere, and at the same time, you are a citizen of the world. Some will respect you that much more for it; others will make sure you know your place and stick to it, ie always on the outside looking in.

Fairy tale of gypsy girl in a wagon
This week the news that a journalism graduate, who was a former “gypsy”, was awarded a traineeship at The Guardian and had a four-page feature published in G2 struck a chord with me.

Roxy Freeman, now 30, came from a traveller family and grew up in a horse-drawn wagon for a home with nine other siblings, roaming round Ireland, with no formal schooling until age 22. Her only educational credits are an Open University degree and a diploma in journalism obtained  at the same training centre in Brighton where I studied last year.

Considering that travellers are one of the most hated, contemptuously discriminated and abused minority groups in this country, I felt like giving Roxy a standing ovation for her admirable feat. The published feature, “My restless Gypsy life“, is her own life story so far, which she tells with disarming candidness and, surprisingly, not an ounce of bitterness  against anyone who may  have once slighted her. Proof that living as an outsider can help you acquire wholesomeness as a person in a way a school can never do.

According to an article posted in HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk, Roxy got a work placement thorugh The Guardian’s Postive Action Scheme, which “supports journalists from ethnic minorities”.

Daily Mail goes ethnic
This immediately reminded me that, last summer, the Daily Mail started recruiting young applicants from ethnic minority groups for their annual Young Journalist of the Year prize, which included a week’s internship at the Daily Mail and £500 in cash.

There was a lot of jeering on Twitter at the time. A web editor of a regional newspaper I “follow” sarcastically tweeted: “The Daily Mail wants a brown face on their front page.”

It was unfortunate that this initiative was associated with a redtop better known for its right-wing views on immigration and foreigners in general. The Daily Mail may have used it as a publicity stunt to undo some of the negative PR it regularly receives, but the original intent of the award is supposedly to encourage diversity in journalism. Details on the GG2 Young Journalist of the Year Award can be found in the PDF document within this link.

My question is: are such awards really that positive a step towards including the excluded at a time when journalism has been found guilty of being an elitist and exclusive profession of the middle-classes? (I have written a little about this in my previous posting here and in Journalism.co.uk: Journalism: an aspiration soley for the elite).

Women, the ethnic minority of publishing
When I used to work in publishing, I always felt slightly irritated by the existence of the Orange Prize for Fiction aimed exclusively at female writers when there isn’t a men-only one. It is ironic then that the Man Booker is for both sexes, but doesn’t a unisex prize suffice? Or could there be a sinister, male-chauvinistic and condescending flip side to the Orange Prize, which implies women authors are not good enough for the Booker and therefore need to be evaluated separately?

Could it be that women, like ethnic minorities, are considered under-privileged in some way, and need that “little push” to come to the limelight?

Don’t get me wrong. I am delighted that lady writers are being given the opportunity of winning a prestigious literary award that could help boost the sales of their books, but unlike in sport, where there is an obvious difference in physical strength between males and females, I struggle to accept the idea that women need to be placed in a category of their own.

A little help from your friends
Awards  and traineeship schemes for ethnic minority journalism graduates are excellent initiatives, without which someone like Roxy may never have got her foot in the door. At least not so fast. It gives them that little edge over the others, who may not have to fight so hard against discrimination to get that first job.

Roxy’s story made me suddenly wonder if any of my job application rejections in the past was in any way influenced by my being of Japanese origin, even though a candidate’s racial discrimination is officially illegal.

I recall now that when I changed my family name to Elliott, after my marriage, I felt much more confident introducing myself by name to people I was interviewing.

I realised, in shock, that I had sub-consciously imagined people would never believe someone with a foreign name could write a story in decent English, let alone for a newspaper.

As with appearance, people make judgements based on your name. If you have a double-barrelled name, that is an indication of a privileged status. If you are a Smith, you are nondescript. A Rothchild means a free pass in life. A foreign name and people are immediately suspicious as they cannot pigeonhole you in a category they can easily understand and rate.

Roxy had a blank space on her application form under “education”, which provoked frawns and dirty looks.  Now her CV will say “trainee at The Guardian”. “Features published in The Guardian.” Who will dare refuse her an opportunity? Good on her.

Pride can takes you places
Yet, just as I have my gripe against literary prizes for lady authors, I cannot help but dislike the thought that any minority group should need the “protection” of the state or of private companies when they are just as capable of great achievements as anyone else.

Maybe I am too proud.

Maybe because of my pride I do not feel comfortable being classed as ethnic minority because that feels a bit like second-class citizenship. I  remember that as a child I worked twice as hard as any Brazilian kid at school just to prove that I might be “a Jap with slits for eyes”, as a bully at school once told me, but academically I could outshine them any day.

In fact, many ethnic minority children grow up to become grand figures in history exactly because they had their prides to defend and a point to prove. Hardship gives you chutzpah.

Did you see where that little half-cast boy called Barack ended?

I will make a concession and accept that they –correction, we – we at times do need a little help from our friends. It may not be so bad after all to be granted special opportunities and schemes for being  under-recognised and under-represented in a certain community. 

What saddens me is that we live in a society where discrimination and social inequality are so rampant that, without the extra help, it is still difficult for some of us to jump off that travelling wagon onto the bandwagon of security and success, which should be our birthright.

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