In my cultural anthropology course, we read about a group of Somali-Bantu refugees who immigrated to the US after fleeing a civil war in their home country, Somalia. Along their journey they faced various obstacles to resettlement, which they overcame by crafting narratives of utter helplessness and displacement.
These stories confirmed the preconceived notions held by neoliberal officials about refugee struggles and ultimately granted certain opportunities to the Somali-Bantus. By the end of their journey, they had settled into the US and subsequently improved the receiving community through their own autonomy.
This got me thinking about the narratives I have similarly constructed. Every year I find myself sailing through a maelstrom of applications as I seek opportunities like summer internships, financial aid for study abroad, and on-campus employment. Regardless of the organization affiliated with each opportunity, I must brand myself as an ideal candidate over other people.
The swaths of essay questions, resumes, and cover letters that students and unemployed individuals endure is symptomatic of the commodification of people. As we seek opportunities for self-fulfillment we pitch ourselves as worthy of financial investment. I argue that we rather advocate for opportunity as a human right.
Everyone wants autonomy over their life so they can develop themselves in their own capacity. Not in the sense of western individuality (i.e. “my individuality is more important than family, community, or society”), but rather the idea that all people may proceed with their chosen life trajectory unimpeded.
When submitting an application for a more scarce opportunity, my narrative becomes increasingly farther from the truth. Of course, it feels good to receive the fabled acceptance letter, yet that acceptance comes at the expense of another individual’s rejection. It feels even worse to be denied opportunity; the reality that more people are disproportionately denied is a tough pill to swallow.
Even when I am accepted often times it feels illegitimate, as if I have done some wrong. I suspect this the moral evil our society commits: we must live a lie if we want to succeed; very few people can wholeheartedly pursue their dreams. There is no ethical living under capitalism.
Some let this dire situation sour their life, but I choose to make the most of it and prosper with what I have. I must march forward with a mask on my face, at least for now.
That beautiful day when the workers upend the very machine that instigates their oppression, I can finally take off my mask and rejoice.