community resources/resourcefulness

Working at a community or family support center as I do puts me in a weird nexus between the legal and illegal economies that function in our society. Alot of the people who come in here are undocumented, but they need to work to survive. So what do I tell them?

One of the social work interns I work with told me about a classmate of hers whose internship basically involves going around to crack dens and street corners and distributing clean crack paraphanelia, e.g. pipes and various ingredients. They do this to promote healthy and safe crack use (!!!)

Selling Crack in El Barrio

Read “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio” by Phillipe Bourgois for a complete treatment of apartheid in America, social marginalization, and the gap between middle-class and street cultures. It turns out that the drug economy is, within the context of street culture, much more lucrative and socially rewarding than the minimum wage office work that would otherwise be available to the undereducated people of color who live in the urban ghetto.

So it’s clear that when you’re trying to help people negotiate the complex and unspeakably harsh world here at the margins of society, there isn’t any room for moral judgement. But where does that leave you?

I’m working with this one client who has some pretty grim physical disabilities and fairly low English level. We’ve talked primarily in Mandarin. (Because she’s from rural southern China, this would be her second or third language and she’s excellent at it.) I’m graudally finding out more information about this person and I’m realizing that she’s already been all around Brooklyn talking with people and using all the resources available to her. And she gets social security disability benefits from the federal government, so if she were actually able to find legal employment in her condition it would actually harm her financial situation.

SO basically I have to encourage her to (1) study English and (2) find some kind of illegal employment. And like I said she’s been all around town using all of the albeit flimsy community support structures that exist for people like her. You have to be real crafty if you’re unemployable!

Theoretically I guess I could just encourage her to become a crack dealer? I mean, if my sole purpose is to help people negotiate the world of employment, legal or illegal, then why not?

Further speculation: According to Sarah Kaufmann’s mom, a psychotherapist helps people figure out WHY they are the way they are. I think what I’m doing here is slightly different because I’m helping people figure out WHAT they need, or WHAT they need to do to live their lives. WHAT is your goal? WHAT is going on with you? WHAT do you want from me? Providing action plans, producing progress notes, making appointments…there’s very little room to think about causes. You never ask why (why did you come to America? why is it hard for you to find work? why do you experience racism?) even though the reasons are staring you in the face.

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One Response to “community resources/resourcefulness”

  1. William Says:

    For an economist’s take on the the crack-dealing lifestyle, see Freakonomics. There’s a whole chapter on a drug gang in Chicago, in pursuit of the answer to the question, “Why do most crack dealers live with their mothers?”

    I don’t remember the book all that well anymore, but I did find a video on the internet, which is a lecture by Stephen Levitt, economist and author.

    Why do crack dealers…?

    Dealing crack isn’t all that lucrative, though you make a good point about the benefits of avoiding income reporting.

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