During the Great Depression, people survived by leveraging their government to invest in one another. The global pandemic has forced us over and over again to confront the fact that we are interconnected, to recognize the everyday heroes that we too briefly called essential workers, and to reconcile the idea that people have unique needs that must be taken into consideration by us all.
Support systems are often thought of as teams, a small group of people bringing out the best in one another and utilizing their diverse strengths to accomplish a shared goal. When I think about my own support system, I think expansively about what it means to be a Black woman in the United States, and know that I will be ignored and criminalized when I need medical care, I will be stereotyped whether or not I need financial assistance, and I will be resented if I dare to take care of myself too well.
Family, friends, schools, neighbors, dog walkers, babysitters, colleagues, parks, libraries, and daycares are all part of the infrastructure of my support system. These structures of support are cracking under the pressure of our current political reality; inflation and stagnant wages are causing staffing shortages across professions. Recently our daycare closed for a week after a member of their staff resigned, and I felt lucky to live in the same city as three generations of my family, lucky to have a job where people are understanding and flexible about welcoming a toddler in the office. Still, I was worried about the parents with less accommodating circumstances. I was stressed about meeting the expectations of the people I work with and maintaining my children’s schedule.
I spent that week without daycare doing Zooms from my bedroom and coordinating my office hours with my siblings and my parents. The best part of the week was hanging out with my toddler after she and I would drop off her older siblings at their schools, my littlest and I would go to the park, and snack on pastries and juice boxes, sliced fruit and peanut butter. My one-year-old would climb everything as we celebrated glimpses of spring that week in April when her daycare closed, and she could be so brave about the world knowing I was there to catch her if she fell and snuggle her at nap time.
Being able to ask people for help is beyond important; asking for help is a necessary part of life. The question is who are the people you trust to help you?
Who are the people you can ask for the help that you need, and not just the help they want to give you?
Who are the people who rely on you for support?
The best criticism I ever heard of the Peace Corps was a teenager who told a reporter in a clip “you can’t just do whatever you want and call it helping.” In order to support people you have to respect them, and be in community with them. If you wanna show up for people in the ways that really matter you have to value what they bring to the table and care about what they have to say.
The politics of support run deep and these politics are informed by race dynamics, gender dynamics, centuries of devaluing disabled communities, and forcing people into poverty via predatory exploitation. The politics of support for me as a queer Black woman have often meant that I am supposed to be supportive to others without needing to be supported myself. I am supposed to absorb both blame and responsibility and never be given credit. I think it’s this shared experience of being required to give to others while being denied any level of consideration that makes it hard for Black women to support each other, there’s an exhaustion I think many of us struggle to describe.
As I zoom away from my immediate home, the integrity of support the systems people rely on are chipped away at by a disregard for families, and the devaluing of all labor associated with people of color and women. As I zoom into my own house I am undeniably loved by a person who identifies as a white man, and he is the person in my life who is readily available to take care of me with acceptance and respect for who I am. I have married someone who entertains our children on weekends to make time for me to write. I am in love with a person who calls into work just as often as I do when one of our children are sick. When I get home late from work, Sandy makes me feel like he’s happy to see me and understands the importance of what I do.
My partner lives at the intersection of privileged identities and what that means is that support systems for him have always been available, welcoming, and dignified. As a white man, my partner has lived a life dictated by robust opportunities, an abundance of options, constant accommodation, and the benefit of the doubt. This man was the valedictorian, he has traveled the world, and in some ways, I think it’s easy for him to support me because he has always been supported by the greater systems of our society.
In many ways, the man I love is living proof of what it looks like to have systems come together in concert to uplift and empower you. Sandy is a beneficiary of centuries of being at the center. Sometimes I think it’s because of this that he has taken a backseat to my career, my goals, my ambitions … sometimes I think he wants to rewrite history in the way that he loves and sees me. The reality is my man does the laundry, and he makes most of our food, and the truth is most of the time I think he does it all because he loves me.
Martin Luther King said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” As much as our support systems are about the people we love, our support systems are about justice. Structures of support are not possible without living wages and fair compensation. Systems of support do not exist without adequate health care, education, access to food and housing. What defines communities and countries around the world is how their people take care of each other. The best investments we can make are always in each other.
This month’s parenting question: Who are the people in your life that celebrate you as a parent and honor your needs as they relate to your family?
This month’s play question: How do you show your children you support them? How do you encourage them to ask for help?
This month’s political question: What would it mean to you to strengthen the infrastructure of your communities systems of support? How would your community change if there was universal healthcare, or paid maternity leave, or tuition-free daycare, or free college? What would happen if we believed people have just as much of a right to be free from gun violence as they do to own a gun? What does reimagining how we support each other on a large scale mean to you?
Until next month, my beloved reader, I leave you with this:
Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.