Capitalism is Killing Us
By Will Stickney
Seen in the 2019 Issue
In July 2018, Blessing Osazuwa returned to her father’s home in Overbrook, PA, late one evening. Osazuwa walked into her bedroom, locked the door, and gulped down a handful of antidepressants. She then went to sleep; expecting (and hoping) not to wake up.
That day, Osazuwa had clocked into work at 8 a.m. at a local daycare she worked at for a few months. She clocked out at 5 p.m. and made her way over to a babysitting gig until midnight. This was a typical day, a routine she had sustained for weeks and weeks, all while the stress and mental fatigue became unbearable.
This routine gave Osazuwa virtually no time to look after her own mental health or practice any kind of basic self-care, as nebulous as that term is. Her full-time job at the daycare was grueling, working as many as 50 hours a week and making only $11 an hour. Oftentimes, her coworkers would call out at the very last minute, or just not show up at all, leaving Osazuwa to look after a dozen toddlers.
Before working at the daycare Osazuwa had been taking classes in early childhood education at Montgomery County College but was forced to drop out of, after her father became unemployed. “All the financial responsibility fell on me… I was responsible for the food, the rent, which was $1350 a month, the internet, the phone, his cellphone, the electricity, and whatever else I had to buy for myself.”
The following morning, Osazuwa had a conversation with her father about what had happened the previous night. “I told him, ‘I would rather commit suicide than tell you that I can’t afford to pay the rent’… I felt that suicide was the only option.”
“To the average person it’s like, ‘It’s just rent, like you’re going to commit suicide over not being able to pay a bill?’ but to me it was so big of a thing… I was working to work, not being able to pursue any of my goals, just having to make money in order to literally survive,” she said.
Mark Fisher, a cultural theorist and critic, wrote about the burdens of being productive under capitalism and the strain that puts upon a person in Capitalist Realism. He wrote, “Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems. To function effectively as a component of just-in-time production you must develop a capacity to respond to unforeseen events, you must learn to live in conditions of total instability, or ‘precarity,’ as the ugly neologism has it.”
This ‘precarity’ Fisher wrote about—before taking his own life in 2017 after battling depression for decades—takes precedence over everything else.
Ahmed Waseeo is a sophomore at Temple University studying history and education. Waseeo pays his way through school; he doesn’t have his parents to fall back on, a luxury many of his peers have. In order to pay for rent and tuition, Waseeo worked a series of jobs in the food service industry from being a cook to washing dishes.
Through these positions, Waseeo has seen how fraught the lives of so many caught up in menial jobs are. These positions are rooted in a belief that labor is replaceable and if workers make even one trivial mistake, they can be without a job in an instance, launching them full force into the void of uncertainty.
“If you are continually doing that type of job where a manager is belittling you for every mistake you make and you are doing that job for decades, the growth of your mind is inhibited. You just feel like a f**king cog.”
The worry and anxiety of the future—near or far—is never-ending, drowning out any other dreams or desires. For Waseeo, his dream is to become a high school teacher, where he can educate impressionable young people, and inspire them to dream by offering up alternatives to this system so many find themselves trapped in.
Osazuwa’s dream, one that she's had for as early as she can remember, is to become an entertainer and singer in the vein of her idols: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson. Women that were blessed with voices that were—at the risk of sounding corny—truly transcendent. These are artists that bared their souls for us; sharing their pain, their triumphs, and their joy to create art that can lift us up and away from all the bullshit, even if only for a moment.
As a child, she sang in her church’s choir. In high school, she performed with the LMHS Drill Team and drumline and was awarded The Concert Choir Service Award for, “four years of dedication and contribution to the school chorus.”
Osazuwa is also an activist, not that she would ever identify herself as such, but in the sense that she is genuinely committed to fighting for those most marginalized in our society: people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrants. In April 2016, as a high school senior, she was awarded a certificate of accomplishment from Princeton University for, “her dedicated efforts to confront and address the unique issues facing women of color.”
Later that summer Osazuwa, along with her church and members of the community, led a peaceful protest against police brutality in response to the shooting of Philando Castile. She also organized several follow up marches and events, too. One event was the “The Stand Up For Love Rally,” following the wake of events in Charlottesville in Aug 2018.
Osazuwa has managed to accomplish all of these things despite, the enormous financial and mental strain put on her. People should not have to live like this. Young people, like Waseeo and Osazuwa, are being swept into the unrelenting grind of capitalism.
SO, WHAT NEXT?
These issues don’t exist in a vacuum—they are a direct response to our current socio-political climate. This entire generation of millennials, having bought into the dreams their parents instilled in them from birth, found themselves saddled with six-figure student loan debts, and no professional or financial future. All of these factors helped to lay the groundwork for the explosion in the rise of mental illness.
Entire generations are succumbing to addiction, homelessness, and suicide, at ever younger ages. Many times these issues are caused by underlying mental illness, but they are exacerbated by the conditions of late-stage capitalism. Ignoring the social context behind these issues, is proving to be tragic.
In order to fully address this epidemic, we need to reframe the narrative. Instead of referring to mental illness as a simple result of faulty neurological wiring is deeply irresponsible and misses the material factors at play. As mental health has become a huge talking point in recent years, specifically in the U.S. there has been a real push to depoliticize the issue. This tendency, has done a lot of good for a lot of people.
The stigma that once existed surrounding this topic is lessening as a result and people are starting to seek professional help and get the treatment they so desperately need. However, by ignoring issues, such as student loan debt, gentrification, and lack of accessible healthcare, we are failing huge populations of people, particularly people of color and those most vulnerable in our society.
To truly address mental illness, we need to take an aggressive multi-faceted approach to identifying symptoms as early as possible and we need to subsequently work to treat them quickly. We need to look at labor conditions in this country, nobody should have to work more than 40 hours a week to put food on the table.
We need to push for universal healthcare, so everyone regardless of their race or socioeconomic background can access the tools and resources they need to be healthy. We need to look at the bigger picture, instead of tapping out and failing those that are suffering.
We can do better and we must.