In this commentary, Ariel offers an honest look at the domino effects that workplace ableism and misogynoir can have on financial and housing security.

This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.

With about ten weeks left on my lease, my landlord started reaching out about rent renewal or leaving. I got irritated immediately, avoiding the messages and checking my email in hopes of an update on any of the job applications I’ve submitted. Nothing. My savings were running out, I couldn’t afford to move, and I would barely be able to finish out my lease as is. Irritation might be making light of what I was actually experiencing: panic.

Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve been looking for all kinds of work with no luck. Though I’m still applying, as of the time I’m writing this, I’m officially at risk of being homeless if I don’t get a position in a week. Being unemployed for so long has led to a lot of reflection, realizing relatively late how thoroughly being a Black autistic woman has shaped my life. It’s felt like being an alien saddled with adult responsibilities most people have somehow already picked up, but now no one will explain them to me. It’s been me saying, “I didn’t know you could/were supposed to do that” about almost everything. When my friends and peers do give me glimpses into the inner machinations of regular life, it feels like they forget that I likely can’t just do the same. Due to masking, I mimic everyday social rituals convincingly enough. Paired with anti-Blackness, people forget that I need substantial support with bureaucracy and the road to getting a job—and could even be in crisis.

After so much time out of practice in the social dance of professional life, it’s been a struggle to perform in interviews or make it past phone screenings. I’d be asked about my resume and freeze, forget to look at interviewers while talking, and default to repeating answers scripted and rehearsed based on interview questions clipped from Glassdoor when asked a question I hadn’t prepared for. Black women are already stymied due to misogynoir in professional development, so I shudder to think of the biases I’m working against in these corporate interactions—biases that are exacerbated by how my disability is interpreted in that setting. Like many autistic adults, I’ve spent more time in my twenties unemployed—and looking for work—than gainfully employed. Numerous things could be throttling my potential, and knowing that so many of them are rooted in aspects of myself that are unchangeable is demoralizing.

It’s hard to imagine a Black disabled woman achieving financial independence without vigilant and dedicated advocacy. Otherwise, the social stigma and paternalism directed toward someone like me “needing handouts” and “being unsuitable” for higher income jobs is all but guaranteed to keep me in need and underemployed.

I’ve been open with people I know who work in a variety of sectors about my job search and that I’m low on money. Some have offered to pass my resume along in their companies, which has yielded a couple of those awful interviews. Others give me a pitiful look, one that’s sweet enough but somehow tells me they always have a place to go or a relative to call for a boost if they’re without a job for too long. Belonging to a network of people who are middle class and above is frustrating because they, in my experience, can’t imagine the terror of being unemployed leading to losing your home and safety.

It’s my belief that people aren’t islands, and that care necessitates being responsible for one another. I know many people who would say they care about me, but have ignored my calls for help. The reality most people in higher financial classes are unwilling to face is that looking away puts folks’ lives in jeopardy. It’s put my life in jeopardy. I’m thinking of Black women like Oluwatoyin Salau, who named her vulnerability explicitly for all of us to witness. It didn’t save her, and I know fully well that I could have the same fate. If something happens to me as a result of poverty and losing my home, and the people around me have resources they aren’t sharing that could have kept me from interacting with forces more likely to harm or kill me, it’s my opinion that along with capitalism they’re implicated in that outcome.

I wouldn’t be able to rest if someone I call a friend was struggling to access benefits or was on the brink of homelessness. Not without finding out how I could help meet their needs and affirming that I’m working to keep them safe. As my time runs out, I wish I could say the same for those who know me.