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When black people come into the bookstore I work at, it is usually for one of two reasons: they are looking for books about black people, in which case I bring them to the section that my Democrat-voting boss so kindly segregated just for them, much to the black customers’ ironic delight; or they are “looking for work” and need me to sign a piece of paper to confirm they “looked for work.”

Yesterday, while at work behind the front counter, a middle-aged black man walked in. He had a worn, front-facing baseball cap on his head, a loose-fitting t-shirt, and jeans that were loose though not exactly baggy. He carried a cluster of rumpled papers, white and yellow, so I immediately knew he was not here for our “Afro-American”-labeled bookshelf of fine reading authored by coloreds looking to make a profit in keeping the troubles; he was here to “look for work.”

I keep putting that phrase and its variations in quotation marks because this man, and most of the people in the past who have come in “looking for work,” almost all of whom have also been black, was not actually looking for work. Those papers in his hand were ones I had seen on numerous occasions before: when someone receives unemployment benefits—bonuses that the government rewards citizens for not being employed—he must meet the requirement that he be constantly “looking for work,” and those papers are for him to fill out the name of the businesses he went to, their phone numbers, the times and dates that he went, the names of the persons he spoke to, etc. It has been my experience that people who come into this bookstore ostensibly looking for work are not actually looking for work, but are content with their lives of jumping through the small hoops the government places before them in order to remain on the taxpayers’ payroll.

Such was the case with this man. Like others before him, he did not dress as one looking to be taken seriously in his inquiry for a job, he did not speak as one looking to be taken seriously in his inquiry for a job, and he did not conduct himself as one looking to be taken seriously in his inquiry for a job. I already described his attire; his lips bounced when he talked, which he did much too speedily for someone hoping to be understood by a white person, and he did not enunciate his words. Needless to say, I had a bit of a rough time deciphering what he was saying. But the telltale sign that he was just going through the motions was how he approached me at the counter.

Immediately upon walking through the front door, he turned to approach me at the register and, placing his messy stack of papers on it, said, “How you doin’, sir, what’s the address of this place?” and proceeded to fill out parts of the unemployment form without even asking for a job here.
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