In October 2018, I signed my first lease. It consisted of five-ish pages and very small font. It also included terms I didn’t know and things I have yet to comprehend. I also knew already that the landlord had a very bad reputation. Regardless, I signed the lease, understanding it to the best of my ability, and put faith in the landlord that he would not completely screw us over. I didn’t have a better option for where to live during my senior year at Geneseo. I signed this lease as a college-educated, English as my primary language, with parents who read over and co-signed the lease person. Even with all of those attributes, I still had to trust that my landlord created a lease that was at least mostly fair, especially regarding the intricacies that I did not understand. Every day, people are signing documents and making promises that they do not fully understand, and these things that they do not understand can be the reason they find themselves owing more money, being removed from their homes, and/or owning something that is essentially worthless. We hear it all the time: “Why don’t they teach students how to do taxes in school? Why don’t they teach them about credit and loans? Why don’t they teach them about mortgages and leases?” This information is not common knowledge but everyone sees them. Why aren’t they common knowledge? The lack of this knowledge forces us to give other people the upper hand in these high-risk deals.
In A Mercy by Toni Morrison, Florens, a slave, is traveling alone on a quest from Rebekka, her master. She carries around a sealed letter from Rebekka with her in case she is stopped and questioned. Florens trusts Rebekka and knows that the letter will help her. She trusts that what Rebekka wrote is enough. When it comes to paperwork and official documents that we do not understand, we need to place our trust in someone who knows more than we do. We need to trust their knowledge and their overall goodness that we will be okay. Yet, we need to worry about whether they may not be right or whether they may not care about what happens to us at all. As a slave, Florens has no true reason to trust Rebekka or any white person. She was born into slavery where her master sold her to Jacob to fill a debt, separating her from her mother and brother. During their time, Rebekka slowly built a relationship with Florens. Florens does not have absolute trust in Rebekka but trusts her enough to not open the letter and have faith that the letter will keep her safe need be. When she was stopped by law enforcement, Florens had to trust Rebekka’s letter. She had no better option. If the letter had not been enough, in addition to the full body search she had to endure, Florens would have been detained and punished for it.
Similarly, most people are forced to trust their banks for loans and mortgages. They are forced to trust their reality agents for advice on buying/selling. There are people at banks and reality agents who want the best for their customers, but there are also people who do not. It is not uncommon for people to be discriminated against by the people they are forced to trust in these deals. It is not fair, but there are typically no better options if someone wants a place to call home. Even if you own your home, the paperwork involving insurance, deeds, and upkeep of the house are overwhelming. There is a forced trust in these people, especially if you are not fluent in English and confrontational characteristically. If the terms were not clear on the lease or mortgage, or the wording was purposefully deceitful, expulsion is probable. Suddenly, the person you were forced to trust is uprooting you for a reason you did not know was likely. Another likely situation is that the price you believed to be paying is actually much more and you cannot afford it.
Some people have the privilege of not having to stress too much about these intricacies and whether they can trust the knowledgeable person. Some people can only hope that the person they have to trust will not be working against them. During this time of COVID-19 and increasingly high rates of unemployment, people once again have to trust things they do not fully understand, while also hoping and trusting that we will support each other during these times. We are so lucky to have the internet and so many resources to help us understand and adapt. It is amazing how many people I have seen, using their resources, help support others during this time, whether it is making PPE, donating money, or providing guides for people who need financial or health support. Yet, there are a large amount of unhelpful, incorrect, or irrelevant resources out these. Luckily, checking sources for legitimacy is something still taught at schools. Regardless, not everyone checks these resources’ credibility which creates a new issue of people who act knowledgeable about these complicated works who are actually just spreading falsities. In A Mercy, Florens was forced to trust Rebekka and Rebekka’s letter supported what she told Florens. Currently, people are forced to trust those more knowledgeable than them regarding housing specificities, but they are not always supported by these people.