5 Things That Piss Me Off About People Who've Never Known What It's Like to be Poor
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What to Do: When people talk about poor people as a monolithic group of ne'erdowells, it is your job to educate them. Email journalists who get it wrong. Write to politicians who sound insensitive. Correct well-meaning friends who don't know how ignorant they sound. Draw attention to the misinformation as much as possible. The hard part is doing this without a SPAM-shaped chip on your shoulder. But if you can see that by automatically assuming that they — a "better-off" person — wouldn't "understand" your perspective, then you're doing the same blanket labeling to them that they are doing to you. Give them a fair chance to blow it at least.
4. When Middle Class People "Slum It"
Oh god, the thing where the people whose parents pay their cellphones, college tuition, health insurance and car payment love going to dive bars so they can feel authentically gritty. If you had to endure your entire twenties with zero safety net, surrounded by trustafarians with an affection for faux-poor minimalism or suburban kids who called themselves poor while they drank freely at the shittiest pool halls in town, the ones they drove up to in their parent's Saabm all in their quest to feel real danger without actually risking their safety — then you've likely felt your class rage bubble up like a cauldron of annoyance.
Your Problem: You go here because the booze is cheap and the faces look friendly. Maybe you're living out a destructive cycle you witnessed growing up. Maybe these are the bars of your home town, the bars of your neighborhood, and the stories of the men and women who frequent them can be totally mundane, or really sad, or perfectly OK, but always familiar. Newsflash, slummers: These dudes are not Charles Bukowski ready to bust out some working-class insight for you. Some of them have abandoned families, lost their way, relapsed, and they are here in the dark getting comfort in the only cheap way they know how. This is a place for compassionate communing, not a place to co-opt grit.
What to Do: Ah, fuck, it pains me to say it, but those middle class kids don't know any better. Maybe this is the closest thing they get to a dark spot. Is it better than showing no interest at all? And really, if we're being honest, it's truly ludicrous to suggest there is a meter for authentic rights to grit — to suggest that anyone else from a more financially stable life can't dive into the deep end and craft their own alcohol-numbed fog is unfair, not to mention just as limiting as the unfair assumptions about your capacity for nuanced thought or debt repayment merely because you grew up in a trailer. Let this one go, even though it might just be the most irksome of all. Your class is showing!
When you try to educate or merely share experiences about poverty or financial struggle with people who haven't experienced it, they can get pretty weird about it. Sometimes, if you're talking about money, people act like that's "low class" or rude. Or they get defensive, like you're attacking their stability by offering a counterpoint. Usually, though, the response is a pitying look followed by awkward silence. When you can't even have a conversation about the reality of poverty in this country without middle class or "above" folks getting all clammed-up about it, it makes you wonder how anyone can actually work on the issue for realz. It also makes your class rage swirl around like a mini-tornado.