In brief: Drop the side eye you cast at the poor folks who eat a candy bar, go for a drink with friends, see a movie, have a glass of wine at home, or order pizza on a Friday night. Poor people are allowed to have moments of joy.
Note: I’m an activist/writer/media contributor full-time. If you can, consider supporting my work so I can do more of it by becoming a patron at PATREON or making a one-time donation through PAYPAL. Thank you!
Stop poverty shaming.
Seriously, stop it.
You know you’ve done it. I mean, I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Mostly we do it to make ourselves feel better by comparison; with a little introspection and some new hobbies, though, I think we could all find another way to feel good because it turns out the poor have a right to occasionally feel some joy without your judgy gaze .
Not sure if you’ve poor shamed? Place two fingers on your wrist and check for a pulse. Find one? Then you’ve done it. Most of us learned it growing up or from movies and television with stereotype reinforcement. The poor are lazy, they don’t know how to manage money, and/or they “don’t know any better.”
That last one. GUH. It’s the worst all dressed up in its Sunday best of passive aggressive pseudo sympathy.
Still not sure if you’ve done it or confident you have avoided this jerkish tendency? Let’s run through some scenarios:
- If you’ve made comments to neighbors in line at the store or fast food joint while someone you perceive to be less well-off than you purchased a candy bar or soda, you’ve poverty shamed.
- If you’ve sat silently at the Thanksgiving dinner table while your right-wing uncle complains about “waste in the welfare system” and his tax dollars going to “junk food,” you’ve poverty shamed.
- If you’ve scoffed at the co-worker who called in AGAIN because their kid was sick and they couldn’t afford a sitter/day-care, you’ve poverty shamed.
- If you’ve side-eyed the homeless person with the can of beer just trying to make today not suck as much as yesterday, you’ve poverty shamed.
- If you’ve groaned as the person in front of you whipped out some coupons, you’ve poverty shamed.
- If you’ve commented about the way “people in the projects always seem to be able to afford cable” as though that $75/month a dozen people scrape together to keep them from losing their damn minds means anything about their character, you’ve poverty shamed. (I put that in quotes because I heard that almost verbatim on a weekly basis when I lived in Chicago where Cabrini-Green sat amidst luxury housing in the busiest dining/club area of the city — a neighborhood I worked in for over a decade.)
- And if you’ve seen my social media posts about the half glass of wine I have most days or wondered how I afforded the fancy looking eggs in the brunch pic while talking about this topic, you’ve poverty shamed.
It’s about time you knocked that off — especially considering poor people aren’t outing you in public, following you around yelling about the shit choices you make every day that affect them.
Your decisions to do things like drive when you could walk, trash usable household goods instead of donating them, support factory farms even though you have the money to buy food that isn’t destroying the climate, vote against minimum wage increases, and only care about the hungry when handing that lone canned good to your postal worker at Christmas affect the poor SO MUCH MORE than the decision one poor person makes to eat a Snickers or drink a beer.
Frankly, we should all be rich shaming considering the damage being done by the wealthy in this country and across the globe. It’s not the poor destroying your community, it’s this guy:
Also, while we’re at it, I feel your “How poor can you be if you go to the gym?” nonsense. Stop that too. Don’t throw your guilt about not working out or whateverthefuck is going on at me. I’m not demanding the poor all get in shape or join gyms or discover the joys of yoga and running; I’m just asking you to back off what those of us with limited resources do to mitigate how craptastic we often feel and how rough a lot of our days are. I need the treadmill so I can check out for an hour and not think about the constant swirl of responsibilities and bills and obligations imposed upon me. Frankly, I don’t fucking care if you like it.
Through my health insurance (#ThanksObama), my membership is $24/month — a helluva lot cheaper than being sick all the time. And being sick all the time is a real possibility when caring for two kids under two who catch everything because that’s what kids do. But even if it wasn’t that cheap…am I supposed to feel awful as a baseline because I don’t have money? Time at the gym helps me combat the not-always-spectacular diet I am forced to eat, makes focusing easier and therefore helps me be productive working multiple jobs, has increased my balance and made the physical therapy I need from 15 years doing damage to my body at intense jobs easier, and makes sleeping — something I’ve struggled to do since childhood — a thing that actually happens on occasion now.
And sleeping makes everything easier.
Here’s the thing that folks who haven’t been food insecure or one bad serving shift away from not making rent can’t get unless they make a concerted effort: this isn’t a lifestyle choice, but it essentially becomes a lifestyle.
Again: being poor isn’t a lifestyle choice, but it essentially becomes a lifestyle.
(I’m about to get heavy, so the gifs are taking a break. I promise I’ll bring them back at the end.)
When you are so close to the edge that your mail gets delivered there, you begin to fear and then accept that security will never happen for you. Why put away six months wages (if you even can) when the second you do so the water heater in your house or the transmission on your car goes out? That “fund” becomes disaster prevention and mitigation, not security.
Eventually you understand that buying that beer/coffee with a friend, bottle of wine for home, or Snickers bar for a sugar rush to get through the afternoon isn’t going to make or break you. Even if all those decisions were added up over the course of the month, they’d maybe hit $20 or $75. That’s not even enough to pay a utility bill.
At some point you determine that the joy from that $5 purchase that allows you time with friends or a little relief during the day is the best thing you can do with that money. Denying yourself any joy at all would leave you, what, $200 “ahead” at the end of the year? Would your mental and emotional state be better served by the coffee and the Snickers? Probably.
I went on my first vacation as an adult at 28. It was for a friend’s wedding in another state — which is how I justified it. I didn’t take another vacation until I was 31 — a four-day trip to visit the friend I now live with in San Diego. I’m 35 and those are the two vacations I’ve been on. I travel for work and squeeze in fun, but I never take time off. Ever. The same people who would side eye my gym membership or the $6 bottle of wine I bought yesterday get frustrated if they don’t get their annual paid vacation time or weekly Sunday Funday.
It’s time not just the rich, but the relatively comfortable got some perspective. If a car repair or week dealing with the flu won’t destroy your finances and mean you’re grocery shopping at the Dollar Store or not at all, ease up off the poverty shaming. The food insecure in your lives aren’t asking for handouts; they’re just asking you to curb your judgement.
Most of us don’t talk about how close to the edge we live because we don’t want being around us to feel awkward for those in our networks who can’t handle sitting in the barstool or overstuffed coffee shop chair next to us when we elect to spend that money. If poverty weren’t looked upon as a disease AND a choice, stigma would fade and those moments would be less stressful. (I am of course, saying this with the underlying “Gosh, we *should* just eliminate poverty and be done with having to worry about stigma” caveat. But, in the meantime…)
What this all comes down to is recognizing other people’s dignity and humanity. How about we come together as a culture and recognize that there’s no Joy Pie. You aren’t getting less because that person over there has some today. Joy actually leads to more joy; it’s infectious. It spreads as fast as shame and stigma and positively benefits everybody.
Also, IT’S MORE FUN. Wouldn’t you rather be around people who are at least moderately happy? Or even just not miserable? You would? SUPER.
Now. Let’s go spread some joy.
Note: If you have something you want to rant about, let people know, vent over, or add to the #GetWell2015 project and discussion, just email me: KatieSpeakMail@gmail.com. I won’t be able to cover everything that’s important because I’m writing from a personal perspective and I haven’t been through everything there is to go through. Pitch me or send me what you’ve got — it can be short or medium-lengthed and I probably am not going to ask for edits. I’d like to include some other voices because poverty, wellness, and stigma affect a massive range of people and experiences.
This post is an entry in my year-long project documenting all the messiness and inconvenience and stigma of trying to get well in our culture. You can subscribe, follow, and join in the journey at #GetWell2015 here and on Twitter.