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Poor Me–A Comment on Poverty Thoughts

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I got an e mail this week from somebody alarmed that I hadn’t posted in a fortnight.  I’ve been trying to post things on and off since then, just to show that I’m alive.

But I also just handed in the book for next year–the one I was complaining about having so much trouble with–and it’s getting to the end of the term, and it’s Thanksgiving with Christmas coming after, and I’ve been a little messed up.

I thought about posting this morning, and then I didn’t, and then I was going to let it go, and then this link showed up not once, but several times, on my FB news feed:

http://killermartinis.kinja.com/why-i-make-terrible-decisions-or-poverty-thoughts-1450123558

It’s an interesting article, for several reasons.

The first is the fact that it seems to me that both the woman who wrote it and the people who posted it assume that this frame of mind is something nobody else has considered before. 

What it is, instead, is EXACTLY what most people who are not poor think poor people are like, and EXACTLY the way not poor people think poor people think.

It is, in fact, an almost breathtakingly stereotypical vision of the inner lives of “the poor.”

The students I teach are almost all squarely in the ranks of “the poor,” some of them from poverty so desperate it’s barely believable.

And yet most of them also represent the negation of just this kind of thinking.  They may live around and in the sort of determinist negation that this article portrays, but at the same time they are at war with it every day.

And some few of them–not many, but some–get themselves out and on their way. 

This is not to deny that there are some people for whom this sort of thinking represents an acceptance of reality–people who are mentally or physically disabled, or very old or very sick or both.

And that thing about giving in to the impulse to do something nice for yourself that you can’t really afford is probably damn near universal. 

Doing that sometimes–especially if you’re in a situation of long term stress or deprivation–is a human necessity.

But there is a difference between doing that every once in a while (when we had no money and Bill was dying and the medical bills were beginning to look like the national debt, I used to go buy $5 iced coffee every couple of weeks just to let off steam), and doing that consistently and in areas where the downside is enormous.

Yes, it’s really awful to live through a period when you feel unloved and worthless, and where there doesn’t seem to be any way out of the tunnel, but most people don’t just lie down and play dead. 

I know they don’t.  I see them walk into my classroom every single day.  They’re most handicapped if most of the people around them think like this, and the percentages of those from that kind of environment who make it out are smallest–but some of them do make it out.  I’m going to the police academy graduation of one of them at the end of the term.

The second interesting thing about this to me is that the people who posted it seem to expect that it will generate sympathy, or make people who are not sympathetic feel some kind of shame.

It is, as I’ve said, absolutely stereotypical.  This is what I’m talking about when I talk about passivity.

And for anybody who doesn’t start out looking for a way to continue to believe that “the poor” are helpless and can’t do anything for themselves, what this will do is make them absolutely furious.

 And the fury will not necessarily be the result of rich, arrogant douchbaggery. 

Okay, I love that word.  I picked it up from a silly movie, but it’s a lot of fun.

Like I said, the fury will not necessarily be the result of heartless, self absorbed assholes chantering on about things they know nothing about.

The fury will come longest and hardest from those people who have been in the same situation and gotten themselves out.  If you want to hear people bad mouth “the poor,” come listen to those of my students who were born and brought up in it.  They are harder on “the poor” than any fat cat Republican from Yale could be if they worked on it 24/7 for a decade.

But there’s something else going on here–no person who actually thought like this would ever end up in one of my classrooms, because just to get into such a classroom requires more long range thought, and determination, and rejection of economic determinism than this article exhibits.

My students have aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and cousins who think like this, but they don’t.

But if such a person with this mental framework did end up in my classroom, the simple fact of the matter would be that there would be no way to help him.  Or her.

This is not what poverty looks like.  This is what failure looks like. 

This particular habit of thought is characteristic not of “the poor” but of all people everywhere who set themselves up to fail.  They exist in all strata of society. 

If they’re lucky, they have families who help them out and keep them from ending up on the street.  If they’re not, they could have started out with good schools and well off parents and they’ll still end up on the street.

If poor people were really like this–as a class, as a complete entity–then the people who say we should not help them would have a point.

But as far as I can see, they’re not like this, not most of them. 

And even this writer isn’t like this, because no matter what else she’s done, she’s also written the article and she’s also started the blog.

Written by janeh

November 23rd, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Poor Me–A Comment on Poverty Thoughts'

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  1. I do not for one moment believe the author of that article is describing her own life or her own attitude towards her life. Anyone who believes otherwise is cordially invited to explain why, if the author sincerely believes being poor is a life sentence, she’s working two jobs and taking a full course load. You get an education because you believe it will lead to a better future. Otherwise, why waste the money?

    I’d also like to see the legal US resident with $1,000 cash who can’t open a bank account or get a credit card. And I could go on from there. If this is nonfiction, JOHN CARTER was a documentary.

    And the liberals are passing this around as though it makes a point? I’m going back to Philo Vance, thank you.

    robert_piepenbrink

    23 Nov 13 at 10:52 pm

  2. Robert, re Bank accounts. I don’t know about the US but here are the rules for Australia.

    http://www.suncorpbank.com.au/personal-identification-requirements

    jd

    24 Nov 13 at 1:09 am

  3. “broccoli is intimidating” “Convenience food is just that”

    What I call convenience food are frozen meals that are prepared by microwaving the container. If the author has a microwave then what is intimidating about frozen broccoli which can be cooked in the microwave?

    jd

    24 Nov 13 at 1:14 am

  4. Hmm. Some of this is state level in the US–or used to be–but two photo ID’s? Well, the states issue driver’s licenses–even to non-drivers–for ID purposes, and often free to the poor. If she’s attending school full-time she has student ID, and NO ONE lacks bills. So on down the line

    While we’re at it, a quick show of hands: is there anyone reading who has NOT, one time or the other, attended a job interview or shown up for a job with borrowed clothes or clothes from the local thrift shop? For that matter, the local charities will provide job interview clothing and haircuts, and I have known one of the better local clothiers to give out a suit without payment of any sort, the man to pay them back once he got the promotion on the strength of the suit.

    Those other poor, who are intimidated by broccoli, but not our author who had Home Ec? Home Ec was 8th grade, the last time I looked. (If she’d said they couldn’t FIND the broccoli, I’d have believed. Grocery stores can be scarce in poor neighborhoods. But the people who sell lottery tickets cigarettes and alcohol will sell fresh vegetables–if there are enough buyers. Having different tastes than your neighbors can be a problem anywhere.)

    robert_piepenbrink

    24 Nov 13 at 8:45 am

  5. I agree with you, Robert. She doesn’t get a lot of sympathy from me. The mere fact that she has access to a computer and a blog and the skills to compose such a missive tells me that she is a long way from being “poor”. (Her liberal sprinkling of her post with the “F-word” tells me a lot more about her too.)

    We have a saying down here that applies in cases like hers: “Get up off your belly and walk.”

    Mique

    24 Nov 13 at 6:10 pm

  6. I thought it was fiction. I’ve been poor, and I know and have known lots of poor people, some of whom didn’t have the same advantages I did in educational background and childhood encouragement. Really, some are depressed and some aren’t. Some are hard workers doing multiple jobs and some think that anyone like that is an idiot because it’s so easy to live on welfare. Some are generally cheerful and pretty content with their lives, some are envious of those who have more money than than they ever will. Some have lots of kids, often with different fathers, others don’t – and they must be getting birth control somewhere, because they are often in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Whether or not they can get to Planned Parenthood seems almost irrelevant to whether or not they decide to have children.

    Cheryl

    24 Nov 13 at 6:27 pm

  7. you don’t need Planned Parenthood to get condoms!

    I agree with Cheryl, it seems more like fiction than a true life story.

    jd

    24 Nov 13 at 7:34 pm

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