I realized that I had been lying to both myself and God. I was never a “poor” college student. I was never a “poor” non-profit worker. I was never a “poor” young professional in D.C.
When I was in school, with very little expendable income, I still received a quality education, had consistent access to food, my housing was stable, and I had health insurance. My starting salary after college put me above the national poverty threshold (about $24,000 a year… for a family of four).
reading all the annoying crowing from conservatives about the “liberals don’t give money to the poor data”, I remembered this article and why I liked it. I think it’s some pretty awesome real talk for ~my people~, by which I mean young, single, underpaid non-profit workers from nice middle class families who are kind of full of shit about how poor and underpaid we actually are in the grand scheme of things. (via galesofnovember)
I know I just reblogged this and commented but this time I clicked through and read the whole article and it’s actually such a glorious example of exactly what I’m talking about.
this person’s not exploring their relative privilege. they’re actually positioning themselves above the people who need their charity by pointing out that they’re not the kind of people who need charity, they’re the kind of people who give charity. As opposed to the “legitimately poor” who are let’s face it not really that different from the “deserving poor” that conservatives love to drool over while berating those who need “welfare” from the government because they’re dependent, etc. etc.
Here’s a story. I was so broke at one point in time that I got into serious debt buying food, that I was doing that cycle of spending $5 for takeout lunch every day from my restaurant job because I didn’t make enough in tips to buy groceries all at once because I never knew how much money I would make the next day (a habit that I am just now realizing still fucks up my spending now that I have a salary and can afford to buy groceries because somehow spending that $5 on a breakfast sandwich still seems like less and I get buyer’s remorse when I drop $40 at the grocery store).
I didn’t go on food stamps. I would’ve saved myself a fuckton of money that went on credit cards that it took me a year of yes moving back in with my parents and saving all my money to pay them down, money that went into the pockets of bankers whose system I’ve pretty much dedicated my current life to destroying. I didn’t because I thought like this person thought, that I wasn’t “really” poor, that food stamps were for other people instead of something that we all pay for out of our tax money and are there for us when the system fails us. That I should shut up and consider myself lucky.
That doesn’t actually help anybody.
I’m reading this wonderful anthology on domestic work, sex work, and globalization and thinking about my mother a lot. I interviewed Ai-Jen Poo of the Domestic Workers Alliance this week (it’ll be up soon at ye olde day job) and as we finished I told her that my mom used to do domestic work and she smiled and we chatted about being children of domestic workers and I thought “my mom would never have joined the domestic workers alliance, my mom would never organize with other people who did the same work she did, my mom would not see herself as one of them.”
And that’s partly what I mean. My mother would and did think she wasn’t “really” poor, my family was never “really” that broke even though yeah she was scrubbing floors for women who were her peers, sometimes literally her former golfing buddies.
At my sister’s wedding the family that was there was my mom’s side, my dad had no representatives of his family, my grandparents are dead and there was no one else, really, and so I am used to identifying as middle-class, as a bougie Jew, with the educated business-owning side of my family but the ones that are still around are the ones who worked in a brickyard in New Hampshire and never went to college. Economically they were and are middle class but I wonder now how much the people who make the bricks get paid.
We need to get over this idea that class is this innate thing, or maybe we need to accept that class is fucking complicated, that reading Amber Hollibaugh on going off to school and coming back realizing she’d been educated out of relating to her family is just one way you become class mobile, that the middle class can have the bottom drop out at any minute and yes be “legitimately poor”. We need to say that adjuncts making $10K a year are working class whether they have a PhD or not and struggling freelance reporters who barely make rent and do you really need me to go on? We need to realize that college is not a ticket to the middle class these days but so often a fucking millstone of debt around your neck instead.
We need to not draw lines between “us” who are not ever “really poor” and who need to give charity to “them” because if we think we can never be really poor, doesn’t that mean we also think “they” can never be really middle-class?
My family’s been lucky enough to survive this recession much better than they did the early 90s but my mom now has two artificial shoulders and back problems and I wonder how much of that came from the work she did, the physical work. Me, I do all right though I still shop badly and spend too much money on the wrong things.
My mom gives to charity. She goes to church on Sundays now—she didn’t when I was growing up, she didn’t through all the economic troubles, it was the physical pain maybe that drove her back to the church or maybe the sheer loneliness of her life when we moved away from all her friends.
I remember a couple of weeks ago listening to a guy stand up and say “what about the people in X country with the real struggle to eat/survive” and I wanted to say back at him “what about the people right here in this room, what about the people right outside these doors?” I looked at a map my friend had on his phone of the foreclosed homes in that neighborhood right outside where we sat and I know how many of those families thought they were safely middle class and now where are they living while their homes are boarded up standing empty. Where the fuck are the conservatives and the nice middle-class liberals while that is happening, every day?
I’ve listened to college students talk about the campaigns they’re running to help this group and that group and asked them “what about your debt?” They don’t answer. They don’t think of these troubles as problems they could have.
And that’s the way the rich folks want it. They can nicely write off this or that on their taxes as they give to charity (and those charities so often make them rich in return as their chosen charity shapes the fucking lives of people who never had a say in who is going to come “help” them).
Giving to charity is about the giver, not what’s given.
Here’s an idea. Instead of feeling guilty about how much money you give away or have to give away, go out and find striking workers in your community and walk a picket line with them. Do what the conservatives who give so much to charity (so they can write it off on their taxes) would never do and stand in solidarity with others. If you’re in California, there’s a domestic workers bill of rights that you can call and support today. Call Congress and tell them to raise the minimum wage already. Give money if you have it to give to the orgs that are really doing the work in your community (I gave all my Christmas-present money this year to VOCAL-NY because they are amazing and yes, because my friends who are mostly underpaid nonprofit workers or freelance journos or occasionally employed journos like me didn’t need the trinkets I could buy them because that doesn’t prove how much I love them.)
Solidarity, not charity.
(also look at how I managed to make this all about me anyway haha oh god I’m the worst sometimes you still love me right, Tumblr?)
And let’s add to the list of uncomfortable things I say out loud: more of us are poor/working-class than would like to admit it. Here’s a better idea, let’s hold the bastards accountable and admit it, demand that they recognize it, and FIX a system that stacks the deck.
I make more money than an adjunct professor at Columbia University. Not much more and it’s barely a living wage if it’s even that, but I make more than an adjunct professor. And I have health insurance, even if it’s crappy. How screwed up is this? LOTS.