How Did This Happen?
To really understand my question, there’s a few things you need to know about me.
I was born into a white middle class family. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had enough. It was never a question that I would go to college, get married, have my 2.5 kids, and I would never be dependant on anyone but myself for the food I ate, the roof over my head, and the clothes on my back. I did go to college. Graduated with a BA in Psychology and had plans to get my PsyD. I was married to an amazing man that I planned to spend the rest of my life with, and we paid all of our bills with some left over for trips once in a while. I was living the middle class dream!
Fast forward to me at 29. Suddenly, I found none of the things that I had known to be true were. My husband left me, my doctors told me I was disabled, and I was now going to be dependant on SSDI, food stamps (which aren’t stamps anymore, they are a card, and they are now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program… SNAP for short), and “Section 8” (federally funded housing assistance). I became a public and personal embarrassment.
Which brings me to my question. How did this happen? How did we as a society get to the point where simply being poor made you an embarrassment? Worse if you’re a person of color, then you’re a criminal. JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE POOR! My story isn’t unique, nor is it the only way people end up living on the edge of society. We get here a million different ways on a million different days and all of us are looked at as the leeches of the “hard working middle class.” No one brings up the billionaires of the world though. They earned every penny all by themselves. Just ask them they’ll tell you… but that’s another story for another time.
I’m luckier than many of my neighbors. I’m well educated, white with the whitest white name on the books, I don’t have kids, because of my education I’m very articulate (this helps when the people in power try to convince me I’m not allowed to whatever because I’m poor), and my disabilities created a situation where I get help just because I exist. That isn’t true for many of my able bodied, single parent, people of color neighbors. Many of them dealing with generations of abuse, and social neglect.
So why do I bring all of this up? I realized in this most recent presidential election that most of the people I know have no idea that being poor doesn’t negate your personhood. They really believe that people who are poor don’t deserve things like a living minimum wage, clean and safe housing, education, protection from harm, or even things as simple as joy and beauty. They really believe that the poor got poor because they are lazy, or because they deserve to be poor (I of course am the exception because I’m their friend). But suddenly, they are finding their lives in danger from the billionaires we never talk about. They are scared. They are marching and calling and writing to protect the rights the poor have been fighting for over generations.
Welcome to the party people of privilege. We’ve been waiting for you to get here. Now that you are, take a look around and ask yourself honestly, How did this happen?