Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Being Poor

This post is really quite amazing and highlights some of the issues faced by poor people in the US - so many of whom in New Orleans were the ones that were left out of the evacuation plans because they couldn't afford to get themselves out.

Some of the most poignant lines to me are:
Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

When we moved to DC when I was 14, the level of poverty and polarisation in the USA shocked me. I couldn't believe that there were so many homeless people in the capital city of a country that is so rich, nor that health care was considered a commodity for the rich, not a right for all. There were people who had lost limbs to gangrene, because they had to sleep on the streets in winter, got frostbite and couldn't afford treatment. The contrast between these people and those who lived in the houses on exactly the same streets is what made this so shocking. People in Laos are poorer, but the contrast here just isn't the same. There also isn't the same stigma here. There does seem to be a myth in the States that people have made a choice to be poor - that is it somehow their fault.

UPDATE: Some people felt the need to point out that Being Poor in other countries (particularly those in the Global South) is a considerably different experience to being poor in North America. Some of them missed the point that the original post was supposed to enlighten other Americans who were blaming New Orleans residents for not evacuating. Nonetheless, they do have a point and make worthwhile reading.

Here's a sample of an angry one from Zigzackly:
Being Really Poor

Being poor is not knowing how much everything costs. You can't afford it anyway.

Being poor is hoping the tooth falls out.

Being poor is your kid goes to play on the street. When s/he's not working, that is.

Being poor is people angry at you for looking so poor. Anywhere. And if you tried to get in a mall, you'll get beaten up by security.

Being poor is needing 35-cents. Please.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't make. And there being a pretty good chance you will never be 14 years old.

Being poor is fighting for shelter.

Being poor is envying people who have never been really poor but think they are.

and here is another one from Nihilist Kid:
But you know what they say on the barstool, there's poor and there's poor. Or as the economists put it, there's relative poverty, and then there is absolute poverty. So here are a few additions for the list.

Being poor is being sold, by your parents, to a whorehouse that caters to wealthy foreign tourists. You're eight years old. You're worth $75. $50 if you have sprouted any pubic hair prior to sale.

Being poor is being beaten by your overseer with branches and bicycle chains, because your diet of unripe bananas and your living arrangements of twenty to a room, sleeping on wooden planks, makes your 12 year-old body too weak to efficiently harvest the cocoa bean with which chocolate is made.

Being poor is having your wife and children shot while you watch because you tried to organize a union. They'd shoot you too, but then you'd need to be replaced on the assembly line. And you wouldn't be able to warn everyone else away from unionizing.

Being poor is dying in a factory fire because you were chained to your machine. Kids your age have a disruptive tendency to crawl under their workstation to the floor and take naps if they're not properly chained.

Being poor is being left to drown in an inner tube on the ocean, because we have enough maids this year, thanks for asking.

To me this second one adds a little more, without being so angry about it, because it highlights the fact that this kind of absolute poverty is directly related to the global economic system that we benefit from so disproportionately, and which our governments help to design and enforce in our name.

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