Wednesday, February 10, 2010

There are no souvenirs in Povertyland

I got a bone to pick. (What's new, bone picking seems to be my primary occupation).

See this here horrible Great Recession has inspired a certain class of overeducated white folks to throw off the trappings of privilege a live a simpler life where they mix with the locals and remember what "it's all about".

I call that poverty tourism (cough*Barbara Erenrich*cough).

And just like tourism in third world countries, you're not really helping us by condescending to visit. More often than not, what your doing is giving your voice privilege and precedent over the voices of people who have no choice but to live in Povertyland. You are the reason that articles and opinion pieces and studies and solutions never come from the people who are most familiar with the daily ins and outs of how to live in a world where you are not allowed enough resources to sustain life.

Perhaps you all should hear a story.

My mother and aunt grew up dirt poor in Detroit, the children of a single mother who worked as a waitress. They were really familiar with what real poverty looked like.

My mom met my dad in a commune in San Francisco. The dude who headed the commune was a trust fund brat who had thrown off materialism so that he could experience the pure life of the poor. They didn't eat meat. They didn't drink coffee or use sugar. Mom had about as much of the sanctimonious blow hard's schtick as she could take (and being without caffeine or nicotine- I can just imagine how grouchy she was).

"You never know poverty till you haven't got a dollar in your pocket" (or a trust fund collecting interest from daddy) she told the trust fund brat.

The story goes that she left after that and dad went with her, where they immediately got hamburgers and coffee with milk and sugar and smoked cigarettes.

That's how my parents met. But the moral of the story is that you can't CHOOSE poverty. If you have the ability to CHOOSE, then you are not really poor. Poverty is not a lifestyle choice, it is forced upon you like shackles and makes everything in the world more difficult, not more pure or simple or clear. It weighs you down, trips you up, makes even the most normal of tasks like feeding yourself and your family a balancing act worthy of circus acrobats.

We don't want you to visit us here in Povertyland. We want to throw off our shackles and learn to live without the extra burden. But every time one of you chooses to visit, our struggle is lengthened while you idealize us natives.

Stop it, let us speak for ourselves. Listen when we tell you what we need, it's not that different from what you need, it's just a zillion times harder for us to get.

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