Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Only Good Poor Person is A Straw (Wo)Man

Womanist Musings has a couple of great posts up about poverty from Dan and Brittany-Ann and the comments on both are telling in what we expect from poor people. Dan gets shit for dying his hair blue and stealing toothpaste. Brittany-Ann gets a bunch of people telling her that she's wrong(ish) when it comes to religion helping poor people.

Much like feminists understand that there is no 'good enough woman' to escape sexism, there is no 'good enough' poor person to escape poverty. Trust me, I've tried to be both kinds of good enough and it is an exercise in failure, created specifically to keep us running on a hamster wheel thinking there is some mythical finish line ahead.

Most of you readers will be familiar with the perfect woman traps. We have to be thin, but not too thin. Sexy but not too sexy. Smart but not smart enough to intimidate the boys. We're supposed to perform femininity like it's a drag queen act but it we go too far into stereotyped femininity then we are Paris Hilton and worthy of mockery. We're supposed to support ourselves so as to not be gold diggers but we're also not supposed to pick up a check? There is no winning and we are always checking the calculus in our head to make sure we're finding that tiny line of acceptability that we are forced to walk.

Same shit is true of being poor. We aren't allowed to let our religious views (or serious non-religious views) take precedence and must accept help from churches that we have serious issues with (The Salvation Army's virulent anti-gay stance, Catholics general anti-woman stance, etc. etc.). We don't have the option of voting with our feet (and with the whole faith-based bullshit passed by Bush and cemented by Obama- the options for assistance when poor are now decidedly skewed to religious organizations).

We also walk a fine line when it comes to personal style. Don't look too poor. god forbid you send your child to school in pants too short or a dirty shirt when you've run out of quarters for the laundry. Not only are you a bad poor person in that moment, but a neglectful parent. But if you dress too well, or flashy, or have blue hair or expensive taste in perfume (my own little vanity- I just used the last hiccupy spray yesterday from a bottle I've managed to ration for 2 fucking years) then you must be lying about how poor you are. If you spend appropriately for your budget on food then you just end up eating ramen and mac and cheese, where you end up getting shit for your unhealthy eating habits and the inevitable "why don't you budget better, shop at farmers markets, blah blah blah" but if you blow your entire monthly income to eat the required fresh fruits and veggies at the calorie amounts required to sustain life then you get shit for spending too much money on food.

There is NO winning when you are a member of a (or more likely, several) oppressed groups. You can never be good enough to be accepted by the dominant class, except as a token of exceptionalism. That is the point. We keep running, trying to make ourselves over in an attempt to be seen as worthy, but the finish line keeps changing. And we are kept too distracted by the running to see that it's rigged from the beginning.

(Note the same thing applies to POC, PWD, LGBTQQ, etc etc. We are never good enough just as we are or just as we want to be.)

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