Monday, March 7, 2016

White Poor

I grew up “white poor.”
I grew up with food bank boxes of oily peanut butter and second hand clothes and stressing on the school bus about how I would tell my parents I needed money for a school project.
I have experienced the fear of wondering where my next bag of groceries was going to come from. I’ve walked to work because I didn’t have the gas money, or because I couldn’t afford my car’s registration. I've sold off things I owned so I would have enough money to get to a job interview. I know poor.
But Bernie Sanders is absolutely right when he says I don’t know what it’s like to be “black poor” because even if getting there was tough, I have always had that job interview available to me, and my walk to that interview was on a safe street to walk.
I don’t know “black poor” or “native poor” or “Mexican poor.”
I know “white poor.”
I don't know what it's like to live in a community where absolutely everyone around me is poor. I attended church with people who had plenty of money when I was growing up. My next door neighbor's house seemed like a mansion. If my parents couldn’t afford Christmas presents, we had friends who would randomly leave Christmas cards with $100 bills in them in our mailbox.
In my version of poor, finishing high school was expected. I was encouraged to participate in theater and band and join sports teams (though I never actually wanted to play sports.) And even if my parents couldn't afford my equipment there were other resources available for me. Because I was “white poor.”
Drugs crimes and gun crimes and gangs and all of the various methods of self-preservation POC who are poor so often find themselves needing to understand... I never had to understand those things.
I had my own set of lessons, of course. I know how to flush a toilet without running water and I have cleaned dirt off of pennies I collected from the couch to pay for my reduced price lunch at school. I know what it's like to sleep a family of seven in a single bedroom.
But when my family of seven had no home, we had my grandparent's house to go to. Because we were "white poor" which meant even though my father's medical bills took a toll on our single income household, we were still surrounded by people who had enough to help us out, and my father was still able to go to those doctor’s appointments. That's not the case for “black poor.”
The POC I know who grew up poor grew up in a very different poor than I did. A poor that I can't ever truly understand. And a poor that I want to work against in this country.
And the only way to work against that kind of poor is to admit that there is a difference from their poor to my poor.
Don't tell me there isn't.
Bickering over whether or not Bernie Sanders was right in saying, “White people don't know what it's truly like to be poor” is just one more way to distract ourselves from recognizing that we have a problem in this country. It's just one more way to derail the story and ignore the issue of systematic racism.
We don't know what it's like to be “black poor.” Because finding a job sucks, but we know statistically it sucks a whole lot more when you aren't white. And the poor he's talking about is the massive community of “black poor” POC living in places like Flint, where politicians get away with poisoning entire communities without repercussions. And part of what makes that happen is the “ghettos” he’s talking about. The clustering of poor POC in one place like that. That’s a different poor than the poor I know or have ever known.
Even though I grew up poor, I didn't grow up “black poor.” And I’d like to thank Bernie Sanders for being willing to point that out.

Original Post Here: White Poor

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