Morality and Poverty

There’s a lot of states trying to past regulations on SNAP benefit usage and I keep seeing some support for it so I posted this on Facebook yesterday:

This is your reminder that many SNAP recipients do not have easy ways to access “real” grocery stores, so gas stations and convenience stores are their only options. Maybe they don’t have a car, maybe public transportation is limited, maybe they live in a food desert. For these poor members of our community, gas station food may be their only option outside of going without. Let’s not forget that fact when we wax poetic about how potato chips and candy bars should not be allowed with the SNAP program.

(This doesn’t even touch on the fact that I don’t think it’s our job to be the moral police for the poor. But that’s another rant for another day.)

I’d like to follow-thru on my other rant.

This seems to be relevant as there have been some implications that people could afford healthcare if they didn’t buy things like iPhones. Now, of course, that was easily shot down when people pointed out that smartphones (and iPhones can be “affordable” depending on your contract, not everyone using an iPhone paid $600 for it) are the only way many people have to access online systems because they can’t afford computers or WiFi. Libraries are not accessible to everyone and CERTAINLY do not have forgiving hours of operation. So that tends to remind people that iPhones are no luxury items.

But it reminded me how much I need to rant about how it seems local governments are – more and more – trying to become the morality police for their poorest constituents. Whether it’s by policing whether or not they can smoke anywhere on the grounds of public housing or whether or not they should be allowed to buy steak with SNAP benefits. Everywhere you turn people are trying to use poverty as an excuse to enforce moral judgement on what people should and should not be spending their money and/or benefits on.

I see it when people post snarkily about the lady using WIC vouchers who was talking about just getting her nails done. Or when someone says, “I have to stick to a budget and can’t afford the nicest cut of meat and that person on SNAP just bought enough for her whole family!” We somehow see poor people and assume we have the right to judge the way they spend their money. Never considering that maybe the girl on SNAP just lost her job and she’s trying to keep up her appearances while she goes out on interviews.

I mean, in the grand scheme of where your taxes go, SNAP benefits are a very small portion of it. So trying to act like we’re “allowed” to police it because it’s “our” tax money is silly. We spend much more of our tax money on defense but we let the military decide how to spend that money. Therefore, we should leave the “policing” up to the people who WORK with recipients like social workers and leave investigation up the USDA. And if you’re using the “but we pay!” logic, then you should be judging whether or not old people eat fast food since you pay for their Medicaid or whether or not Joe Fireman buys an XBox since you pay his income or whether or not Mrs. Public School teacher gets her nails done since you pay her salary. I mean, we ONLY use this logic for the people who get the LEAST amount of our tax money.

It’s because they’re poor. And in some way “less than” us.

Breaking it down to that more general level, I just don’t get the idea that person A gets to judge the way person B spends their money simply because they make more? I mean. If person B works at McDonalds and person A works at an Ad agency, is there a valid reason why one gets paid more? Is it because the skill level? So then Person A gets to judge Person B because they have better skills? But what if it’s because they grew up in a family that could afford to send them to college? Then we’re saying the Person A gets to judge Person B because their parents had good jobs.

Do you see?

If we really try to break down the “why” of financial status and then assign moral judgement positions based on those standards the ground is super shaky because we’re basically rewarding class levels with power of morality and that is NOT the society I want to live in.

Why don’t we just not judge. And we leave it up to the USDA to monitor the food stamp program. And recognize that no amounts of cuts or increases in that small program are really going to affect middle-class households in the slightest. Maybe we consider the fact that being poor SUCKS. I mean, it REALLY SUCKS. I’ve said it time and time again, I couldn’t quit smoking until I had a stable income because SMOKING HELPED ME COPE. I also smoked pot regularly when I was poor, but haven’t had the desire since. Being poor is a struggle and if things like iPhones and steak for birthdays make you feel more normal? Then you take it where you can.

I just struggle to understand the WHY. Why are we driven to police poor people? I know people often use the excuse “to help the children” but truthfully, the best way to help kids is to dump money into free lunch and free breakfast programs. For many kids those are the only meals they get. Telling their parents they can’t buy potato chips just means they feel a little more isolated and left out when their classmates are eating Doritos by the bag in their homes. No one polices how I feed my kids. Did I earn that freedom just because I grew up in a home that encouraged me to get a college degree? I’m allowed to feed my kids pizza bites (which they eat regularly) and potato chips just because my husband learned how to program in college? I just really struggle if we get down to the nitty gritty – WHY? WHY? WHY?

But economic moral judgement has always sat wrong with me. I’ve mentioned before my theory about how when you’re poor, you live your life on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. You don’t feel safe. You have no esteem. You challenge to feel like you belong. Therefore you’re never able to reach the higher level of self-actualization. I didn’t think outside of my struggle when I was poor. I didn’t think about how to better myself or to improve my life. I was too worried about whether or not I was going to have to choose between the phone bill and the utility bill. So why do I want to FORCE poor people to try to live the BEST VERSIONS OF THEMSELVES when they’re not even living in a safe and secure environment?

I guess there’s not real order to this blog post. Hence why I called it a “rant” – I just really struggle when we break down the “But it’s taxpayer money!” argument why we feel the need to police the poor. Can we just do what we can to help ease the pain in their lives and recognize that helps our community as a whole?

Being poor sucks. More than I even remember and I used to live it. And I wasn’t even close to as poor as you could be. I had a safety net of my middle class family who would take me in if I couldn’t make it. People who come from lines of generational poverty don’t even have that. My safety net gave me the confidence to work through college because I knew another side existed. But if I hadn’t been raised in a middle class household, I might not have even bothered.

*sigh*

/end rant.

The Story Of Rich Kim v/s Poor Kim

Nikki has been doing some practical math exercises in school that prompted her to ask to go grocery shopping with me so she could practice calculating things like: “Which is cheaper per ounce, big box or little box?”

Now – before you grumble about how irritating it is to hear your friends subtly reference their smart kids…know this: She really just wanted a free cookie. Also? She got bored after the first calculation.

BUT!

That first calculation prompted a conversation about how often you can save by buying in bulk. And that’s when I jumped at an opportunity to give a lesson about poverty. I honestly jump at these opportunities a lot, which is why I thought I’d share my basic story with you.

The Story of Rich Kim & Poor Kim


When it was just me and your brother back in my college days, sometimes I would go to the store with $20 to buy all of the groceries I needed for the week. That’s when I was Poor Kim. I almost ALWAYS noticed that it would be cheaper to buy the bigger size of something: Milk, Cereal, toilet paper…the necessities…but I never could. I only had $20, so I bought the 4-pack of toilet paper, the half gallon of milk, and the small box of cereal.

[Edited to add: Poor Kim always bought generic. Big K brand was Poor Kim’s jam.]

Now…think about that over, let’s say, a whole year. I could have saved 45 cents in about 2 weeks if I could have bought the bigger box. What about the bigger milk? And the bigger cereal? How much could that have saved me in two weeks to buy a bigger size? Or in a whole YEAR? So take Kim from 1998 (Poor Kim) and Kim from 2017 (Rich Kim) and look at how much money they each spent per ounce of cereal, per gallon of milk, and per roll of toilet paper and what will you find? (Not accounting for inflation, of course.)

You would find that Poor Kim spent A WHOLE LOT MORE on cereal and toilet paper and milk over the course of a year than Rich Kim did. Rich Kim spent LESS than Poor Kim. Think about that.

THIS is what I mean when I say, “It’s a lot more expensive to be poor.”

Poor Kim never could fill up her gas tank when the prices were low. Hell, I never filled up my gas tank at all. At most I would have a half of a tank unless my Dad had come in town and filled it up for me. [Edited to add: Poor Kim had it good because she did not suffer from generational poverty. Many people never had parents who could fill up their tanks.] I also didn’t have the time or the energy to shop around for sales. I also didn’t have the time to cut coupons. And if I did have time? I was too tired and too depressed from being poor all of the time.

Also – things like tylenol for fevers? That’s something everyone has to buy for their kid at some point. Even if I bought the generic version, it was $4 out of my $400 paycheck. That’s 1% of my paycheck for Tylenol. That’s A LOT. The average person in Huntsville brings home $1100 on a 2-week paycheck. For that person 1% would mean the same Tylenol cost $11. But it doesn’t, it still only costs $4 for that person too. The person making the average won’t have to stress so much about buying the Tylenol, but when your brother was little? It was a tough thing to need.

So compared to percentage of your income, being poor is A LOT more expensive than even being average, or middle class. Not only can you not take advantage of bulk pricing or sales at certain times, but everything is a bigger percentage of your income so you’re probably going to have to make tough decisions about whether to pay bills on time.

Remember how we went to Shoe Carnival when they were having the Buy One Pair Get The Second Half Off sale? So you got TWO pairs of shoes for $60 instead of $80? Well…Poor Kim couldn’t ever afford to do that so instead I would buy one $40 pair and just wait until they fell apart and buy another $40 pair. So, same amount of time passes, same amount of shoes worn out, but Rich Kim spent less than Poor Kim because Rich Kim has enough buffer in her budget and income to take advantage of sales.

Just think of the few ways I’ve explained right now that Rich Kim can spend less money in a year than Poor Kim. And these are just a few of the ways. There are many more. And how is that fair? Poor Kim is the one that needs to spend less, but she spends more.

And this is why Rich Kim pays her taxes and smiles. Rich Kim doesn’t mind being in a higher tax bracket than poor Kim because Rich Kim remembers how much it sucked being Poor Kim. Rich Kim knows “Fair Tax” isn’t actually fair, so she supports a tiered tax system so that she shoulders more of the burden of paying our police and for our road repair than Poor Kim has to.

It’s the least that Rich Kim can do.

Let’s Talk About Religion.

*This was originally a Facebook post but it got too longwinded so I’m posting it to the blog instead. I AM FULL OF MANY WORDS TODAY.*

Those of us who fought for gay marriage often used various passages in the bible against the opposition, pointing out that if you’ve selected to ignore some of bible, you can ignore parts of the bible. The responses were often variations of this —

“Since interpretation is a human process, it has always been pluralistic, prone to error and dependent on human understanding, no matter the religion in question. Interpretation is also subject to conditions and times specific to a particular community of believers.Interpretations may vary significantly from country to country and community to community.”

— especially considering there are so many facets of Christianity that interpret different parts of the bible in different ways. There’s a huge difference in application of principles from denomination to denomination.

Now. I need you to step back and re-read that quote again and know this: THAT QUOTE IS ABOUT SHARIA. As in “Sharia Law” that so many on my Facebook feed like to throw around when they are trying to justify actions against Muslims. The Southern Poverty Law Center put together this page (http://www.tolerance.org/publication/sharia) and that is a quote on that page taken from an answer to the question: “Is Sharia open to interpretation?”

I have a hard time understanding why SOME (not all, I’m blessed to have many accepting Christian friends who support the Muslim community) of my Christian friends will allow that different facets of Christianity exist and interpret the bible differently than they do – but ALL MUSLIMS ARE THE SAME. They are not.

And to those who blanketly assume all women wearing a hijab are oppressed, please watch this video – it demonstrates that there are women who CHOOSE to wear it as a counterstatement to the Western world’s sexualization of women.

Islam is complex and Sharia is interpreted differently in different parts of the world. Hijabi women – especially in the US – can still support principles of our constitution. Also, if you think Islam is the only religion with facets who try to control legal contracts – look at the way some in the Catholic church respond to divorces, requiring other actions (annulments in the Church) before someone can get married in the church even if legally they are permitted. Or listen this episode (I think it’s the third act) of This American Life and hear about one Orthodox Jewish community and one particular “agunah” which is “woman whose husband refuses to give her a divorce” and it’s supported by the community.

Religion is complex, and the bigger it is the more variations you will find. I’m frustrated that people allow for nuances and complexities and differing belief systems in their own religion but not in others.

Sleepless and Full Of Self Doubt

There’s a weird thing going on in my life. Maybe in yours too, if you are surrounded by liberal and conservative voices. If I silence all of the conservative voices in my life, I hear nothing but proclamations of anxiety and action the sharing of news and voices of resistsance. But when I expand my blinders to the conservative voices in my life, I hear words shaming me and others for being negative, or for talking too much politics, or for starting fights, or for dividing our country. There’s definitely a section of people doing neither, but the dichotomy of the two political factions is startling as it’s very real and so very extreme. I don’t remember ever telling my conservative friends to stop talking politics or stop being divisive. I did try to remind them about the value of action and the balance of power (a balance of power that doesn’t exist presently) so as to help calm their anxieties, but I don’t think I ever shamed them for being concerned or worried.

Of course, I also have a very hard time comparing conservative behavior after Obama to liberal behavior after Trump as – to me – Trump and Obama are not the same levels of extreme on their end of politics. So I do feel like my side has a lot more to be worried about, even without considering the lack of a power balance. BUT THERE IS NO POWER BALANCE, so I feel like it should be obvious why my side is stressed.

But it’s just weird to be sleepless thinking about the moves this administration has already made, and then wake up and see people on the other side of the spectrum shaming me for being sleepless and concerned. It’s strange to be so worried and to be driven to such levels of political action, and to have people in my life basically saying, “Ugg…stop whining…get over it already.”

My liberal friends are with me. We’re all sleepless and concerned and texting each other in the middle of the day: “OMG. DID YOU SEE?” But my conservative friends and family seem to think I’m being ridiculous. And that is a terrible feeling, to be so overwhelmed and distraught by a situation that you – LITERALLY – can not sleep.  Then you look over your shoulder to see people rolling their eyes at you.

I offered an internet friend my phone number yesterday. We’ve been friends for years, met once at an event in New York, but we don’t have each other’s numbers. Until now. Because she expressed concern about political anxiety and I told her how having a text friend helps me. I kinda want to check in with you guys to see if we should all become text friends. Is that weird? Or creepy? I’m wondering if some of you are feeling lost and scared too…maybe your red friends are shaming you too.

This dichotomy does more than make feel shame over my concern. I find it’s also making me doubt myself. How can two people look at the world so differently? How can that person so obviously not be concerned and here I am – SLEEPLESS – over my fears. It’s like the time I stumbled into the world of Devout Birthers or Sandy Hook Truthers or 9-11 Deniers…these are all people that exist and believe VERY STRONGLY in something that I find categorically FALSE. How can people create such cognitive dissonance in their lives? How can I be sure I’m not doing the same thing?

But I’m terrified, y’all. I woke up at 2am to work on a newsletter for a local progressive organization I’m trying to lift off the ground. Because at least that had me doing SOMETHING. I’m trying to print postcards to mail and I added phone numbers to my contact list so I can easily call Senators and Representatives. I’m having trouble focusing on anything else when my mind is not distracted by family or work. Every other moment I’m thinking about our country and what I can do to stop the administration from jeopardizing our future.

And then another person is all: “UGG. GET OVER IT. STOP RUINING FACEBOOK.”

It’s just such and extreme contrast and it has me all distorted and full of self-doubt on top of the fear and concern. I’m frazzled and wondering how people can see the world so differently.


I wrote another post about racism last night.  In it I shared a bunch of links from yesterday, but I’d like to share out some other political links I posted all over the interwebs yesterday. I am full of self-doubt from the shame others are trying to make me feel, but I will not let that stop me from spreading the word about things we need to be resisting.

 

It’s Never Too Late To Wake Up.

I’ve documented before how I – regrettably – had to wake up to systemic racism. I had my privileged blinders on until George Zimmerman was found Not Guilty in the Trayvon Martin murder. It was then that I realized: The system is racist. The system is conditioned to criminalize young boys in hoodies before they’ve done anything illegal. The burden of proof is on the innocent where young black men are concerned. Their guilt is assumed, their innocence must be supported by good character, while white frat boys raping drunk girls at college parties get off with a slap on the wrist.

Since then I’ve done everything in my power to keep learning. To keep my eyes and my heart open to painful truths. I sit in my discomfort and examine it and find more power behind it. I reflect on my defensiveness and I try to look through the eyes of someone who has not grown up or lived with the privilege my skin has given me. I reflect on THEIR truths, not on MY discomfort.

When it comes to racism – that’s something I have to always remind myself: It’s never about me.

On the day of the election, several of my favorite voices – mostly black women – were writing about how racist the suffragette movement was in many ways. This was all new to me, as with a lot of our black history. During that time, white women were trying to secure the vote and found that pushing Black Women to the shadows made their efforts more palatable. Even if they had supported abolition and freedom for slaves, things changed when it came to the suffragettes. Many openly campaigned against the black vote, implying that white women should have been allowed to vote before black men, that the black man should not have more rights than the white woman.

Yet in 1870, the suffragists found themselves on opposing ends of the equal-rights battle when Congress passed the 15th Amendment, enabling black men to vote (at least, in theory) — and not women. That measure engendered resentment among some white suffragists, especially in the South.
Source

This was hard for me to read on a day when I wanted to celebrate women like Susan B. Anthony. But I read it and I sought to educated myself on Ida B. Wells – An African American Woman who was also fighting in the suffragette movement. I sat on all of this and learned from it. Since then I’ve been keeping my mind and heart open to ideas of intersectionality.

Intersectionality was on my mind in the wake of the Women’s March this weekend, as many Black Women wrote about the March. There are several good pieces I sat with including Kelly Wickham Hurst’s Facebook post.

Let’s dig into the “zero arrests” thing. Because it’s making my entire ass itch.

To accompany this, let’s also look at the videos of protestors going up to a line of police officers and shaking hands, high-fiving them and hugging them.

If we don’t dig right into this we could miss an important lesson that’s really trying to get taught.

There were no arrests because of the supremacy of whiteness. The inherent goodness of non-threatening white ladydom. The pinkness and innocence. The stereotypes, y’all.

There were “zero arrests” because of whiteness. We really have to understand this and stop back-patting over how “good” and “peaceful” this march was. The dichotomy of seeing police officers show up in matching pink hats and handing out flowers as opposed to showing up in riot gear is just, whew.

We have to walk this thinking all the way down the line or else we can slip and fall into a vat of self-congratulatory privilege and never come up for air again. We gotta call the roll on this one as well as how we frame the inconvenience of protests we didn’t participate in previously.

Otherwise, you ain’t checking for everybody.

I kept seeing all of the “no arrests!” reports and feeling weird about it and Kelly’s post helped me validate my feelings. This is the change I’m seeing since waking to systemic racism, a part of me now seems to be aware of the subtle racism even if I can put it into words. I knew this “no arrests” line of praise was not something I felt comfortable shouting, I just wasn’t sure why.

I also read this piece about intersectionality at the march:

Intersectional feminism isn’t leaving thank you notes on the cars of police officers, and high-fiving them for being nice to you at your march, while completely ignoring that if this march had been BLM, law enforcement would conduct themselves with hostility. If only you’d seen how the chants went to murmurs when it was time to say “Black Lives Matter” or “refugees are welcome here!”. Ignoring these very facts alone is the root of the problem when it comes to feminism.”

And then finally I read and sat with this poem by Johnetta Elzie. Here is a small part of the powerful truths:

Where were you when we asked you to #SayHerName?When Rekia Boyd was killed while playing at the park with her friends?
When Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, and others died at the hands of police, with little media attention?
When our trans sisters — Brandi Bledsoe, Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee
Whigham — were also murdered and also forgotten?
Where were you?

I read all of these words and soaked them in because – as many have said before – it is not the job of the Black Woman to educate the White Woman. Black women voted against Trump in a 94% majority. White women did not.

I read these words and I think about our history and how I want my stance to be preserved in history during these tumultuous times. How I’m glad I’ve said the name Sandra Bland when I was asked to by my brown sisters. History will show that I did learn at some point, and I will keep learning. I will sit with the words of these painful truths as many times as I have to in order to create true intersectionality. I will not apologize for hurting feelings because I remember when my feelings were hurt – and then I remembered the most important lesson I’ve learned in ages.

BLACK LIVES > WHITE FEELINGS.

There are a lot of exclusionary practices I have participated in ignorantly. I didn’t consider my Trans Sisters when loving all of the images of biological reproductive systems. Those images define “woman” on a biological level when my Trans Sisters are trying to changing that view. I didn’t know about the 750,000 Black Women who marched in Philadelphia in 1997, and I realize those participants and the black women who celebrated them, might have felt jaded by all of the attention the white women in pink hats were getting this weekend. Wouldn’t they have loved to have had all of us at their backs when they took a stand.

But I’m learning and I’ll keep sharing my lessons so that maybe I can save others from the same discomfort.

Racism is hidden in seemingly benign language if you’re white. For example, WhiteHouse.gov – who has deleted their racism section – now has chosen to boast that the Trump Administration is the presidency of Law & Order.

Sounds GREAT, doesn’t it? Love it! Law and Order!

That is an example of hidden racism. It’s the same thing that had me naively supporting the Bill Clinton 1994 Crime Bill. When you’re white and not inherently scared of the police, Law & Order sounds great. However, it has been proven time and time again that these attitudes and the associated legislation negatively impacts the minorities in our communities, especially young black men. Watch the documentary The 13th. Read The New Jim Crow. See the stats that demonstrate how this increase of policing creates more racial divides and punishes the poor and the minorities at a higher level than equivalent white people.

We have to be aware of how our government will disguise racism. And we can’t fall victim to the same language. Just like Kelly said that bragging about the No Arrests thing is due to the “The inherent goodness of non-threatening white ladydom. The pinkness and innocence. The stereotypes, y’all.” If we had replaced every face with a brown one the police would not have been given high-fives and wearing pink hats. And if you believe they would have, then we are coming from two different levels of understanding of our culture and there’s no place in the middle for us to meet.

It would have been different. Period. And the second we recognize that and understand it as true, we learn to see this in many other places, many other times. And that’s where I’ve been. I’m finally open enough to this type of subtle racism that I felt the underlying racism behind these reports of “no crime” – it’s not something you inherently see at first. But I felt weird bragging about it, like there was something icky about it.

We all need to start to feel icky. That’s a sign that we’re learning to spot the subtleties of the systemic racism that surrounds us. We need to be alert to the criminalizing of poverty. We need to recognize the safety these white bodies gives us and be brave to stand up for our brown brothers and sisters because – more often than not – we have nothing to lose.