This picture in the of a resident of publicly subsidized housing in New Orleans playing with an ipad sparked a hailstorm of responses. Among the most generous of them was this one,
“Not to rush to comment. I hope this is nothing more than someone gave him the iPad as a gift and he is using it for educational means or just playing games … I hope I am not over thinking this. I am not prejudice (sic) — this just did not look right.”
Putting aside the speaker’s imaginings of what the child could be doing with the ipad besides educating himself or playing games, I publish the picture and comment here because the reaction says a lot about how we perceive poverty, and what makes one “deserving” of help when one is poor in the U.S. Saying that this child holding an ipad outside a housing project doesn’t “look right,” suggests that maybe, just maybe, he and his family are playing us in order to avoid work while living high, suggesting a lot about what what we think of the poor and what they need to suffer in order to deserve our assistance.
This same mindset is revealed in a rant on poverty that appeared in the National Review.
The suggestion here is that there is something wrong with poor people having the amenities listed above in their homes. In another article on the same subject, heritage.org runs this chart alongside one showing what non-poor households have, suggesting there’s very little difference in the “conveniences” that poor families have as compared to middle class families.
Note here that the “conveniences” include a refrigerator, a stove and oven, an air conditioner, and a microwave oven. Apparently a refrigerator is considered a luxury for poor people who ought to be packing their perishable foods in bags of ice or, alternatively, living on pre-cooked foods, much of which can’t be purchased with food stamps, and fast food, pretty much all of which are out of bounds.
Imagine living in a poorly ventilated apartment as an elderly person or a parent with an infant in New York City in August without an air conditioner. That could be life threatening. And microwave ovens are often in the homes of poor people instead of ranges. Or they are used because a microwave is cheaper to run.
Apparently, in order to be among the deserving poor in the U.S., one must also live in misery. No refrigerator or stove, no air conditioning or fans, TV, or clothes washers. Or perhaps the suggestion is that one should sell all of these items to put off going on public assistance.
In case that’s what you had in mind, here is an ad for a refrigerator, washer and dryer on Craig’s List. The items are being sold for $75 each. How long would it take for a family to spend $75 on prepared foods or on going to a laundromat to do their laundry where the average cost per visit (yes, such things are actually calculated) for a family of four is $6? But this is the kind of financial management groups like the Heritage Foundation and the National Review, not to mention a significant percentage of Americans, expect of the poor.
But maybe the idea that the poor should sell their “conveniences” before taking public assistance isn’t really what’s on people’s minds. After all, they can’t really believe that you could get very far on the sale of a used microwave oven, or that one would be more effective in pulling oneself out of poverty without a refrigerator, stove, or clothes washer, right? Imagine searching for a job today without a cell phone and access to a computer.
But maybe this ignorance is all explained by the possibility that they actually think poor people are a different breed than the rest of us.
It couldn’t be that a while ago you lost your job, and then, in spite of trying everything you failed to find a new one before running out of unemployment benefits. Your old life afforded you such luxuries as a home computer, an xbox, and an ipad. But now, you’re broke. You’re hopeful you’ll get back on your feet, and you want to maintain a sense of normalcy for your kids by avoiding selling all their favorite possessions. After all, next month you might get a job and the ship will be righted.
No, that can’t be. In the worldviews of the folks in question, the poor are broken, unemployable, lazy entitlement junkies.
And the reason this rant about non-poor people’s attitudes about poor people appears in a blog called Race Files is because until Black people convinced the world that they were actually people, and that, therefore, their families had needs as important as other people’s families, they were largely excluded from public assistance to the poor. That would have interfered with their availability as workers. And as long as they were excluded, public assistance wasn’t very controversial.
But when Blacks overcame the racist exclusions to welfare, poverty went from being a source of national concern to an annoyance, and the poor became not just a burden, but a dangerous and permanent drain on our economy. And that has been to the detriment of all poor people, none of whom deserve to live in misery.