Wednesday, March 11, 2009

White People Don’t Deserve To Suffer

For the first time the media is actively talking about homelessness and poverty.  When the discussion first started I was very encouraged.  Living in a culture that values the ability to consume, those that could not afford to participate in consumerism were and are often cast aside.  I have long been advocate for the homeless because I realize that it is the system that has failed rather than the individual.  Even existing as I do with a solidly middle class status, I am well aware of just how vulnerable we all are of sliding into poverty. Most families can not sustain 6 months of unemployment and because of our reduction of the social safety net, there is very little separating someone from a warm bed and a tent city.

image Families that were once middle class are now living in abject poverty.  The media is now airing programming on how to get out of debt and live cheaply.  Downsizing life has become the repeated mantra in a bid to escape the horror of homelessness. 

For the first time we are beginning to see poverty as something that is a result of a systemic failure however, the caveat to this understanding is that the poor are routinely depicted to be former white middle class people.   POC have routinely suffered from higher rates of poverty and unemployment and in fact in this very moment of crises, we are the ones losing our homes at the highest rates because it was POC that were unfairly targeted in the mortgage fiasco. 

image Daily there are stories about tent cities or the uncounted that are living in hotels, the problem is that the images of suffering have largely been white.  We understand this to be a problem because of who is experiencing poverty and not because poverty is wrong.  These newly poor, white, formerly middle class people, have become the face of social injustice; whereas the centuries of poverty experienced by POC is barely remarked upon.

The message that we are receiving is that social imbalance is wrong because good, honest hard working white folk are now experiencing it in large numbers.  If we are to understand how this system works to impoverish, we need to look across race and class lines.  The conversations that we do not have regarding race allows a perpetuation of white privilege.  In this way the poor are set against each other.  It is a classic divide and conquer strategy.  When companies first began fighting unions they regularly invoked race to convince white employees to reject any attempts at certification and the medias erasure of POC functions in much the same way.

Poverty as legitimized through a lens of race rather than as a symptom of the illogical capitalist system, which encourages the newly poor or the destitute to avoid banning together and fighting for their common cause.  It separates people into justifiably poor and irresponsibly poor.  We continually reify binaries in all of our constructions and in this case the binary functions to continue white privilege even while class status has made such privilege over valued.  

Suffering should not be recognized according to race but by living condition.  Until the underclass can see beyond socially constructed racial divides and unite in a common cause, the ruling elite will continue in its hegemony.  The over valuation of whiteness has long held back poor whites from realizing that it is not blacks that deny them privilege but white elites.  It has generation after generation lead to poverty and social disconnect.  The conversation cannot be framed in terms of who  does not deserve to suffer; it needs to be understood that no one should be suffering.  


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