Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Would You Bend Over For

If you read the title of this post and immediately assumed that this piece was going to be somewhat sexual, you guessed wrong.  This is a post about class, poverty and privilege.  The unhusband and I  were sitting on a bench waiting for the kids to finish karate, when he dropped a quarter on the ground.  I waited for him to pick up the quarter, but instead he left it because he could not be bothered.  We began a conversation about what denomination of money we would be willing to bend and pick up.  I would definitely pick up a quarter, but beyond that I would probably would move on, and we both agreed that we would pick up a loonie (Canadian one dollar coin) ir a toonie (a two dollar coin).

We walked away and left the corner, only to walk by that same place 30 minutes later on our way home to find that  the quarter was gone.  As we walked home we ran into a woman who asked us for change to buy a coffee.  Destruction looked at her and said, ``you look like you have had a really hard day.``  The unhusband reached into his pocket and gave her a toonie (two dollar coin).  We headed home to our warm house, with all it`s comfort and safety.

So ask yourself how much money is too little for you to bend over and pick up: a toonie, loonie, quarter, dime, nickel, or a penny.  I remember once telling one of my co-workers, that I will occasionally throw out pennies when I have amassed a ton of them because I cannot be bothered to roll them and she told me that I have never known real  hunger.  For her, those pennies that I was willing to cavalierly discard, represented the possibility of food or even a hot coffee. 

In the smallest actions we show our class privilege and we don`t think about what we are saying or doing because it has become so normalized for us.  On our way home I talked to Destruction once again about why it is important to give to those that have less and to never take for granted the wealth that we have as a family -- both in in love and economically.  But even as I said these words, I knew that this is a lesson that will not stay with him, because in the West we have been trained to see those that have less as disposable people.   Just as we have to actively work to bring an end to isms like racism, and sexism, classism is something that deserves our attention.

It`s about more than taking the excess vegetables from your garden to the soup kitchen, or donating your old clothes.  It`s about looking at the world around us and understanding that everything that we have, that we believe that we have worked so hard for comes at a cost.  It`s about recognizing that a system exists that purposefully impoverishes people.  There is a constant mantra that people just need to work harder and that they will be handed the keys to the kingdom, yet it is clear that meritocracy does not create wealth.  Many people are working a full time job and a part time job and are still unable to meet their basic subsistence needs.  There are people with full time jobs that are homeless.  Poverty is everywhere we look, if we care to see it.

For me personally, classism is one of the isms that I have great difficulty acknowledging and perhaps this is why it continually slaps me in the face.  In the neighbourhood in which I live, the school is one of the worst in the region and so parents that have the ability, either pay a tuition fee to enroll their children in a French school, or they scheme and find a way to drive their children across town to go to a better school.  The kids that stay at the local school are not loved any less by their parents, they simply don`t have the options that the unhusband and I do.  If a child in my neighbourhood speaks French, there is a very good possibility that their parents have access to a decent income.   Even with this knowledge, I easily assumed that my neighbours would be sending their daughter, Mayhem`s best friend to the French school.  They cannot afford it, but fortunately they have a car, so their child will be driven across town to go to a better school. 


I thought that we could use this thread to talk about the times that we have become aware of our class privilege and talk about ways of remembering the ways in which our situation defers from those right next to us.  I also think it would be great if we could talk about how to bring more attention to issues of class.