By Nicole Plyler Fisk
I have lots of important things to write about (Syria, gun control, etc.), and I do write about them — often. But then my groove is interrupted, and I have to stop, because people from my small, conservative hometown start using Facebook to hate on the poor. Without fail, this happens every few months. Without fail, I respond, which earns comments, the next-time-around, like the following:
INFURIATES ME when people defend the ones who take advantage of the system when they could be doing more. I have heard people brag about how they misuse it! Yes … people legitimately need it and should use it … but we all know how abused the system is and WE PAY FOR IT!
Follow me over the fold for more that’s guaranteed to raise your blood pressure, but only if you have a heart.
Those infuriating people-who-defend? They’re talking about me — because, in a lot of cases, no one else says anything. There are “thumbs-ups” (nearly 200 for the latest one) and “amens” in the comments.
And I keep trying to come up with different ways to say the same thing, hoping that some sweet day, one of them will stick. This time, rather than exhaustively summarizing research which reveals — among other things — that more than half of federal assistance goes to the working poor (i.e., yes, they have jobs); that the average monthly benefit is $400 (i.e., hardly enough to qualify for lifestyles of the rich and famous); that children benefit the most from federal assistance programs (you know: those babies Republicans love until they’re born?); etc. … rather than doing-all-that, I’m going to focus on hating-on-the-poor posts as a genre and what it reveals about the people who love-to-hate on the most vulnerable among us.
1. Hating-on-the-poor is also known as loving-on-oneself. The narrative goes like this: I work SO hard … I pay my bills, unlike some people … On top of everything I do, Ihave to pay for other people, who unlike me, do not work hard and are therefore not worth as much as I am — because, if they were, I wouldn’t be complaining about helping them. In short, hating-on-the-poor is the equivalent of the mean girls in high school sitting in their clique and snubbing their noses at the very existence of the unpopular “others,” people they don’t understand because they don’t try to understand them.
2. Don’t let them fool you: those who hate-on-the-poor like things the way they are. As soon as you start reading a hating-on-the-poor thread, you’ll see the oneupmanship of the “when I was a kid, I had to walk uphill and through snow to go to school!” variety. Everyone starts chiming in about all the student debt they had, and all the jobs they had to work, but then they almost always say that they wouldn’t have had things any other way, because all of the above is what made them the quality human beings they are (of the mean-girl variety). In this most recent thread, the fact that commenters are just fine with the status quo is made overt by Bernie-Sanders-bashing. Yep: the man who ran on a platform of eliminating student debt and sharing the wealth of the 1% with the 99% is bad, because those would be “handouts” and then those complaining about student debt wouldn’t be able to gather round the lunch table and talk about how they’re so much better (i.e., they need that student debt / to be able to pay it / to be able to denigrate those who can’t).
3. Hating-on-the-poor requires that we make assumptions about others that are stingy rather than generous. An important part of the hating-on-the-poor genre is speculation about why that person has those clothes; those food-items in his/her grocery cart; etc. The assumption is always that they aren’t really poor … that they’re a fraud, because they have something that’s nice! — maybe even something that the mean-girls want and can’t afford at the moment. The mean-girls must have the nicest things … if not, their world is upended and someone must be taking advantage of them.
Truth: those who truly need government assistance (and let’s remember that welfare fraud is less than 3%) have survival skills that the rest of us can only dream of. I was just gifted a bunch of fabulous designer clothes from a Syrian friend of mine (and you can’t get much poorer right now than a refugee). She had bought them from Good Will and had held onto them, even though they were no longer her size, until she saw me eyeing them longingly. And then she insisted I take them, because here’s another truth:those who have little are more generous than those who have more.
In short, if the only people you know on welfare are “frauds,” that reflects badly not on them but on you, because (a) you’re likely making assumptions about people you claim to know but really don’t, and (b) you clearly aren’t hanging with the vulnerable in your community (e.g., at soup kitchens and homeless shelters), like Jesus told you to do (and now: move onto #4).
4. Hating-on-the-poor has become, in my experience, a Christian practice. And because the Bible is a collection of books with all sorts of different opinions about all kinds of topics, the mean girls can cherry-pick that random verse about not-eating-if-you-don’t-work while happily ignoring all of — you know — Jesus’s teachings, like giving-more-than-what’s-asked-of-you; not judging; etc. Granted, there are some Christians who don’t hate-on-the-poor (Pope Francis, for example, seems to think that caring for the poor is really important), but the mean girls are able to ignore him in favor of Joel Osteen and the prosperity gospel (i.e., they cherry-pick religious authority figures just like they cherry-pick verses).
5. Hating-on-the-poor / classism is ugly, and we should call it out just like we do racism and bigotry. Those who hate on the poor will try to avoid the charge of classism by saying … yeah, yeah — we know some people need it. But when they only give examples of those who don’t, they’re stereotyping / condemning an entire socio-economic group. And, in keeping with the “I know about this person abusing the system!” anecdote they love to share, here’s an anecdote that reveals the damage that mentality — that stingy way of thinking — inflicts on the most vulnerable among us:
A single mother, who had recently lost her husband, was struggling financially, so she qualified for and started receiving food stamps. She was dealing with anger-issues from her middle-school-aged son (distraught over his father’s death) and was exhausted to get notes home every day indicating that her son had picked a fight. She made a deal: if he could go a week without getting a note, she’d get him a king-sized Snickers bar. He did. Consequently, she was in the grocery store checkout line and went over budget. While trying to decide what to put back, the woman behind her rolled her eyes and said, “How bout that candy bar? That’s not what my tax dollars are supposed to be buying.” The mother put back her yogurt, and with bags (and candy bar) in tow, got in her car and burst into tears.
I read the first-person version of ^this^ via the comment section on another hating-on-the-poor post, which means (1) that sometimes comments really are worth reading; and (2) that I’m so-freaking-tired of hearing people complain about their “hard-earned money” paying for people to eat and to live (yep: even in those less-than-3% of fraudulent cases).
How dare they complain about the less-than-10% we pay in assistance rather than the close-to-20% that goes to the military / war or the $229,000,000,000 cost of gun violence (half of which we pay in taxes) because we can’t seem to pass the sane gun safety legislation proven to work in every other first world country?
But, no, by all means: let’s buy more weapons and fund more wars and pay to plug-up all those holes-in-bodies that shouldn’t be there in the first place! Instead, we’ll recoup our hard-earned money from those who have less than we do! … so say the mean girls.