Class consciousness could help

Here are a few gems from John Scalzi:

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV….

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours…

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys….

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar…

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Not everything is of the same quality. You can read the whole list for yourself. The one about worrying about the price of a lotto ticket seemed the worst (i.e. I have no sympathy whatsoever). And even of the ones I quoted… why would anyone want to buy more expensive ramen? (We get it from Save-A-Lot across the street).

There are also much more serious items. Like hoping a toothache will go away. (Since I started this blog post I’ve started the practice of hoping a car noise goes away.)

But on the items above and others similar to them, I have a couple of suggestions. It seems to me the real problem is two-fold 1. being within the reach of the media and 2. having middle-class friends.

Start with marketing…

One of the most damaging marketing tools in  the United States media culture is the one that establishes “normal life.” Because there isn’t one normal life.

There are kids who, if their parents are wise, need to be raised to never expect to see the inside of a McDonald’s. Never. All right, maybe if they ask for their birthday.

And if that is the case, there are many more who need to never care about a brand-name ever.

Advertising is a great thing. States that don’t allow advertising for certain products are states where those products cost more for consumers on average. You would think that the lack of advertising costs would make the products more affordable but it doesn’t work that way….

But lower prices are meaningless if you still can’t afford the item. For certain economic classes, families need to be impervious. They need to understand that those ads are for other people and other people’s children.

And that means understanding that they don’t belong to their peers if they are being raised in a middle-class environment. They are among them but they are not of them. Get used to it. Get over it. Move on.

I am pretty sure there are a lot of advantages to being in a middle class environment rather than a lower-class one… but you have to be prepared. Your head should be made of flint and your heart of stone.

Being poor (probably not Scalzi-level poor) is wanting to weep in frustration when you get the note your child brings home from class requesting $10 for her teachers birthday present. You love her teacher and the school is great but you already can’t really afford the tuition and you know groceries are already under-budgeted this month. And no one thinks twice that you wouldn’t have a couple of fivers lying around the house to dump in an envelope to send back to the school.

The constant message is you don’t belong. You are outside looking in. You are the nose pressed up against the glass of the restaurant window.

And yet you can get by. And you should be grateful to God.

And you can be.

Once you realize that He is not middle-class.

2 thoughts on “Class consciousness could help

  1. pentamom

    Being…well, not poor, but on a tight budget and not able to afford to do things with your house and take your kids expensive places and go on “real” vacations and stuff….is really, really wanting to be happy for them when your friends talk about how much they saved on their kitchen redesigns by smart shopping around, but being too busy wondering why they just don’t get that the amount that they saved on it is more than you have to spend on anything optional, so maybe you just can’t get quite as excited about it as they are. And these are generous Christian people…but they just. don’t. get it.

    “The constant message is you don’t belong. You are outside looking in. You are the nose pressed up against the glass of the restaurant window.”

    And what’s frustrating is that while our family doesn’t come close to the definition of poor as described here, we live in a middle class evangelical culture that takes it for granted that everyone is richer than we are, so even we feel like we’re on the outside looking in, a lot. (Like the teacher gift thing — we’ve never been where we couldn’t buy enough groceries if we sent in the $10, but we’ve often been in a place where we thought, “You know, $10 is not chump change for just everybody. Don’t they realize that?”) It’s bad enough that being poor makes you feel that way, but there’s something really wrong with your subculture when being “middle class but not much left over to throw around” leaves you feeling that way.

  2. pentamom

    And believe it or not, I have a little more sympathy on the lottery ticket thing. Here’s why:

    If you’ve previously been better off, and then become poor, you’ve known a time when there were good reasons not to buy a lottery ticket, even if you could. If you’ve only ever been poor, you only know that you CAN’T. You’ve never even needed to think past that.

    But still, I agree, it’s a poor example because it’s like saying you can’t afford a hit of crack. Sorry, that doesn’t make me feel bad that you’re not destroying yourself. I would have liked “can’t buy a candy bar for your kid” a lot more. It does make me feel a little bit bad that you’re perceiving one more little thing that is beyond your reach because even a tiny amount of money can’t be spared. Just another straw on the pile of “out of your reach.”


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