||[Jan. 22nd, 2032|08:30 pm]
...Is an excellent piece on racism, esp. the casual racism amongst white liberal types. |
The writer makes some really good points--bounce-up-and-down-pointing-at-the-screen-and-going-YES-THIS! points--and makes them in accessible, relatively jargon-free language, yet. (Wow, who knew it was possible to write about racism and social justice from a feminist perspective without sixty-five tons of obfuscatory verbiage and more made-up words than Legend of the Fucking Seeker?)
One part of the post irks me, however. Writing about a white friend who is in some financial difficulty following the purchase of a house, the author offers us this bit:
"Now, in a hypothetical world where my friend is not white, here’s a list of the questions somebody would ask me about her behavior as a not white person:
1. Why did she get pregnant when she didn’t have the money for a home?
2. Why did she buy a house she couldn’t afford?
3. Why didn’t she stay where she was and save more money?
4. Obviously where she was, childless and saving money, was a smarter place to be. Why did she make such poor decisions about getting pregnant and moving?
My friend isn’t going to have to face those questions, because she’s white."
Which--okay, yeah, fair point, definitely a fair point. If--and this is important--we're talking about middle class people (and if you can afford to buy your own home, even if you have to scrimp to make the payments, you are most definitely middle class). White middle-class people are less likely to face those questions than BME people from a similar socioeconomic background.
But you know who definitely is going to face questions and comments about their spending habits? Poor people. If you're poor, you WILL have people sniffing around your income and outgoings. This is especially true if you're on the dole, but it's true of people in low-paid jobs who have difficulty making ends meet.
Don't get me wrong here; I'm not going of into "But that happens to white people TOOOOOOO!" land. There's a different dynamic and different implications--a white person living on the poverty line will not find their whiteness blamed for their problems or transgressions. Classism relies on conjuring up phantom weaknesses of character--impulsivity, laziness, stupidity, greed, etc--and attributing poverty to these.
If you're poor, it's like your finances suddenly become the whole world's business. Where poor people got stuff and what they could have spent the money on if they hadn't bought the stuff they bought seems to exercise an inordinate fascination over the minds of private individuals and politicians alike. Why is that young mother paying for a pint of milk in stacks of 2ps when her kid is wearing a Baby Gap top? How come that refuse collector takes his kids to Starburger once a fortnight, when he claims they can't afford to mend that broken window at the back of the house? How much did that new coat cost? Why are you buying new shoes when you're supposed to be saving for a rainy day? You've got a colour television! How can you complain about money when you've got a colour television?
If you are on benefits, everyone owns a slice of your life. People will gossip loudly about you in the supermarket queue (maybe even reach into your basket and turn over your purchases, commenting on the price). Should you have to fumble in your coin-purse for a moment at the checkout, this will be an opportunity for someone to point out that you've obviously overspent. If you use the launderette rather than hand-washing and air-drying your clothes, this laziness and profligacy will be noted and decried. (And if you go out in wrinkled stale-smelling garments, this will also be taken as evidence of your intrinsically bad character.)
Journalists will tot up the money that you "waste" on luxuries such as branded foodstuffs or fish and chips. Your occasional take-away coffee and doughnut will attract head-shaking and opprobrium as it is added to the tally. All this wastage being totted up, it will furnish the columnist with a nicely damning article on the myth of the poverty trap: Look! These povvos claim they can't escape from their situations, but they can afford donuts and coffee! (*Inserts joke about chavs and Burberry, knocks off for lunch.*)
Again, I want to re-iterate that I'm not drawing an equivalency here between the racism inherent in blaming a person's financial troubles on their ethnicity and blaming poverty on some kind of dimly-explored character flaw. I'm just saying that middle-class white people enjoy a whole different set of rules to white people from lower down the socioeconomic heap; something that white liberals need to get better about recognising.