My ambitions and standards for life oftentimes seem to lead people to believe that I do not understand that I have at the least minimal privilege. I do not live beneath the “poverty line”. I am not homeless. I am not starving. I am not surviving on multiple lines of government support, despite receiving Section 8, food stamps, charity and child support over the course of my life; struggled with getting consistent and quality healthcare; then receiving a combination of financial aid/loans/and scholarships/grants to get through college. Growing up, I did look into empty cabinets and refrigerators and expect food to magically appear–we struggled. And we still walk that fine line between “relative” working class stability and where-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-get-money-for-the-rest-of-the-bills-and-the-rent-from-?!?!?.
When I use the word “poor”, I am not insisting that I have experienced it all or know it all. But I do know what its like to look around and see consumer culture at work, to see people with jobs, cars, houses, and all the trimmings acting like this is normal and everyone has it. To know that one loan, having one instance of personal shopping, or buying one luxury item can bankrupt my family for six months to five years. To know that if the single head of my household dies, no one in my family will take me in without a price. To be on food stamps and know that the only person you can really buy food for with the amount given for a month is yourself. To have middleclass family members living in suburbia taking out life insurance policies on me, because I’m only worth anything to them if I’m dead. To wear the same clothes, shoes, and undergarments until they run ragged. To live paycheck to paycheck. To not “know the right people” (and be “in” with them) to get anything more in life. And to know that anything you try to do to care for yourself inevitably has a consequence.
And I hate it when people who are much more privileged than I am try to tell me what it means to be “poor”. Because their only idea of being “poor” means living on the streets and panhandling. When someone says “But you’re not poor”, it makes me feel like I am not “struggling enough” to be acknowledged. You’re not living on the streets-panhandling-poor, so you don’t qualify. I’m not struggling as much as I could be, so I should stop complaining, right?
Another form of poverty in this country is knowing that the only thing you can do with your life is continue to hope to survive and struggle for some kind of stability. To know that everything you have can fall apart just as quickly as you have it in your hands, meaning you never really had anything to begin with. It is the proverbial glass ceiling.
When I say poor, I mean working class/borderline “poor”, there–are you happy now? Is that accurate enough for you?