Smart People Privilege and “Will I be Homeless?”

When I was young I had no sympathy or empathy for poor people.

“If they didn’t want to be poor, they would do something about it.” I said.

“Anyone can lift themselves up, adults working fast food are crap.” I said.

I was kind of a jerk when I was young.

My poor, long-suffering great-grandmother tried, oh she tried, to get me to see the error of my ways. Unfortunately, the “every black baby in a wheelchair living in a project getting government cheese could be president if they only had a computer” argument didn’t work for crap. Only in hindsight do I understand why that was such a horrible way to try and convince a smart, young, white girl to feel sorry for the poor, downtrodden black folk.

Because black folk are not poor and downtrodden all the time. Just like white girls are not young and smart all the time.

She tried to use the worst possible example to make my empathy ring true.

Unfortunately, as a former homeless girl, I did not have a whole bunch of spare empathy or sympathy to give to anyone else, because I was waiting for someone to congratulate ME on not becoming a teenage prostitute.

Spoiler Alert: To this day, no one has congratulated me on not becoming a teenage prostitute. Assuming having sex with … well, let’s just say that if you’re a smart-ass and honest about your past you won’t be able to donate blood a time or two. Prudes.

My great-grandmother – as well meaning as she was – tried to get me to give a crap about others with the “it could be worse” argument. A far more effective strategy is the, “it could be YOU” argument. Because the WSJ says that 35% of American struggle to make ends meet each month. All y’all judging the person using the food stamp card for whatever the hell it is they want to purchase (remind me to tell you about the time I had to buy cupcakes and got stink eye and nasty under-the-breath comments) need to realize you are ONE paycheck away from being there. Unless you have parents/family with money, in which case shut up and learn something because your safety net is rare, like that flower that bloomed once every ten years.

People have to stop pretending everyone is like THEM. They aren’t. How dare people think they are!

Personally, right now I wish we were living paycheck to paycheck. We’re just not there yet. We are close, but right now we have a debt to our mortgage company that has me more worried than I’d like for anyone to know about. We have a person in charge of our case and, “My husband is in a union” is a powerful bargaining chip, but it’s not foolproof.

When we’ve made good money in the past, I’ve used excess to pay down debt and thank goodness for it because it may be our saving grace. I mean, sure, we’re probably going into default on our student loans, like, right this second, but that’s our only solid debt (besides the house, car and $1200 in credit card debt…so…maybe not our only solid debt.)

My husband is on this apprentice scale system at the union where he gets promoted up 10% every 750 hours or 6 months (whichever comes first). I am on unemployment and spend my days sending in resumes for jobs and hoping/dreading I get called in for an interview. We are at that point where our mouths are underwater and we are breathing from our noses but we see a boat in the distance that’s coming to save us.

Can we hold on?

That’s pretty much going to be the focus of the blog, because it’s the focus of my life.

Will we lose our house? It’s a total possibility. If we do, where will we go?

All while this is happening I see people bitching about people using food stamps (IT’S CALLED THE LINK CARD, KEEP UP) for buying candy bars and soda, and over here I see people bitching about people using the LINK card at the Whole Foods (I can barely afford this! How dare those poor people buy organic!) and I’m stuck there, swiping my card because the food pantries are stocked with processed foods and things that won’t help my kids grow anything but a damn tumor.

Also, if they think for a moment it would be a good idea to give me crap for being on The Stamps, let me inform them I’ve paid more into this system than they probably ever will unless they’re reading Lean In for more than fun, so they need to back the hell off. (You kind of have to italicize Lean In because then, you know, it’s LEANING! Good times!)

I am the face of poor America, people. I am the face of the LINK card, and the multiple cases of almost-foreclosure, and the don’t know if I’ll be able to pay the car payment and oh by the way the last car we had was repossessed for a day and that really screws up your credit so you should see the interest rate on my new car. Used car? Oh yes, we tried that. Come to find out the one we bought had a broken frame – in two places – you know, a rolling deathtrap. So we bought a new car this time, because I was scared and I cried a lot and didn’t know what to do because DEAD KID FEAR. It’s the only one we have so while my husband goes to work the only thing getting me out of the house farther than a few blocks/miles is an ambulance.

I am just another person – funny and kind and giving and smart and edgy and foul-mouthed – and I am the one who has to tell my daughters we can’t afford gymnastics, dance lessons, art classes, and anything else they want because it’s just not possible right now. They are so understanding, which makes it worse.

Of course, the only reason I can tell you this is because my husband has that mythical unicorn of a union job and in 2-3 years will be making enough that we’ll be able to go to Disney or Cabo or a nice restaurant. I know we’re going to be okay, so I can tell you how NOT okay we have been for the past 10 years. The ups and downs of our lives.

It’s going to be gritty.

Oh, and while we’re at it…this.

minimum-wage-work-week-afl-cio

If you would like to download your own copy, or maybe get a larger copy, check out the AFL-CIO Facebook page where I found it.

In the meantime, try not to take your smart, got-it-all-figured-out brain and pretend everyone is as smart or as hungry or as ambitious as you. Everyone willing to work a 40 hour week should be able to afford a 2 bedroom apartment. No one is asking for a McMansion. To act like an apartment is some kind of thing you should be a genius to get, well, that’s dumb.

You’re better than that.

When those people act like a temporarily displaced rich person, the rich people laugh and the poor people think they’re a haughty fool. As a matter of fact, the rich people think they’re a haughty fool, too.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
– John Steinbeck

Stop it, stop it, stop it. If they think that other people could be more if they just wanted it enough they are the person John Steinbeck was talking about.

Dumping on the rights of immigrants, poor people, black people, or whatever their preferred OTHER is will never, ever, ever make them a person they want to be.

I’m done keeping it to myself.

Institutionalized racism exists. Institutionalized sexism exists. These things hurt women AND men AND people of every color.

Do I only have analogies? Sure.

Do they want proof? Maybe.

Is it my job to give them sources and references? NOPE. NO WAY. NO HOW.

I’ll do my best, but honestly, if they want to be ignorant and not give a crap about people who are doing more crappy than them, HAVE AT IT. It’s not my job to make them into some kind of great person. If they want to be a turd, by all means, be a turd.

This is just my blog, my platform, and my story.

I’m owning it.

That being said, I’m happy to have conversations. If you know me you know I’m relatively light and funny in my discourse – I’m not going to go for the jugular right away, but a lot of these people need to understand that crap they’re posting on social media is aimed toward ME.

I AM NOT THE EXCEPTION TO YOUR RULES.

Their fat rules, their health rules, their poor people rules, their race rules.

I AM NOT THE EXCEPTION.

I am a human being. I am one of billions.

I cannot be the only one.

Please.

Tell me I’m not.

Even if they don’t, I’ll keep talking….

4 Comments

  • Sally_K

    Thank you for sharing your story. The more people share their real stories the more we all learn and understand. I admire your courage and really am proud of you for making it through those scary teenage years.

    • jennydecki

      I just feel kind of awful because I know for a fact the only reason I’m willing to share is that I’m on the way out of the mess. Anyone in the mess with no way out is sure as hell not going to share. They’re going to fake it and feel so very, very alone. 🙁

  • Susan

    Hey-o, Sally_K said what I was going to say. Our generation is in a pickle because of the old, stuffy tradition that talking about finances is gauche. It’s not; judging people by their finances is, though. I have no idea what other families who make the same amount we do spend on bills and expenses because I can’t find it anywhere on the internet. It’s kind of hard to not be able to find something on the internet, right?
    You’ll pull through. The boat the the shore thing, you know.

    • jennydecki

      I’m gauche through and through. My great-grandmother always told me I’d be better off a man. It took me years to understand what she meant by that! Now that I know I think I’m fine as a woman but wish other women would be all “Solidarity, Sister!” but it’s so difficult. It’s not on the Internet. Once I showed my friend my tax returns and we made $14k for the year. My mortgage is $1200 a month. Yeah, I have NO IDEA how we made it through that year. LOL