Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

Poverty Tourism

Ok, so I’m heading this with “Common People” by Pulp for a reason.

High class poverty tourism comes from a very well-meaning place.  They want to know what  it’s like, they want to empathize with what the “less fortunate” go through.

The problem is, they can’t.  In the words of Pulp, “the chip stains and the grease will come off in the bath.”  You’re not really experiencing poverty if you can shed it at any time like a Halloween costume.

Another blogger, Nudiemuse, put together a list of things that people who are poverty tourists really need to do to experience poverty in the industrialized world, let alone in the third world.  Eating on the same budget someone on food stamps or on an otherwise limited funds eats doesn’t negate all of the other benefits of your privileged lifestyle.  You still have a secure job, money in the bank, health insurance, the ability to go to the doctor if you’re sick or injured, a comfortable place to live.

Celebrities are inordinately fond of these tactics to bring attention to the plight of the less fortunate, which on its face is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know it comes from a well-meaning place, but ultimately it’s kind of insulting.  For one thing, it gives the financially comfortable the illusion of “understanding” what the poor actually go through.  It also reduces the poor to their poverty, without really understanding that the poor are more than just their financial well-being, or lack thereof.

“But still you’ll never get it right 
‘cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall 
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.”

This is one of the hardest things I try to get people to understand.  For some of us, most of us, we can’t stop being poor.  Hell, I’m not truly poor right now, just seriously fucking broke.  I can afford rent and we have health insurance.  But that’s about it.  And if I lose my job, we’re fucked.  If I cash out the remaining vacation time I have accrued, I might be able to pay our rent for two months, but that’s about it.  I have also done my time where finding change in the couch cushions dictated whether or not I ate that week.  I spent years without health insurance and chronic asthma.

Poverty tourism often comes from good intentions, however, ultimately, it’s actually pretty demeaning to the people you’re trying to help because of what it reduces their lived experience to.  It isn’t just eating only a limited amount of food.  It’s all the rest that comes with it.  It’s the constant grinding down of living life on the edge of completely fucked.  The worry that you could be downsized, made redundant, or just plain fired.  The worry that your health will fail, that you’ll come down with pneumonia, cancer, or any other serious condition that insurance tries it’s damnedest not to cover, IF you have insurance.

It’s knowing that a large segment of society either pities you or thinks you’re scum, even while many of them ARE you.  Because of our tendency to view ourselves as “exceptional.”  It’s just like the whole “my abortion is the only moral abortion” syndrome that afflicts Anti-Choicers who get abortions.  Only “I” am the deserving poor, those other poor people are lazy and stupid, but I’M just having a hard time.

And that’s in the industrialized world.  I’m not even going to try to speak to the experiences of those living in other areas or in war torn countries.  I’d rather you seek out their voices and listen to them instead of the celebrities airlifted in to make you pay attention.

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2013 by in Class, Featured Articles.

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