Recently there are two stories going viral about getting welfare. One was written by a woman who drove her Mercedes; the other by a woman who took a bus. In both cases the women talk about the shame of poverty. I’ve read them both and declare them both to be complete tripe. Although the woman who took the bus has a slightly clearer vision of poverty, neither of them have more than a passing familiarity with it. They were both college educated. They lived earlier lives that allowed them to prepare for extreme contingencies and only had to go onto welfare once those safety measures were exhausted. They were both viewing this as rock bottom for their lives.
There’s just one glaring problem with both articles; they both thought this was the bottom. But for people like me, this isn’t the bottom because this is just life. They felt the frustration and anger; but they also felt shame. But since this is not something that we were brought down to…
We were never ashamed to begin with
Guess what; most of us are in no way ashamed to be on welfare. Horrible isn’t it? We aren’t ashamed because we know who we are, where we come from, and how hard we’ve tried. We know those things that everyone likes to ignore about poverty actually exist and that we are doing everything in our power to cope with them as they come and as best we can.
College was never an option for us. We never had any money to save for contingencies since we can’t even meet our regular bills every month.
Why should we feel ashamed of doing everything in our power to try to survive? Sure, I’ve talked about poor shaming before. But I wasn’t talking about how we feel ashamed. I was talking about how people seem to think that we should feel ashamed.
By now, you’ve all heard names like Shanesha Taylor and Debra Harrell. Both women were punished for trying to do the best that they could with what was given. In both cases the women were arrested for their child care choices; and their children were removed from their custody as a result. Everyone keeps talking about how humiliated and ashamed they must feel because they are trapped in this system.
But I’m going to bet that neither of these women have time for your shame or pity while they are struggling to feed, or even just keep, their children. They felt sadness and anger, maybe rage and a little hopelessness; but shame wasn’t on their emotional spectrum.
We’re not ashamed. But we are angry at the outside world for trying to make it seem like we should be.
I’ve said before that I actually like being a cashier. And I really do love the job. But I’m not supposed to love the job. It’s wrong for me to love being a cashier. I should want to be something else instead. But I don’t. I don’t want the added stress and pressure of being a manager. I want to be a cashier; because I enjoy being a cashier.
But nowadays, people think that being a cashier is something humiliating. So they make my job even more humiliating. I’ve been regularly abused, assaulted, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and harassed; by customers and the companies I work for. Why? Because I’m just a cashier and I should be ashamed of myself for it.
I’m ashamed of this system because it shouldn’t be allowed to exist. I shouldn’t have to both work and be on assistance. Welfare programs went from being something that a family uses when there’s an emergency; to something that companies factor into their profit margins. My company shouldn’t be able to make keeping me in poverty part of their business model.
But they can because the public sees my job as being worthless and deserving of nothing but failure anyway.
I have no control over that. So why should I be ashamed of it? I’m not ashamed because I have only minimal control over my situation. I don’t control my wages or my hours or my job. I don’t control how people view my job. I don’t have control over, or even have any real say in, what jobs are available in my area. I don’t control my job duties. I don’t control the fact that I was born and raised in poverty. I am not ashamed of things I have no control over.
I refuse to be ashamed of myself for you.
This shame transference is what really pisses me off. You would be ashamed to have my job so you think I have to be ashamed of it as well. You would feel ashamed to be on public assistance. You would feel ashamed not to be able to buy name brands. You would feel ashamed at having only one pair of shoes. You would feel ashamed of having to let the light bill slide in favor of the rent. But do you want to know what I feel for you when you think I should be feeling shame…pity.
I feel sorry for the way you cling to meaningless things like phones or clothes or new cars. I feel pity that you are so disconnected from your own children that you think giving them an iPad is the same as taking them fishing and just spending time talking to them like they are people.
I’m feel sorry for you because you can’t seem to manage to cook your own food. You can’t even manage your time well enough so that you don’t have to eat the food I’m preparing for you, or bringing to you.
In some places your so helpless that you don’t even know how to pump your own gas. You can’t check your own vehicle for it’s routine maintenance…they have to give you indicator lights so that you know when to do something as simple as changing your oil. If something on your vehicle fails, you will actually buy a completely new vehicle because you don’t know how to fix the issue.
You can’t even clean up after yourselves. We have to do it for you. You have no idea how to function without all of the little conveniences I, and those like me, make sure you have every day.
I feel sorry for out of touch upper management that has to hold workshops to be taught how to interact with people without looking down on them. You have to be taught how NOT to view someone as less than you…and you still fail miserably at it since it’s being taught by other people who are just as out of touch as you are.
I pity you for the fact that you don’t ever stop moving because you don’t want to be seen as lazy…even though the only person who would think someone resting after a day of working is lazy would be someone else like you.
Making it all even more sad is that you have no idea what I’m even talking about right now.
So while you’re looking down on me and transferring all the shame you would feel about being in my same position, I’m looking back at you feeling sorry for you since you can’t function without me.
But that feeling doesn’t last long because…
We don’t have time for your shit
I’m really getting tired of all this shame transference. It wastes my time. I have things to deal with right now that don’t allow for your misdirected shame and pity.
I also don’t have time to feel bad about choices I’ve made in the past either. I made them. The decision has passed. Right now I’m trying to deal with what I have available to me within those past choices. I have shit to deal with, and none of that shit is the shame you want to put on me. When the shit goes down, we can shrug it off and keep moving.
You have to panic and go see a doctor and a financial adviser when you fail.
When I fail I just get back up, tell life she hits like a bitch, and then move on.
I’m not ashamed that I had my twins out of wedlock, because I’m not ashamed of my kids. My parents aren’t ashamed of their grandkids either. No, it wasn’t the best decision to have kids when I did. But I did. Now I have to do everything I can to raise them the best way that I can. And, you see, that’s the whole thing…
We’re too fucking busy for your shit. Not like “I’ve got to get the kids to soccer practice then bake cupcakes for little Susie’s class” kind of busy. I’m more like “I’ve got to get to the food bank on the only day they’re open and then get down to the office where they can help me pay my light bill before my shift starts at 2” kind of busy.
I’ve explained before that my parents were divorced. That both of my parents worked…sometimes two or three jobs at a time. That both were doing all they could to raise their three children. I’ve also hinted at how my mother’s family tried to make her feel for being on Food Stamps and, occasionally, TANF (cash assistance).
They tried. Sometimes they succeeded; and I will never forgive them for that. Because, just like the women above, they have no idea what it feels like down here. My mother had three children to try to feed. One of her sisters only had one child, the other has none. Neither of them had any idea what it is like for my working class single mom of three. The only thing they were ever willing to give her was plenty of misplaced shame and tons of judgment.
My Aunt, the one who had one child, was married to a man who owns a couple of homes…one in Hawaii, another in Colorado, I think he had one in California too…and the kind of job that allows him the ability to just bump into the president twice in one week. My Aunt’s perspective on things comes from the father of her only child being more than able to support both of his families. My ex-uncle paid for my cousin’s braces. He bought her high end, name brand, school clothes. He took her on fancy vacations. If my aunt got in too big a bind in caring for her daughter, she always had a fall back in the form of her daughter’s father. I don’t think she has ever once had to rely on welfare.
Like the women who wrote those two articles, she has a college education and has always held jobs that mean sitting in a nice air conditioned office somewhere. When her shift ended, she went home and didn’t think about it until the next day.
But my mom was an assistant manager, sometimes a manager, her job never ended because she was always ready to address some issue that would come up in her store. She could never relax because she always had to be ready to manage some impending disaster. More than once she had to leave her kids home alone in the middle of the night to go to her store because it had just been robbed.
My cousin’s childhood is filled with long relaxing vacations to places like Colorado ski resorts, and Disney, and Universal Studios, and all those other nice family vacation spots. Her parents were always there to see her special awards or school performances. She had help paying for college and was encouraged to go.
My childhood memories are full of outings to the beach or to a park being cut short because someone didn’t come in and now she had to take over that shift. My mom’s kids all eventually stopped trying to win awards or perform with our school chorus since they knew she would probably have to work and would miss it anyway. College wasn’t an option since we needed another paycheck too badly.
But my mother, who was always ready to drop everything and go in and work, was the one who was considered lazy. While my Aunt, who always had ample time to devote to luxury, was considered the hard working one.
In my siblings and I, the poverty cycle just continued, and still continues. But I take comfort in one thing…
We are stronger than you. We know this. You’re the ones not catching on.
I wasn’t driven to welfare because I was already here
The bottom scares the shit out of you…but it’s home for me.
And I feel no shame for it either.