In case you’ve been hiding out in a bunker and are just emerging, The Hunger Games is a best selling novel by author Suzanne Collins. I absolutely LOVE this book series.
Imani Cezanne, does an amazing take on this story from her own perspective that at :26 made me go “OMG I FINALLY UNDERSTAND!!”
First, I want to say that her work gave me literal goosebumps…no easy trick since I was also sitting in 90 degrees, plus humidity, unable to afford the sweet luxury of air conditioning, at the time I heard this piece.
When she said “I can’t help but notice that painting poverty in white face makes it fantasy.” She says that being “brown and hungry ain’t all that entertaining”.
And from where she’s standing that is completely true. In our society, being brown and hungry is nothing new. The problem is so common that we can dismiss an entire group of people because of it.
But, being white and hungry is pure fantasy.
Now please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not even going to try to pretend that poor whites have had it “just as hard” as poor blacks; because we haven’t. Taking every emotion and political display out of the equation; blacks are easier to single out as being different. Africans were singled out as being a slave race for one reason: They are easier to see.
They are easier spotted, easier singled out, and, because of that, easier to blame.
I was told in 5th grade, that a convenient difference in skin color was the real reason Africans were designated as slaves. But did not realize the full extent of the sheer heartlessness of what I was told until the moment when I felt the hair on my head trying to stand on end as Miss Imani’s words washed over me.
And that’s when it hit me…poor white people don’t realize that their poverty is the same as their neighbor’s. Poor whites and poor blacks will always be at odds.
Because poor white people are just a fantasy. A make-believe story meant to entertain.
This wonderful poem by Imani Cezanne is so very accurate. Because it fully captures how blacks in this country have been mistreated. Once upon a time we brought them here against their will. And have since done our absolute best to try to keep them in their perceived place.
And that couldn’t have been done successfully without the constant help of poor whites. We poor whites have become what Collins, in her series, calls “Career Tributes”.
If you haven’t yet read the series, Career Tributes are the ones who get the luxury of being born in certain districts where some small portion of the population is given just a little bit more.
With just a little bit more they are allowed to become stronger. That little bit more gives them enough incentive to fully accept the Games as they are; and makes them more entertaining for the audience watching from the Capitol.
We poor whites, we Career Tributes, are the ones who were groomed from birth by the establishment to see all others from outside our own, still hungry and isolated, districts as the enemy.
We are supporting cast that moves the story along, without being important enough to even have a name.
We are the ones, given just enough more, to make us willing to blindly slaughter those who we were told are the enemy; instead of turning our attention to the ones putting us into the Arena in the first place.
They handed us the whip. But told us we still couldn’t live in the big house. Then they told us it was all your fault.
Like hate seeking missiles, they aimed us at their own enemies, and programmed us to explode on impact.
We sit in government housing, eating Ramen we bought on Food Stamps, swallowing pills we got through Medicaid, and spewing misdirected venom and bile at our fake enemy.
While the true enemy watches comfortably from behind the screen.
We mop the same floors, clean the same toilets, flip the same burgers, and try to avoid being trampled under the same boots. Without ever seeing that we are, in so many ways, exactly the same.
Our whole lives are dictated by the idea that a Career Tribute, who works harder than his peers, might some day make it out to become a pet of the establishment.
We’re spoon-fed the idea that we have to first join together to destroy the ones who aren’t like us. Then we turn on our own allies until we’re the last ones standing.
We do not realize that we are nothing more than a toy. A decoration. We’re part of the background.
We get to be called by empty titles like store manager, and team leader; while never being allowed any actual control or say in operations. We are nothing more than the same trained animal we have been taught to view the rest of the Tributes in the Arena as.
The only time we are ever told we can work together is when our group of Tributes are handed guns and camouflage and sent to kill some other nation’s Tributes.
We ignore the hard truths in favor of comfortable lies.
Because I can’t see the true enemy.
But I can see the poor black sister sitting next to me in class. And I was taught that if she had somehow managed to be able to wear a prettier dress than me, if her shoes were just a little less broken down, that she hadn’t earned it. That her family had somehow cheated. I was trained to believe that since her single mother selfishly had 3 kids then she got more welfare.
I was told this even as I watched my single mother tearing food stamps out of a booklet and giving them to each of her three children. As we stood in line with separate transactions to each buy fifty cents worth of canned corn so that we could maybe gather enough in the change to keep the water on.
But then they took that away from us too…and told us it was all because of those other Tributes.
We gamed the system awash in a sea of other Careers, all doing the same, as they complained bitterly about how bad it is that those other Tributes game the system.
We Careers never see ourselves as victims of the same Capitol. We were taught that we deserve this. That this is all for our own good.
We are sent into the Arena believing that somehow we are not just more meat being fed into the same grinder.
We take our place in the Arena and fight blindly to destroy the fake enemy, for the entertainment of the real one.
As a poor white I was raised believing that white poverty is a fantasy. Even while I was being drowned in that raging sea of hunger and despair; I clung desperately to the idea that this was all a fantasy like it was a life preserver.
I was raised to believe that my poverty was the fault of darker skinned individuals who were taking my jobs and undercutting my wages. I was raised to believe it was us poor whites, against them poor blacks.
I was spoon-fed this falsehood so that as I grew I would ignore the real enemy in favor of a farcical creation.
I was put in the Arena at birth and told that if I can fight that other person hard enough I might be able to get out. Because that other person isn’t a person; they’re just another Tribute.
We are forced into this mentality so that we never realize that if we stopped fighting each other and, instead, turned our attention to the real enemy, then none of us would have to be here anymore.
As a Career Tribute I was nefariously groomed to constantly engage my make-believe enemy. My life was dependent on their utter defeat.
Careers are taught from birth that we are the only ones worthy of making it out of the Arena. We are given just a few scraps more just to make us train for the games even harder.
The real enemy hid itself from us behind the human shield of the black community. Then shields itself from the black community by pitting the ghetto and the trailer park against each other.
Most Tributes didn’t even own slaves.
So why were we the ones dying just to let someone else keep something we would never have anyway?
We were told “Look how little they are willing to work for!”
We look down and shout “Why are you taking so little?!” Instead of looking up and asking “Why would you pay them so little?”
The real enemy has kept us at odds with each other for centuries and we have all fallen for it.
When we did manage to organize, to join together against our real oppressors, we were so brutally silenced we dared not try again.
Instead of risking what might happen if we turned our attention to the real enemy, we became Careers.
Because being white and poor is all just a fantasy.
We’re only here because we deserve this.
It’s for our own good.
And if we give them a few of our children, the rest of us might be safe.
We became Careers.
What other choice did we really have?