poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things.
August 15, 2010 94 Comments
I don’t know if you guys received the memo; but poor people aren’t supposed to want nice things.
All rags-to-riches (or rags-to-bitches, if you want to get all Boondocks about it) stories start with people who are poor but industrious. Tales of kids eating cigarette ash sandwiches to survive. Tales of people saving mustard packets so they have food that stretches through the whole year. Bonus points if your parent proudly refuses government help, or if you suffer through and survive a vitamin deficiency. You’re a rock star if you live many years out on the streets and still pull down a 4.0+ GPA. You have done poverty correctly.
However, if you take what little disposable income you have and buy sushi, you are doing wrong. Poor people do not want things like smartphones (you’re poor; who are you calling on a smartphone?), televisions (you’re poor; what do you need entertainment for?), nice cars (why wouldn’t you get a modest car to get around when you’re poor), or delicious food (do you know how much ramen you could have bought for the cost of that scone?). Poor people should not take any windfalls or nest eggs or scraped together pennies and expose themselves to luxuries. After all, isn’t that just a brutal reminder of how poor they are any other time? Why not just face the fact that poor is what you are, poor is what you shall be, and poor means that you cannot have nice things?
Poor means you cannot even want Nice Things. You are not supposed to want them. In commercials, do they show people living in Section 8 housing, driving BMWs and sipping lattes, and otherwise enjoying Nice Things? No, they show fashionably abysmal young lithe college students enjoying Nice Things. But what if you are a fashionably abysmal young lithe poor college student? Doesn’t matter. You’re poor. If you ostensibly put together a year’s worth of fortune cookies so that you’d have something to nibble on once the ramen ran out, you are not supposed to want Nice Things.
When you are poor, you are supposed to shock people with the depth of your intellect. It is your responsibility to tell people the reason you are so intelligent or well-read or knowledgeable is:
Often when one of these three reasons come to light, people forgive your indulgence (sometimes your overindulgence) in Nice Things. But they do not forgive the voracity of your enjoyment. Because at that point, Poor Person, you are their reminder that people who are poor want the Nice Things that they readily and regularly acquire. While you may enjoy yourself once, once you have tasted the fruit, do not repeatedly comment on how much you enjoyed that taste of the fruit. You are poor. They know you like what you have because they presume you have never wanted anything more than to get it, like They Who Have Always Had It. You walk into volunteer events, feeling like a hypocrite because you have benefitted from the programs to which you now give your time and your resources. You may even recognize some of the patrons in the soup kitchen, or you glimpse an address for a Christmas gift package that is doors away from your home. Your friends smile and spend over the encouraged limits for them, and you wonder if it weren’t for anonymity, would they even care to know your neighbors’ needs? Or would they be scandalized that the poor would want Nice Things for their families, for themselves? You know the answer already, though. You’ve heard their stories of contempt.
Your goal, Poor Person, should you choose to accept it, is to forget about any presumption of haves and have-nots. Your job, Poor Person, is to get as far away from the have-nots as possible in thought and deed and investment. Otherwise, you will tip people off to the fact you are or have been poor. They are only supposed to suspect that you have been poor when you approach the dais to give a motivating speech, or when you are filling out an application to fund more education for yourself, or when you have fallen upon dire straits but grow accustomed to those circumstances with aplomb. Then, dear Poor Person, and then only may you say, “I did not always blithely accept the presence of Nice Things in my life; I lived a joyless existence under the poverty line.” After that statement, you counterbalance those tales with your jaunts to an expensive school among Those Who Have a Lot, the blatantly poor, and the secret poor. You omit the mental gymnastics you played to hide how much you wished that Those Who Have a Lot knew you when, so they’d understand how much it hurt when they’d pipe up in class about how poverty is a birthright of the irresponsible and the deranged, the deviant and the demented. Instead, you speak of overcoming the Blue Bloods, the Jacks and Jills, the Nouveau Riche as a general learning experience that the only time you can say, “I wasn’t that upset or deprived or needy when I was poor” is to yourself or to your progeny, as a whispered admonishment when they laugh at a homeless man on the street or when they sneer at a story of a single mother with four kids and a 58″ flat screen television in her home.
“Yes,” you explain to your astonished kids or closest friends, “sometimes it hurt, and sometimes we couldn’t afford things; but I made myself remember I was still a person, a good person. That’s one thing my parents always had me remember.”