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Try Looking Past The Elephant

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LIVING IN POVERTY
Chris Dean

This is the post I never meant to write. Hell, this is the post I swore I wouldn't write. But at this exact moment, it needs to be written.

Recently, I was asked to share an article. (I'm not gonna mention which one, because this is about my experience, not theirs.) It was a well-written piece about Ferguson and the insanity that happened there. The thing is, after I read it, there was no way I could bring myself to share it. Not because I didn't understand and empathize with what the author was saying, but because of who the entire post was addressed to; white Mothers.

Don't get me wrong, there is no question what happened there had a shit-ton to do with color. But the one thing that no one's talking about is how class -- to be more specific, poverty -- figured into the whole thing.

Before I started writing, I hit Ask and Google and did a search for blogs about poverty. All I got back were charities and studies. Believe it or not, I couldn't find a blog written by someone living in poverty. That was when I started typing.

No, I didn't grow up in a low income home. I'm from a middle class household with a mother who was a magician with a tight budget. My current household could best be described as lower middle class, aka working class poor. Where I spent most of my adult years in between? Now that's another story altogether.

I had my first son at 19 and married my first husband when I was 20. We were both waiting tables and I was pregnant with my second son. Needless to say, we were dirt poor.

I know what you're probably thinking right now. Dirt poor = paycheck to paycheck and shopping at Aldi's (or whatever uber discount grocery store your town has). You're right about that, but you're also very wrong.

What living in poverty really looks like
During my years as a mother, I have lived in neighborhoods where the police wouldn't even turn onto the block without backup. I have lived in houses that were such absolute slums, that we hung blankets in the doorway and all lived in one room the entire winter, because the house wouldn't hold heat. There was even one winter where we chopped up all our wooden furniture to burn in a stove, just to heat that one room, and cooked on a hot plate because our gas was shut off.

I lived in a house where there was a gang related shooting less than 20 feet from my daughter's second floor window. A window which her crib sat directly in front of.

Then there was the one place where I saw an OBVIOUS drug deal goin' down on a front porch that was close enough I could tell you what the guy's T-shirt said. I did what any normal person would do and called the police. I was told to get the hell away from the window and to STAY away from the windows. (By the way? The police never came.)

I have found myself in the Welfare Office, literally begging for assistance because it was the day before Thanksgiving and my then husband had quit his job with no food in the house. I have had landlords tell me they would stop eviction proceedings if I'd sleep with them. (Needless to say, we were evicted.)

And all of this with kids.

Let me tell you a secret guys, unless you've lived in poverty, you can't really understand it. And if you've lived there, then you know it ain't always about color. (FYI - I've had just as much bigotry hurled towards my white family as I've seen thrown at anyone else's. Just sayin'.)

Stepping into a low income neighborhood is like crossing a border into another country where the normal way sh*t works doesn't apply. Mothers teach their children to fear (and in some cases, hate) the police. The local government don't mean squat 'cause everyone knows who really runs the place, and it sure as hell ain't the mayor.

These are places that turn on respect. You give it to those who wield the power that matters and you hope you either earn it in return or slide under the wire with no one knowing who you are.

The pervading message in this land isn't to better yourself and move out, no matter what color your skin is. It's a microcosm where people are more concerned with paying bills, buying food, and just gettin' by, than saving for college or retirement. How the hell can you be expected to plan that far ahead when you may not know if there'll be food on the table tomorrow?

And this is part of the daily pain and the lifetimes of pent-up anger that contributes to issues like Ferguson. Don't get me wrong, color played a huge part in it. You'd have to be blind by choice to think it didn't. But, it wasn't the whole picture.

Why, you ask, isn't anyone talking about the class issue if it figured so heavily into it? Because people are more comfortable talking about things that are beyond their control.

I was born white, so saying to my black friend, "It's a race issue," is nowhere near as awkward as saying to my upper middle class friend, "It's a poverty problem." Sometimes, folks don't mind looking at the elephant in the room, just as long as you don't ask them to look at its shadow.

Because it could happen to anyone
I ended up living where I did, not because I wasn't given opportunities growing up. I was. I made a long series of bad choices that led me to that address. We ended up where we are now through a lot of hard work and a lot of help from our families. Not. Even. Gonna. Lie. About. That.

We needed help because, let me tell ya, once you've kinda skidded on down the gutter, it's hard as hell to pull your entire family back over the curb. (Minimum wage is an absolute JOKE and one that few people trying to live off of it will laugh at.)

Here's something else to think about; when I was living over the tracks, I knew quite a few others who took the same path paved with bad decisions that I did and ended up my neighbors. The fact that anyone could potentially find themselves standing in those shoes and the guilt people feel when comparing their lifestyles to the "other half," is what keeps the elephant's shadow...in the shadows.

Why did I decide to share this today? I'm tired of avoiding my computer for fear of the anger and bile that rises every time I see an article or link about race wars and race riots. I'm tired of hearing everyone discuss how horrible it is that the elephant has wrinkled knees.

Because every person who pushes on that sad pachyderm with the same, surface observations, inches him further into that corner where his shadow is completely obscured.

Because sometimes it's as much about living in the culture created by poverty, as is it the color of a man's skin.