Monday, February 9, 2015

Try Walking In My Shoes

A friend on Facebook posted something about a person who is on government assistance that ... well. It made me cranky. You've seen the posts (or, perhaps made one) -- about someone who is using an EBT card but has a cell phone and a designer purse or is driving a car that seems luxurious or has nice shoes or who has well manicured nails and -- you know -- has SOME NERVE being on assistance and having things. 

Because if you're struggling financially, you have to LOOK like it in order for people to think that you deserve help? You should wear rags. You should probably be dirty. That would help. You shouldn't have a cell phone -- you don't deserve one. Your nails and hair should be a mess -- split ends, chipped polish, the whole thing. If you have a car, it should be dented and rusted.



Whenever I hear (or see) people freaking out about what they think poverty should look like, I get mad. I think, how lovely to be sitting on your throne of judgement. How delightful that you get to choose what someone who is struggling should have or not have. How glorious that you have never struggled. Let's hope you never do... but if you do? Let's hope you encounter people who are kinder than you are. 

Because you don't know the story of the person you are judging.

You don't know that she just lost her job, and that she's on the verge of losing her house. You don't know that the purse and phone that you are condemning her for having are things that she had before, and they're things that she can't get rid of now -- that phone? Is her ONLY phone. It's also her only computer/internet. She can't afford to cancel it because she's in a contract, and she needs it to keep track of her kids and to try to find a job. But please -- tell her she doesn't deserve it. Take it away from her. 

You don't know that the car you think should be crappier? Was part of a divorce settlement and, since she's now trying to pay the rent alone and take care of the kids alone? She can't afford payments on a new car. 

You don't know that she does her own nails. You don't know that her friend bought her a gift certificate for a manicure for her birthday. You don't know that her sister is a hairdresser and cuts her hair in her kitchen.

You know what else you don't know? That an EBT card is hardly a financial boon. It covers very little -- but it's enough to help, and keep children from going hungry. 

And you don't know how humiliating it can be to get assistance.

As I've written about before, in 2013 I was functionally homeless as a result of a series of unfortunate occurrences. I had no place to live, and no money for a security deposit. If you looked at me -- if you saw me at the store, say -- you would have seen nails done, and a fancy purse, and a cell phone. Things I had before my life went a little (or you know, a lot) sideways. 

I didn't receive government assistance. But I did receive assistance. My family helped me. A beloved and well meaning friend put together a crowdfunding site to help me. Another friend generously opened her home to me so I had somewhere to live while I looked for affordable housing. Yet another friend graciously gave up time and effort to help me to move, and gave me a place to stay and a meal when I most needed one. It was wonderful. And it was embarrassing. Everyone was as gentle and kind as possible, but I was still horrified by the fact that this had happened to me, and that I had to accept financial assistance from people I love. 

And mind you -- these people DO love me. How different -- how more impersonal and awful it is -- to go before strangers, fill out forms and paperwork and undergo the bureaucracy and rigamarole required to get financial help in the form of an EBT card, KNOWING that people are going to look at you and judge you. They're going to decide if you "really" need help or not based on your shoes.

They're going to decide if you're "worthy" of assistance.

They're going to talk about you so that you can hear them.

And then they're going to rant about you on Facebook.

You don't know the story of every person who receives government assistance. You don't know thing one about them other than that they have an EBT card. 

But if you make snarky, judging comments about someone you don't know who is receiving assistance? Then I know something about you. 

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