Check the media and internet forums. You’re certain to overdose on a heaping portion of raw, cruel, uninformed and biased attitudes toward poverty and the poor. These quintessential stereotypes have persisted since the early 1980’s, when greed gradually began taking up residence within America. Fast forward to the millennium, and you see the GOP resurrecting the welfare queen trope, but this time, she’s all dressed up in some new rhetoric.
Twisting and condensing complex socio-economic concepts into brief clever memes so they can effectively whip their base into an evangelical frenzy, the Conservatives employ inflammatory phrases like “Welfare is slavery” or worse, they characterize America’s safety net as “Uncle Sam’s Plantation”.
Case in point: This last week, the constituents of District 19 saw our Congressman drag his little red wagon from Lubbock to Plainview to Abilene. His “listening sessions” were a show and tell, dog and pony, snake oil and medicine show full of misinformation and outright lies to a room full of low information voters.
It’s hard to believe that no attendee called him out on his mistakes and blatant fabrications.
Too many freeloaders are filling the wagon, he said, creating a heavy burden for the taxpayers forced to carry them. Did the audience know that only 12% of our budget goes toward safety net programs?
He even referred to our growing deficit. News flash—Congressman! The deficit is shrinking quite nicely! Just this week, it was reported that the Federal deficit is down 37.6%.
How is it that the GOP can continue to spin myths, urban legends, and flaunt outrageous errors in the face of real facts and face-to-face with their constituents?
It’s because of us…
Low-information-uninformed voters continue to elect empathy-challenged individuals to make our policies. Those above the poverty line continue to believe AND perpetuate stereotypes and second-third-fourth-hand fictions about food stamp recipients who drive Cadillacs, carry designer handbags and cell phones.
In the minds of the injudiciously judgmental, there is an unspoken dress code for the poor, in order to be evaluated as legitimately needy.
I’ve heard those stories. I’ll bet you’ve heard them too. They’re filled with dangerous assumptions and judgments. The stories vilify the poor and they elevate us to the role of a hypercritical omnipotent being, who is magically familiar with each individual’s situation.
In truth, we don’t know the individual in the check-out lane in front of us; nor do we know their story. Perhaps the holder of that EBT card at whom we’re scowling has a severely handicapped child or perhaps they’re seriously ill themselves. Maybe they are shopping for an elderly parent.
That nice purse, designer jeans, or expensive shoes they’re wearing? It might have been something they purchased long before they lost their job or got sick. It might have been a gift from someone. And their children? Perhaps they were born before the job loss or debilitating illness? There’s no return policy on children you can no longer afford, you know…
Here’s the real truth: Bad things can happen to good people.
Unfortunately, we never grant the benefit of the doubt to anyone, until it happens to us. The next “toss of the dice” in life’s gamble might be your own sickness, your job loss, or your accident. Empathy is difficult for the lucky. Other people’s hardships should be a gentle reminder that hard work doesn’t guarantee a lifetime free of trouble.
In reality, most regular Joes and Janes are only three paychecks away from sinking into poverty ourselves.
Not many politicians, or even average citizens, know the day-in-day-out miseries of poverty. Few are personally acquainted with even a single individual who suffers from lack. They don’t know senior citizens on SNAP; they’ve yet to meet a single mother utilizing the WIC program for her infant, or a family lucky enough to get a Section 8 Housing Voucher.
I have a surplus of personal stories about the poor in Lubbock County. I worked with them (and FOR them) in my time as a teacher and counselor. Perhaps someday, I’ll write a book about those experiences. Everything I know about life, I learned from Lubbock’s poor and their children. I worked in many schools; all were east of University Avenue. I worked in the downtown areas of O.L. Slaton before it was a magnet school, in deep East Lubbock as a counselor at Alderson, in the barrios of North Lubbock as a counselor at Cavazos and finally, as a career counselor at Lubbock High School.
Carol Morgan is a career counselor, writer, speaker, former Democratic candidate for the Texas House and the award-winning author of Of Tapestry, Time and Tears, a historical fiction about the 1947 Partition of India. Follow her on Twitter @CounselorCarol1, on Facebook: CarolMorgan1 and her writer’s blog at http//:carolmorgan.org