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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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76 Responses

  1. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune November 5, 2013 at 10:39 am |

    A HUGE yes to this. It rings extremely true to me. Perfect post.

    I’d also like to add that accent is a big deal and part of presentation, too. I speak more “pretty” English than my mother – which is ironic on 100% of all the levels since she taught me everything I know of the language – and the corresponding difference in our treatment is pretty staggering. And extremely rude, at best. Of course, she dresses better and has “better hair”, so until we both start talking, I’m generally the one being ignored… good times, good times.

    1. Fergie
      Fergie November 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm |

      Where is this? In India or in the west?

  2. TimmyTwinkles
    TimmyTwinkles November 5, 2013 at 10:41 am |

    The poor are one of the last groups that it’s fairly acceptable to mock openly. That needs to change. Great article.

    1. snorkellingfish
      snorkellingfish November 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm |

      I think we can take classism seriously without arguing that other forms of oppressions no longer exist. Even in the linked article, the writer talks about the intersection of race and gender and how that linked to her being treated as lesser than somebody who’s white and male. Groups other than the poor get mocked all the time, and we don’t need to deny that to acknowledge how poor people get mocked too and that needs to change.

      1. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm |

        I’m not denying anything. Other groups totally get mocked all the time, but generally in society there is a swift backlash and repercussion when it happens. My point is that one can still mock the poor openly with impunity. Not so with race, gender, etc.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune November 5, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

          Not so with race, gender, etc.

          …where do you live? I’d love to move there. My planet’s a bit too misogynistic and racist for me; perhaps I could borrow a spaceship off you?

        2. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm |

          Mac, you don’t think public statements that are racist, misogynistic, etc get called out? I’m not saying they dont happen; they do, way too frequently. But i see them get a lot of backlash too, which is awesome.

        3. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm |

          To clarify further, im talking about statements made publicly. I think within personal interactions racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc does NOT get called out enough.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune November 6, 2013 at 12:00 am |

          Timmy, that makes much more sense. Though I’d disagree that the call-outs have that much more effect; notice how all of Romney’s misogynist twaddle didn’t have as much memetic power as the 47% remark? I could make the same argument in both directions, which strongly suggests that nope, neither the poor nor most other axes of oppression are remotely out of the free-mock zone. I can think of some former oppressions that have become concretely destigmatised, but race and gender are blatantly not among them.

        5. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 2:42 am |

          Yeah good call on the Romney remarks, the 47% def took alot of heat, and rightfully so. And then there’s the Paula Dean flap, where, though she did get called out and saw major repercussions, a disturbing number of “mainstream” people publicly stood by her. All of which to say, i think you’re right.

      2. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm |

        Just to clarify, I’m not in any way saying we should pay LESS attention to other issues, only that we should pay MORE attention to classism. Case in point: Elizabeth Sacks.

  3. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin November 5, 2013 at 10:47 am |

    A song by The Kinks, written by Rave Davies

    She’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
    To wear at all her social affairs
    She wears it when she’s cleaning the windows
    She wears it when she’s scrubbing the stairs

    But you will never see her at Ascot
    She can’t afford the time or the fare
    But she’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
    So she don’t care

    He’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
    Because it makes him feel like a Lord
    But he can’t afford a Rolls or a Bentley
    He has to buy a secondhand Ford

    He tries to feed his wife and his family
    And buy them clothes and shoes they can wear
    But he’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
    So he don t care

    Buddy can you spare me a dime
    My wife is getting hungry
    And the kids are crying
    This poverty is hurting my pride
    Buddy can you spare me, buddy can you spare me a dime

    She’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
    And her neighbors think it suits her a treat
    But she hasn’t any food in the larder
    Nor has anybody else in the street

    But to look at her you’d think she was wealthy
    ‘Cos she smiles just like a real millionaire
    ‘Cos she’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
    So she don’t care, she don’t care, she don’t care, she don’t care

  4. victoria
    victoria November 5, 2013 at 10:47 am |

    My favorite quote of the piece:

    You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor.

    I get really annoyed with the kind of judgmental comments that come from people who maybe spent a few years on food stamps during grad school and feel like they can therefore pronounce judgement on all poor people.

    1. anon for this
      anon for this November 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm |

      I get really annoyed with the kind of judgmental comments that come from people who maybe spent a few years on food stamps during grad school and feel like they can therefore pronounce judgement on all poor people.

      THIS SO MUCH. One of my managers recently ‘got off’ food assistance, so of course he took to facebook and posted this all-caps, circular-logic borderline incoherent diatribe about how he’s totes wise enough now to condemn every family on food stamps because he was also on them and now he’s not, therefore nobody should ever be on them for longer than he was on them and if they are it could ONLY be because they’re lazy, because if HE can get off them ANYONE can get off them and also at the same time he is NOTHING like THOSE people at all because HIS situation was a special snowflake and HE geniunely needed them and and… and then my head exploded.

    2. EG
      EG November 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm |

      I love that quotation too. When you’re not in the situation, you don’t know what the immediate pressures and needs and options are. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and Monday-morning quarterbacking, you’ve got to assume that any group of people is as intelligent as any other group of people and have reasons for making the decisions they do. And that’s as true for poor people deciding how to spend the money they do have as it is for women deciding to drink or anybody else.

  5. Karak
    Karak November 5, 2013 at 11:12 am |

    Another aspect of this, to me, is there’s no reason not to buy expensive or nice things. It’s not going to lift you out of poverty and rocket you to the middle class if you never buy a luxury item. There’s no better job or holding on for a little more money. This is it.

    Why not not buy a purse or a dress? Your car is repo’ed either way, you might as well have something nice in the meantime.

    1. Tyris
      Tyris November 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm |

      What’s a car?

      1. karak
        karak November 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm |

        The only mode of transportation in central Illinois.

  6. Tim
    Tim November 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm |

    I really appreciate the linked piece for bringing out some arguments against some of the scolding, gentle, or otherwise, brought about by those recent examples, the black guy who bought the expensive belt at Barney’s and the $2500 handbag (don’t know the store) bought by the black woman.

    One of the black bloggers I read regularly even questioned it, not so much in the scolding manner but just wondering. I had a feeling that there were counter arguments to be had, but I just wasn’t quite formulating them, and this piece did an excellent job of it. I will probably share it with that blogger.

  7. Hugh
    Hugh November 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm |

    This reminds me of Jamie Oliver’s constantly badgering of the British poor for owning expensive AV equipment while eating cheap food.

    1. Safiya Outlines
      Safiya Outlines November 5, 2013 at 7:47 pm |

      Sigh.

      Just to be clear, I’m sighing at Jamie Oliver, not you. Because where do you start with such ignorance?

      It’s just othering isn’t it? “Those people are nothing like me, therefore the how and why of their lives is beyond my empathy or understanding.”

      Sigh again.

      1. Hugh
        Hugh November 7, 2013 at 11:09 am |

        It’s really just Victorian snobbishness dressed up in a mockney accent and a cheeky hairdo.

        1. Willemina
          Willemina November 7, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

          I prefer Posh Nosh to him as it really owns that aspect of the cooking industry.

  8. birdie
    birdie November 5, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

    If you can afford this kind of thing, you are not what I would call poor. But anyway.

    The fact is that poor people pay more for everything. This is the way that wealth generates wealth. The poor pay more for debt, more for cheap goods that don’t last, more for one off purchases that they can rarely afford. And the official line is that it is a law of nature that wealth generates wealth. BS. Nature may make you greedy or a sycophant, but it does not decide the laws governing money and property.

    1. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl November 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm |

      “If you can afford this kind of thing, you are not what I would call poor. But anyway.”

      Oooh boy, I think I just strained my eyeballs from rolling them at this statement.

      Being poor does not prevent folks from being resourceful enough to come up with a few luxuries from time to time. If you actually bothered to read the article, Tressie talks about how her Mom meticulously sewed her own clothes in the latest fashions, which is way cheaper than buying off the rack. Also, being poor does not make one so dumb as to be unaware of those things they call sales, outlet stores, resale shops, etc as well as the judicious use of credit and layaway programs.

      FFS

      1. Angie unduplicated
        Angie unduplicated November 6, 2013 at 11:31 am |

        Hell yeah. Stalking secondhanders ISO the good purse, shoes, and designer or knockoff is part of being a member of the somewhat-educated poor (read: female-headed household). So is no car and getting off the bus a block from the job interview so no one sees you, or parking the triple-digit scrap iron a couple of blocks down the road. New high-end duds for the young’uns are not ignorant or vain, they’re tangible tools for getting better treatment from teachers, classmates, and coworkers.

    2. Angel H.
      Angel H. November 6, 2013 at 8:44 am |

      If you can afford this kind of thing, you are not what I would call poor.

      Because poor people never save up a little at a time to buy anything, right?

    3. Ally S
      Ally S November 6, 2013 at 10:41 am |

      If you can afford this kind of thing, you are not what I would call poor. But anyway.

      That makes no sense whatsoever.

    4. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl November 6, 2013 at 10:57 am |

      The more I think about this comment, the more irritated I get. I mean, we weren’t even poor growing up, and I’m as white as the get, but my parents were teachers and we lived modestly and my parents were very frugal. But my Mom was all over the signaling thing, and she saved up for years to splurge once in a while on nice things as part of that. She had a few really spendy purses that she only bought after saving up and living frugally for ages. Because she knew darn well people would take her more seriously and with more respect at the bank, or when buying a car, or whatever, if she had on her best suit, shoes, and a nice handbag with her.

    5. ldouglas
      ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 11:48 am |

      And the official line is that it is a law of nature that wealth generates wealth. BS. Nature may make you greedy or a sycophant, but it does not decide the laws governing money and property.

      With on everything else, but this is inane. Having more resources making it easier to acquire new resources? Yeah, that is pretty much just how the universe works. An oil company with more money can afford to open more wells, discovering yet more oil, whereas a poor oil company (OK, it’s a strained metaphor) has to proceed more slowly.

      Describe for me an economic system that doesn’t involve interest and we’ll talk.

      1. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 11:54 am |

        Ha exactly. Wealth generating wealth IS how the American economy works. I could go on and on, but take my word for it, money makes money, and the more you have, the more “opportunities” you fall into.

        1. EG
          EG November 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm |

          I think that was Birdie’s point–it’s an economic construct, not an infallible law of nature that we have no choice but to bow to.

        2. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

          Totally agree that its an economic construct rather than a law of nature. But regarding her statement:
          “The fact is that poor people pay more for everything. This is the way that wealth generates wealth.”

          While in a sense poor people do pay more, that is not the way wealth generates wealth. It just isnt.

        3. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm |

          Actually let me correct myself, in the marxist sense the working class does create wealth for the upper classes, including the ways Birdie mentioned. My point is that when we say wealth creates wealth in the American economy, im talking about the leveraging of liquidity and equity, which is a continuous process and why the rich stay rich.

        4. EG
          EG November 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm |

          Ah, understood.

        5. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 5:54 pm |

          I think that was Birdie’s point–it’s an economic construct, not an infallible law of nature that we have no choice but to bow to.

          I’m disagreeing with this point. The principle that having more resources makes it easier to acquire still further resources is an infallible law of nature. If we want a nonhuman example, predators that are better fed are able to run faster, thus catching more prey. It’s cyclical.

          Now, there are economic systems out there that do their best to mitigate this, through various means. But the idea that the more you have, the easier it is to get still more, is pretty much inherent in everything. It’s a logical truism.

        6. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm |

          In other words, one might try to create a system where having wealth doesn’t make it easier to generate further wealth, but you’d be intentionally pushing against the default, the norm, the way the universe is inherently set up.

          I mean, this is so basic it’s almost hard to write down. If it takes input X to get output Y, and Y can be converted into X, then the more one has of X the faster one will generate more X. The more money you have, the more money you can spend on acquiring still more money. The more power you have, the more power you can exert in the service of gaining more power. This applies to bacteria and cats and the formation of planetary bodies and human society, absent intentional intervention.

        7. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 6:04 pm |

          Actually let me correct myself, in the marxist sense the working class does create wealth for the upper classes, including the ways Birdie mentioned

          If ‘in the marxist sense’ you mean ‘Marx believed,’ sure. But the labor theory of value is, empirically and mathematically, bullshit. Marx was a brilliant mind and a shitty economist.

        8. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |

          Yeah i dont disagree on the LTV, its got a lot of holes in it. I was thinking more of Marx’s theory of exploitation. Like, in the US economy alot of individual wealth is created through equity obtained by being a C-level executive or otherwise gaining ownership in a corporation. This kind of wealth is premised on the existence of hundreds or thousands of workers willing to show up every day for relatively low wages and no equity. In that sense the working class most certainly does create wealth for the upper classes. Corporate equity doesnt appear out of thin air, its created by labor, THEN given value by the market. But in the American economy at least this co-exists with wealth creating wealth.

        9. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm |

          In that sense the working class most certainly does create wealth for the upper classes. Corporate equity doesnt appear out of thin air, its created by labor, THEN given value by the market.

          The problem with that is that, like Marx, it ignored the importance of capital inputs. In the 21st Century (and really, ever since the 17th century at the latest) labor has very little value without machinery, training, logistics, distribution systems, and so on. So the people who show up to work at big corporations are producing way more than the value of X hours of work; it’s X hours of work multiplied by the effects of capital inputs.

          So when you say the workers create wealth for the CEOs, you’re ignoring the degree to which the corporation is creating the possibility for wealth-generation in the first place.

          This isn’t a justification for absurd CEO compensation, or anything else along those lines; it’s certainly doesn’t imply that trickle-down economics has any validity. I’m all about high progressive income taxes. But the idea that wealth is generated by labor is wildly inaccurate.

        10. Donna L
          Donna L November 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm |

          But where did the owners of those companies get the capital to make capital inputs in the first place? It didn’t appear out of thin air and it wasn’t conferred by God and it wasn’t borrowed from the Jews. To pick a few possible answers at random.

        11. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 6, 2013 at 10:54 pm |

          But where did the owners of those companies get the capital to make capital inputs in the first place? It didn’t appear out of thin air and it wasn’t conferred by God and it wasn’t borrowed from the Jews. To pick a few possible answers at random.

          There’s no one place. To pick a couple of the world’s biggest companies, horribly oversimplifying things, GE’s capital to make inputs with originated with Thomas Edison figuring out how to make a really good motor and electric lamp, and selling a bunch of them. Wal Mart got it’s starting capital because Sam Walton pioneered high-volume low-markup sales in his 5 and Dime and made a ton of money. And from there, the capital is self-reinforcing, cyclically. We’re all clear that big companies aren’t usually funded out of a rich guy’s pocket, yes?

          Do you have a different answer in mind?

          Look, I’m a very, very liberal progressive. I think countries with high taxes seem to be doing better than the US. I think public investment in science and education and health is great. I am not a corporate apologist. But the idea that wealth comes from extracting value from laborers is flat out empirically wrong. It’s not a matter of ideology, it’s just not true.

        12. Miriam
          Miriam November 7, 2013 at 1:40 am |

          Actually, some companies are funded out of a rich guy’s pocket. That’s what a lot of angel investment essentially is.

          I’m open to your point, but I’m not exactly following it. Labor is magnified by capital inputs, but those capital inputs also require labor. The industrial revolution would have accomplished diddly without the women on the lines. The machines were valuable and real, but so were the workers.

          I do agree with you that based on what I’ve read, wealth is generally not a direct result of the depressed or stolen wages or forced overtime. Companies can still generate wealth while compensating their workers fairly and legally. Which makes it extra crappy that they so often don’t.

        13. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 7, 2013 at 1:56 am |

          Actually, some companies are funded out of a rich guy’s pocket. That’s what a lot of angel investment essentially is.

          Like I said, most big companies aren’t funded out of a rich guy’s pocket. Many small-to-middling companies are.

          I’m open to your point, but I’m not exactly following it. Labor is magnified by capital inputs, but those capital inputs also require labor. The industrial revolution would have accomplished diddly without the women on the lines. The machines were valuable and real, but so were the workers.

          Absolutely labor is important. What determines how much wealth is generated is the productivity of labor; labor is a constant, capital a variable.

          I’m open to your point, but I’m not exactly following it.

          The extent of my point is that the above argument, that wealth is created by extracting surplus value from labor/laborers, is demonstrably, mathematically, historically, and empirically false.

        14. EG
          EG November 7, 2013 at 9:27 am |

          Thomas Edison figuring out how to make a really good motor and electric lamp, and selling a bunch of them.

          Edison stole most of his “inventions” from employees in his workshop, so, in fact, that wealth does come from stolen labor. Even if Edison had himself invented most of what he is credited with, that would still have been the result of his labor.

          You say “empirically,” but most of what you’re talking about is perspective and interpretation. You say “mathematically,” but you haven’t provided any mathematics.

          wealth is generally not a direct result of the depressed or stolen wages or forced overtime.

          Meh. I’ll believe that when owners and executives stop consistently doing those things as if their lives/wealth depended on it, and when they stop claiming that every step toward treating their employees reasonably will destroy the economy. That’s what “empirically” means–when it happens in the real world.

        15. EG
          EG November 7, 2013 at 9:47 am |

          Basically, you keep insisting that this is a settled, done deal, when a quick look at even the wikipedia entry makes it clear that it’s a far more complicated debate than that.

        16. Hugh
          Hugh November 7, 2013 at 11:12 am |

          The labour input in Edison’s design isn’t in inventing the lightbulb, it’s in all the nameless workers who physically created them for pittance wages.

        17. ldouglas
          ldouglas November 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm |

          That’s what “empirically” means–when it happens in the real world.

          Right, and if the LTV was correct, the labor-intensivity of a products would be directly correlated to it’s profitability. This is not the case. The LTV makes a prediction about the real world. The real world doesn’t conform to the prediction. Any sort of honest theory, at that point, packs it up and goes home.

          The labour input in Edison’s design isn’t in inventing the lightbulb, it’s in all the nameless workers who physically created them for pittance wages.

          Right. The design is a capital input. Now, if the LTV was true, the lightbulb-making would be roughly as profitable as any industry in which the amount of labor required was roughly equal to making a lightbulb. Instead, General Electric is a thing.

          Edison stole most of his “inventions” from employees in his workshop, so, in fact, that wealth does come from stolen labor. Even if Edison had himself invented most of what he is credited with, that would still have been the result of his labor.

          That’s a disingenuous shift in what we’re talking about when we say ‘stolen labor,’ though it’s subtle enough I can’t tell if it’s intentional. Sure, stealing other people’s ideas is ‘stolen labor’ in a literal sense, but it’s not the same thing as extracting surplus value from the workers manufacturing a product; the latter has totally separate, far-ranging economic implications, whereas the former is a historical factoid. We’re dealing with the latter when we’re discussing LTV.

      2. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 11:58 am |

        Really this response was to Birdie, obviously we’re on the same page ldouglas.

    6. karak
      karak November 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm |

      I think Terry Pratchett said it best:

      “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

      Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

      But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

      This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

      1. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm |

        Good points. That’s exactly why i wear a Barbour jacket, ostrich skin boots, brooks bros etc. Not for the brand names or to be flashy, but because they last forever and dont go out of style (ha well, the boots being stylish may depend on region)

      2. EG
        EG November 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

        This was what I thought of, as well.

      3. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles November 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

        But it doesnt have to be expensive stuff either, the watch i usually wear is a basic casio G-shock you can get at any wal-mart. Though i have other watches, its comfortable, functional, and again lasts forever

      4. incognifty
        incognifty November 10, 2013 at 12:55 am |

        There’s more to it than this:

        When poor people go to Best Buy to get a new TV, they often take out financing at the store, and the terms of that are often less favorable than major credit cards.

        If you buy a $1500 set and pay it off right away, and somebody else takes out a line of store credit for a $600 set and pays the minimum each month, they’ll wind up paying nearly as much as you do for a far inferior TV.

        Poor people also rent things like furniture, and pay a lot more than the sticker price for it as a result.

        And if poor people are driving around in Cadillacs, it’s because somebody is giving them car loans, and those loans likely come with unfavorable terms.

        Poor people often have to live in undesirable, remote areas, and have to spend a lot more money on gas to get to where their jobs are.

        The poor are also underserved by the banking system. Whereas citizens in good standing have free checking accounts and affiliated no-fee ATMs, poor people rely on check-cashing shops that charge high fees, as well as payday-lenders who charge usurious rates for short-term loans.

        Poor neighborhoods have also been historically underserved by supermarkets, and poor people often pay high markups for groceries at neighborhood bodegas. However, Wal Mart and other discounters have been building stores in poorer communities, somewhat alleviating these problems.

    7. birdie
      birdie November 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm |

      I am qualified to comment on being poor because I am poor, and have been for a long time. Yes, luxuries are important. No doubt about that. But some things never make it to the top of the list, if one really has limited resources (eg. outside America).

      1. Lolagirl
        Lolagirl November 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm |

        That fine, but your still missing the point that even something considered a luxury doesn’t have to be done expensively. Again, there are a whole lot of avenues available to purchase luxury goods at a steep discount. And there is still such a thing as saving up one’s pennies, or layaway, or even credit.

        Tressie’s entire article was a response to the severe criticism and scorn heaped upon poor folks who have the temerity to be in the possession of anything considered to be expensive/luxury based. That’s classist and often racist bs, pure and simple. There are very good reasons for poor people to have those things, and Tressie addresses an angle that is so often ignored wrt to that reality.

        1. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl November 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm |

          Aside from the fact that it’s nobody’s business why someone owns insert whatever spendy thing. But in the U.S., our society loves to police the hell out of people for the crime of being poor. Which I think pretty much goes without saying, but I’m going to say it again anyway.

        2. Miriam
          Miriam November 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm |

          Tressie’s article is a response to discussion about the Barney’s profiling of Kayla Phillips, the nursing student who alleges she was roughed up by plainclothes cops after purchasing a $2500 handbag. She did not buy it on sale; she spent $2500.

          I think the points Tressie made are great, but I think she made them in response to the wrong tweet and the wrong point. As a nursing student, it’s unlikely a $2500 orange suede bag would open any more doors for Phillips than a much less expensive one. Phillips, herself, says she bought the bag as a treat for herself when she got her tax return. IMHO, no one should be questioning her purchase because Phillips clearly had the money to do it. It’s 100% her choice how to spend a tax return. She doesn’t need to justify it as an investment in social capital. It can be what it probably is; a one-off indulgence in something that made her happy until she was accosted by plainclothes police who didn’t believe a Black woman could honestly afford a luxury.

        3. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl November 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm |

          I understand where you’re coming from, Miriam. But I think Tressie’s point wrt to “signalling” is still a very valid one, even in the case of the nursing student accosted for purchasing a purse she had the money to spend on it.

          Even though she didn’t get it at a discount or whatever, there are very valid reasons for her to think such an item can buy her the social currency she desires in all sorts of circumstances. Like the bank and car buying examples I used above, acting the part of Woman Deserving And Demanding Respect may very well open doors and ease one’s way. And carrying a $2,500 purse, especially in a place like NYC, may very well be part of playing that role.

        4. Miriam
          Miriam November 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm |

          I’m not disputing the validity of Tressie MC’s point –just arguing that it’s misapplied to the specific real life example she used as a springboard. Unless she knows something I don’t about Phillips, we don’t even have any reason to say Phillips is poor. (and at least one of the other people who’s come forward to talk about being profiled was definitely not–he was a series regular for two years on Treme (Rob Brown).

          I think it’s important to defend people’s right to be frivolous without always needing to justify frivolity as actually being non-frivolous because it’s an investment in social capital or a better job or what have you. IMHO, Phillips’ purse doesn’t need to be about gaining her more respect at a bank or car buying or a job interview (and for what it’s worth, I don’t think it would; you can find articles with pictures of it and to me at least, it doesn’t read that way). Like a nice TV, weekend vacation, or pricey meal, it can just be about pleasure.

        5. trees
          trees November 8, 2013 at 9:04 pm |

          Even though she didn’t get it at a discount or whatever, there are very valid reasons for her to think such an item can buy her the social currency she desires in all sorts of circumstances. Like the bank and car buying examples I used above, acting the part of Woman Deserving And Demanding Respect may very well open doors and ease one’s way. And carrying a $2,500 purse, especially in a place like NYC, may very well be part of playing that role.

          I doubt this would really work since a gatekeeper can tell the difference between someone for whom a ridiculously expensive bag is just normal everyday wear, and a regular person who somehow managed to acquire a luxury item. To pull off the rich lady drag she would need the whole package, including personal affect and accent. This seems like more of a one-off item and is not comparable to the “Mahogany” outfit mentioned by the author.

    8. Bagelsan
      Bagelsan November 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm |

      I think it really depends on what sort of “expensive things” people are buying while poor, birdie. Nice shoes that cost more than $100 is something that one could save up for, and which likely has real (and economic) benefits, but I agree that dropping $5,000 on a purse or $50,000 on a car probably means you aren’t exactly starving.

      So if people are claiming that “poor” families regularly buy $3000 laptops or something then yeah, I’d probably not consider that a good investment (unless people are getting socially judged and fired for only buying $1000 personal computers and I’m just missing it?), but I don’t think that’s the same as spending a bit more for tangible/perceptible quality. The difference between $20 shoes and $200 shoes might be very practical for poor people in a way that some other “luxuries” is not.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune November 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm |

        Seconded. There’s a long list of things where spending a little more (or sometimes a lot more) on quality pays off: winter clothing, work shoes, electronics, backpacks, glasses, bedding, etc, etc. Sure, no one NEEDS to pay $5000 dollars for a purse, but the argument can be made for other things.

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve November 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm |

          Thirded. I don’t think this line of argument is at all in conflict with Tressie’s article, which I think is fantastic and oh so true. It’s just that using the Barney’s example as a jumping point is a mistake, IMHO the only mistake she made. That, I feel, ignores a whole class of people who could actually never in their wildest dreams put aside $2500. Those people do exist.

  9. theLaplaceDemon
    theLaplaceDemon November 5, 2013 at 4:49 pm |

    Tressie MC is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Thank you for highlighting this.

  10. Angela Stoner
    Angela Stoner November 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm |

    Tressie MC explains so beautifully a truth that is difficult to put into words. Her quote,

    But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college.

    , struck me very intensely. I grew up in a poor family that did not value education, so I had to seek it out myself. I still have a hard time spending money on anything but books. Books are not only my escape from reality, but my “silk shell” past the gatekeepers.

  11. AMM
    AMM November 7, 2013 at 9:25 am |

    After I read the OP (TressieMC’s post), I couldn’t help wondering:

    if Trayvon Martin had been wearing a suit and tie, rather than a hoodie, would he still be alive today?

    1. Alexandra
      Alexandra November 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

      Who knows what might have kept Zimmerman from shooting him? I always hate these ‘what if’ questions – what happened is what happened. It’s ridiculous, though, to expect that a teenager should be wearing a suit and tie to run errands at the local convenience store or take a walk through the neighborhood.

    2. karak
      karak November 8, 2013 at 12:08 am |

      Honestly? Probably not. He was still black, after all, and a suit and tie can’t ever fix that.

      (note: this is intended as bitter sarcasm)

    3. AMM
      AMM November 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm |

      To spell it out:

      In my generation, at least, it was common for black people to make a point of dressing as “respectably” as possible, to a greater extent than white people did, and they did this (at least in part) to elicit more respect than black people customarily received. (It didn’t always work, of course, but sometimes it did.) As John Scalzi points out, if you’re white, and especially white and male, you get this sort of respect regardless of how you dress.

      Add to that the fact that black parents have to teach their children what to do and not to do to avoid getting arrested or killed for behavior that would not get a white child into trouble. (Reminiscent of what mothers teach their daughters.)

      So I wondered to what extent dressing “respectably” or ultra-respectably might have also been a way of reducing the risk of racially motivated violence — or whether anybody thinks that way any more.

      1. Angel H.
        Angel H. November 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm |

        So I wondered to what extent dressing “respectably” or ultra-respectably might have also been a way of reducing the risk of racially motivated violence —

        Three words:

        Henry. Louis. Gates.

        1. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles November 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

          Good call. In my opinion, racist people use things like hoodies and jersey’s as coding. They’re not put off by the clothing, they’re just filthy racists who hate black people.

    4. pheenobarbidoll
      pheenobarbidoll November 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm |

      I doubt it. People like Zimmerman would just assume the nice suit was stolen.

  12. BroadBlogs
    BroadBlogs November 8, 2013 at 8:13 pm |

    Really interesting peek into the life of the very poor. Thank you for posting this.

    re “there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging.”

    This does help explain a lot. So sad our society is so materialistic and superficial that things work this way.

  13. Kerplunk
    Kerplunk November 10, 2013 at 8:48 am |

    I agree with the positive feedback that this article has received. But I also find it troubling.

    The subtext is that if society does not consider you acceptable for who you are, then you should make every effort to hide your true self, and instead strive to appear to be someone who is more socially acceptable. Given that there have been decades of social struggle dedicated to achieving the exact opposite result — that is, demanding society’s acceptance of differences rather than expecting individuals to change themselves to conform to society’s prejudices — it’s a problematic premise.

    It arguably plays right into the hands of those who criticize young black men for wearing their pants low. Why aren’t they trying to be more “respectable,” like the author of this article?

    I understand that from a realistic standpoint, this is about the struggle to survive, so I’m not critical of the difficult choices that the author made. But in the context of a published article, the issue is too important, it seems to me, to be left unaddressed.

    What if the article had made the argument that it’s difficult to go through life as a gay person, therefore it’s only rational to make every effort to appear straight in order to be more acceptable to those who have power over one’s livelihood?

    I wouldn’t criticize someone who is gay for choosing to be closeted. That’s a personal choice that everyone has the right to make. But the struggle has been fought by the many who paid a high personal price by coming out so that others could come out, and so that society could become more open and accepting.

    Yes, poverty is a circumstance and not necessarily an identity, but since it isn’t very often possible to climb out of poverty, then it should be acceptable to be poor, and that’s where the struggle needs to be. Even in social justice circles, it’s still okay, and not even really questioned, to consider poverty a source of shame. There’s the assumption that people should be well-put-together and well dressed, and that they should want to be. I think that’s an assumption that needs to be challenged, rather than reinforced.

  14. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve November 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm |

    What if the article had made the argument that it’s difficult to go through life as a gay person, therefore it’s only rational to make every effort to appear straight in order to be more acceptable to those who have power over one’s livelihood?

    It is ‘only rational’ to stay closeted. That is why coming out of the closet is a risk and takes bravery. This article isn’t entitled “The Morality of Poor People”, it’s entitled “The Logic of Poor People.” If people started en masse to refer to closeted gay people as stupid for remaining in the closet, I would expect people to write similar articles.

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