9 Easy Steps To Escape Poverty (Step One: Be White!)

I read an infuriating article, Things That Trigger Your Class Rage by self-disclosed middle class member, Tracy Moore. The tone was basically one of indignation that Moore’s friends came from more affluent backgrounds and her “rage” about them being ivy league educated and well traveled. Moore was neither of those things and she blames it on the socioeconomic status of the family she was raised in. Oh. Middle class people are raging about the upper middle class now?

[W]hen people talk about it like everyone’s gone to Europe, and everyone is going to Europe this year, because going to Europe annually is what people do. If you grew up poor, you likely missed the 9th grade trip to France, or the year abroad in Japan, or the post-college year of travel and wild times backpacking through India. So when you have to endure another conversation about how everyone is getting over to St. Maarten this year, your class rage might heat to a nice, sunny simmer. [. . . ]”

“[E]ven as an autonomous adult, whether you worked your way through college and spent your twenties paying down that debt or never went to college at all because you had to work, getting to another country is probably so far off your list of actual real things you might be able to do that you it still seems literally exotic to you.”

Bullshit. Middle class white people don’t get away with writing articles about “class rage” framing themselves as the victims.

As a person who was disowned and out of the house at 17 with just a couple bucks and a friend’s couch who got her education and saw the world anyway, I found the tone of “I was poor, so now I’m embarrassed of my school and never went places” as asinine. I lived in Section 8 housing where police cars were a nightly occurrence. I drove a $300 car that wouldn’t go over 25 mph. I’m not trying to play the Poor Olympics here (Tracy mentions her trailer park upbringing as part of her Twitter profile),  but if I made travel and education a priority and did it, anyone can. Or I should say, you probably can if you take my experience through a filter of social privilege, (if not an economic one) – privileges Tracy Moore and I shared.

Money alone does not stop a person from living their dreams. Oh no, there are plenty of other things in your way. I’ll tell them to you now by explaining the factors that led me to a degree and plenty of passport stamps even though I was broke and had no family support. My bootstraps came with the following laces:

1. I’m white. There’s nothing inherently special about being white, but a white face in a white town means normalcy. White people operate with the privilege of being seen as non-threatening and decidedly not “other”. On top of being white, I am completely unremarkable in every other physical category. Not too fat, not too tall, not too punk. I am blonde. People tend to trust me and luckily, they hire me. I’m not saying brown people of all stripes can’t get hired, I’m just saying it’s not as easy breezy as showing up white. Racism is alive and real. It’s not right and certainly not part of my personal judgement system (there are far better ways to judge people – like if they are an Anne Hathaway person v. a Jennifer Lawrence person) but it’s a sad fact of reality.

If you’re just poor, that’s one thing, but don’t be poor and black. You’ll be screwed.

2. I’m an actress. Well. I’m not so much a legitimate actress in the arty sense, nay for a few silly commercials and an unsuccessful stint at stand-up, but I’m a true actress in that I’m pretty good at becoming who I want to be and hiding my discomfort in social situations where I feel completely out of place. Like with rich people. I hide my twangy accent and mesh into my surroundings. I am most comfortable when I make people around me comfortable and let me tell you, when you make rich people comfortable, life is easier. They hire you.

Fun sort-of-related story: I was once trusted to carry around a purse containing $1,000 cash at a black tie charity ball on zero background check. I showed up to volunteer with a friend, I was handed a wad to make change and went about collecting hundred dollar bills in raffle sales all night. (Of course every dollar I collected went to the rightful place at the end of the night. A great follow-up to acting trustworthy is to actually be trustworthy. Duh.)

You may not have too bright of a future though if you are poor and not trustworthy. You’ll be screwed.

3. I’m gritty. I’ll do the work most people won’t. I had to work some pretty non-glamorous jobs coming up like cleaning poop in nursing homes at 5:30 AM and scrubbing ovens with bleach at my restaurant jobs. If you want things, you have to work. So you can be poor and work your way out, but don’t be poor and lazy or entitled. You’ll be screwed.

4. I’m resourceful. I took advantage of social programs when I needed them. I was a proud client of Planned Parenthood for years and went to school on a Pell Grant. If you’re too good for social programs or financial aid or cheap noodles or you’re too scared or self-sabotaging to look into your options, that’s going to suck for you. So don’t be poor and limited by your own self-judgement. You’ll be screwed.

5. I was unencumbered. When I was poor, I had the freedom of being alone and my only responsibility was to myself. I didn’t have any kids or sick relatives to care for. I had no pets. People in low socioeconomic positions who have responsibilities as caretakers are less likely to finish their education or go places. It’s not the money, it’s the burden and responsibility of caring for people you love. So if you want to be educated or achieve other dreams, don’t be poor and have dependents. You’ll be screwed.

6. I’m healthy. Sure, I’ve gotten a few nicks and scars, but I have no chronic health problems and have been thankfully disease and illness-free my entire life. Health problems can greatly impact the ability to work, study or do the Harlem Shake so don’t be poor and have health problems. You’ll be screwed.

7. I got married. I can’t say getting married had anything to do with my education or most of my travel since that was out of the way by the time I met my husband, but I’d like to point out that unfortunately, in 2013 it is still a reality for some women that marriage is the biggest factor in their economic security. Until wages and opportunities are equal, marriage is going to contribute to the wealth-gap for women. So don’t be poor and a single lady (for too long). You’ll be screwed.

8. I’m lucky. Like, damn lucky. So don’t be poor and unlucky. You’ll be screwed.

9. I’m grateful. Do I have a better life than the author of Things That Trigger Your Class Rage? Probably not. The difference between us is I judge my life compared to people who have less than me, not people who have more.

I’m not saying any of this is right, I’m just saying it is. So get out there, any white trash, trustworthy, gritty, resourceful, healthy, lucky kids with no family obligations who happen to be reading! The world can be your oyster too!

The truth is I had it “hard” but I didn’t have it hard because so many other things fell into place for me. That pick-it-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality is not not valid when it comes to the sad facts of the real way society works (be white! be healthy!) A person can only do so much. But pick up the damn bootstraps when it comes to being gritty, trustworthy and not self-sabotaging. You don’t get to complain if you had all the social privileges and still didn’t do what you set out to do.

So seriously. If you happen to be healthy, unencumbered and socially-privileged, it really doesn’t matter if you start out poor. Suck it up and live your dreams and please, quit bitching about your friends having bougie alma maters and vacation photos. You sound like a jerk.


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