How to talk about ‘the poor’

…here’s a thought, if you’re talking about ‘the poor’ as one unified group, or tribe,  maybe you shouldn’t be talking at all.

In the wake of the UK’s riots there’s been a lot of talk to counter the right wave rhetoric of ‘chav scum’.  I appreciate this very much.  But when this becomes a near paternalistic attempt for one group to speak on behalf of another, a group they are not part of, or know little about, it tends to lead to problems.  These problems are in one respect moral; but what is worse is that this approach tends to lead to faulty conclusions.  So we get a lot of talk of ‘they were doing this because of x’.

Comments which attempt to disprove poverty by reference to certain commodities  owned are an obvious example which highlights a lack of knowledge of what it is like to live in the realities which are being judged.  Because if you did you’d probably understand, that the attainment of certain key status symbols (expensive coat, phone, trainers) does not accurately reflect one’s general financial position. You get these things which should be out of your financial reach, to prove to the rest of the world that you are something, that you are doing ok.  You might have a Blackberry phone and go home to an empty fridge or a damp cramped flat.  Maybe this means your priorities are wrong, but it doesn’t inevitably mean you are prosperous.

Poverty is not monolithic; there is no unified experience of being poor in the UK, or even of being working class.  There is financial poverty, intellectual poverty, aspirational poverty.  These things are linked but not inevitably so.  You can be poor and well educated, you can be poor and be ‘upwardly mobile’, you can be temporarily poor as a student, or if you are made unexpectedly unemployed (but have confidence that it will only be a matter of time before you find similar alternative employment).

What we are desperate for now, is the voices of those actually involved, the voices of the people actually on the streets during these disturbances.  Because they are the ones who know, they are the ones who can actually tell us what this was about, for them.

Thanks to Ms Em Ledger for inspiring and helping me work through my many thoughts on this subject. She’s ace.

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About Rachel

zinester/diy-til-i-die/love hate relationship with arts admin/girlpunkfeminist/geek
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