Aggressive Scrutiny of the Poor

In my experiences being poor I’ve been really unhappy and sometimes humiliated by the loss of my financial privacy, not just in order to get food and health care, but from most people I’ve talked to about my poverty. I’ve seen this even from social workers and those who consistently work with the impoverished and yet are more economically privileged than those whose choices they judge but don’t live with.

I think this everyday classism is socialized into us.

Everything about me may be scrutinized and called into question by anyone. Not just how I look or what I wear or anything I own, but any purchase I make, any behavior, every time I decide to take a drink of alcohol. It’s all seen through the skewed cultural lens of ideas people have about being poor and disabled, and can be called into question or judged, or considered to be proof of unfair stereotypes and grounds for treating me like a stereotype. Because this has happened a lot it’s left me kind of on edge, as you can imagine if your life were subjected to this level of monitoring by people with more economic power than you.

This is not just unfair but it’s insulting to me. I’m presumed to be lying and unworthy of services; my reality invalid, until I prove otherwise. It passes judgment on choices that the people doing the judging don’t have to live with, nor the suffering and pain I experience every day.

I get that my reality is uncomfortable for people, but the knee-jerk reaction of questioning or arguing with it is only going to insult me, insinuate blame or stupidity or laziness or poor judgment on my part. I think victim-blaming happens when we don’t want what’s happening to be true and we feel insecure and want to reassure ourselves that either it didn’t happen or it can’t possibly happen to us. But all that discomfort needs to be redirected into perpetrators, systems, and cultural messaging that create, reinforce, and keep these realities in place.

So dear people (not that I think anyone who actually does this would be reading this, but hey, you never know): stop treating me like a liar when you don’t like what I say. Be honest with both of us that what I’m telling you makes you uncomfortable. I’d respect you so much more, honor your boundaries and find someone else to talk to. Self-awareness is, to me, one of the best qualities for a person to have. Without it a person is pretty much a walking zombie bag of mindless reactions to their unconscious feelings and needs, parroting unquestioned problematic clichés and ways of thinking.

Experiencing this humiliating scrutiny so much disrupts my trust of anyone and promotes paranoia. It hearkens back to a childhood full of gaslighting and mind control. It’s caused years of defensive hiding and pretending, outright lying when I say I’m fine. That now when I’m finally telling the truth I’m treated as a liar, and the measure of what is true is how the other person feels about what I’m saying, honestly pisses me off.

I’m sick of having to explain my choices to people who don’t have to live with the results. I’m sick of having to prove my reality over and over just to survive. I’m sick of struggling to get respect that never quite materializes. I’m angry about it, and that anger and defensiveness can sometimes be treated as confirmation that I do have something to hide, rather than the reality: I’m sick of being treated like this.

You may be only glimpsing this one supposedly innocent question that you’re asking and thinking I’m overreacting, because this is the only time it’s happened to you, but for me it’s all the time. Everyday Feminism did a great comic on what it feels like.

Play a mind game with yourself:

Imagine that everyone you meet and more importantly the gatekeepers for all your basic needs like food and shelter and medical care monitor your money, your purchases, what you wear, what you own, where you go and what you do there, your medications, what you eat, who you hang out with. Imagine that these people require you regularly to justify all your choices and frown on anything you do that isn’t related to basic survival and work.

Everything that affirms your humanity, makes you who you are, and makes life enjoyable for you—imagine that all of that, that you engage in, could potentially result in having your food, medical care, shelter, or some other basic need taken away. Or breaking the trust in your friendships. Or making them impossible or uncomfortable.

Imagine how it would feel to have all of your finances monitored. All the time.

Trauma Casts Long Shadows

I worry that even if some miracle happens and I get the stability and safety I need—unlikely, since even people on Social Security Disability Income tend to remain extremely poor unless they’re being financially supported by a family member—I will never get over this. That I’ll wind up a paranoid isolated hoarder because I’ll never really feel safe.

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