Eliminating the poor-bashing around us

Josh Lockhart

It was about five years ago that the CBC reported 40 per cent of the world's wealth was owned by one per cent of the world's population. There has been an ever increasing gap between the wealthy, and the common-day worker, as the occupy movement overtly showed. It has been claimed the wealthiest in North America are so out of touch that they needed to go undercover and perform work expectation tasks (that they usually cannot complete in adequate time) in a reality show called Undercover Boss. This show is meant to encourage the boss to feel sympathy for the lowly worker. However, Jean Swanson, an anti-poverty activist, would argue this is a form of poor-bashing.

What is poor-bashing? Great question! According to Swanson, in her book Poor-Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion, poor bashing is ignoring facts about poverty and repeating stereotypes of the poor. It is assuming the rich are entitled while the poor must do without. Poor-bashing is ignoring poor people who express their needs. It is having programs designed, by other people (usually wealthy), to help the poor - that don't work. It is thinking poor people are dirty and worthless. And the list could go on.

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Now, just how does Undercover Boss poor-bash? In several ways. Who is speaking in these shows? The boss; it is his (usually male) perspective, it is his interpretation, it is told from his high-rise vantage point. Is it based on false assumptions? Absolutely. The assumption the poor commoner cannot support themselves, so in comes the saviour, the undercover boss, with a reward to save you. And the reward is sometimes so off base. Think of it. The worker is usually struggling to make ends meet, or they have a sick family member, or they are trying to go to school to increase their earning potential. And what are they given? A brand new car. A car he has to pay more insurance on than his previous vehicle, it needs more gas to be pumped into it, and so on.

So as parents, educators, or whomever we have a chance to make an impression, how can we start eliminating poor-bashing? There are four things Swanson recommends.

First, when donating or helping someone do not lift yourself up and think you are better than they.

Second, do not let corporations use you for their image and benefit.

Third, set criteria's for the charities that you volunteer/work for or donate to. Ensure they meet the needs of the people they serve and they include the people they serve in the decision making process.

Lastly, don't let charity replace justice. For example, instead of just donating food to the local food-bank also take the time to write a letter to local government officials to challenge poor-bashing.

As we start uncovering poor-bashing we realize how it is all-around us and it is up to us to start eliminating it.

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