By សតិវ អតុ
Just the other day I was listening to a piece on NPR, on my car radio, and they had an interview that really disturbed me. It turns out that a program the government runs to help low income people move into good houses usually doesn’t work at all because residence in the better homes won’t let poor people move in.
The program, for Section 8 housing vouchers, provides these poor people with vouchers to help them pay for apartment or housing rent until they can make enough income to pay it on their own. To begin with, this is one of those programs were the money is available, but for most of the people who need it, there just isn’t enough to go around. There is a waiting list. It can take up to six months to finally get the vouchers. The vouchers expire if not used in a short span of time.
"It took me six years to get my voucher but I got it," Farryn Giles told NPR. "You can best believe I'm going to utilize it."
But she won’t be using them. It turns out that getting these doesn’t accomplish anything. Few if any landlords will accept them. And even if they do, angry middle and upper class residence will stop her from moving in. It all comes down to America’s last great ism, next to racism, sexism and homophobia—classism.
Classism is still perfectly acceptable to a great many people here in this country. The NPR story is a testimony to that. Unlike racism or sexism, no one seems to rush in and defend poor people when they are a product of discrimination. This last ism may be America’s worst form of discrimination at this point in time. And as this story points out the damage is very real.
"I've been to Oak Cliff, I've been to south Dallas, I've been to Pleasant Grove," Giles said. "I've been way down south. Nobody wants my voucher."
And it is not that the money is no good. The government pays out. But prejudiced middle and upper class people run prospective renters, such as Giles, out of their part of town.
The NPR article gave the example of Developer Terri Anderson who ran into problems trying to build an apartment complex, with 13 units set aside specifically for voucher holders.
"The city actually called a public hearing for our property and about 250 angry residents showed up," she said. "Our superintendent has been threatened, issued a criminal trespass warning. Police officers blocked our entrance."
It seems that people who can pay their rent don’t want poor people moving in near them. Their reasons are nothing short of preconceived ideas about what poor people are like. They are reacting to stereo types that conservative forces have reinforced in their rhetoric for decades. They have implied or just came right out and said that poor people are lazy, dangerously attracted to criminal activity and most of all, they have different values. They lack the values the upper class people believe are responsible for their better lifestyle they can afford. And most of all, they just won’t fit in.
One thing that really stands out is that most of these arguments are the same that white people used to say about Afro-Americans back in the 1950s and 1960s when efforts were being made to wipe out racism in housing. In many ways this problem is simply an extension of plain old racism in housing. Such problem that goes back over the last century and the classism of today is really a product of past racist attitudes.
Nicole Humphrey, who lives a couple miles away from Anderson's development, provides us with an example of the classist attitudes that get in the way of a person, such as Giles, trying to make a better life for her and her son.
"I feel so bad saying that," Humphrey told NPR. "It's just not people who are the same class as us."
"In this neighborhood, most of us are stay-at-home moms with young kids," she says. "The lifestyle that goes with Section 8 is usually working, single moms or people who are struggling to keep their heads above water."
When asked if others who did not have the same opportunities as her could live in her neighborhood, she says: "The problem with that is I hear a lot of the unfair of: 'Oh we haven't been given this or that, or we haven't been afforded things you have been afforded.' I don't look at multi-millionaires and think, 'Why don't I have a yacht?'"
Humphrey says the issue for her is not about race. She says her neighborhood – with rows of tidy new houses and with well-cut lawns — is diverse. The real concern, she says, is that the voucher holders won't fit in or they won't understand her life.
All of this is straight out prejudice and ignorance about what poor people are really like. Chances are good that Humphrey has never spoke with a poor person of the lower classes to see what these people are really like. And chances are even better that she goes out of her way to avoid talking to people such as Giles. This all reinforces the stereo types that keep these bigoted views alive among people of the middle and upper classes.
The US is guilty of ignoring this problem and conservative forces are guilty of perpetuating the stereo types of the lower classes. People who defend the lower classes are often labeled socialist, communist or some other kind of nasty word that paints support of the lower classes as anti-American. But this housing problem demonstrates just how destructive these types of prejudism are. We are a society that values wealthy people and stigmatizes the opposite. We are bombarded daily with commercials that tell us how important it is to “make it.” The messages are very clear: “If you are not making enough money to afford the things you are entitle to, the things you need and want, you are a LOSER!”
Over the last half century, the cold war has allowed our society to ridicule anyone who dares to defend the culture of the lower classes. But now is the time to fight back and reverse that trend.
One part of this change is to fight against the stereo types and attitudes that devalue the lives of the poor. This means speaking out for such people publicly. We need to challenge the stereo types that imply that it is the fault of the poor for being poor. People don’t usually choose poverty. Many people are born into it. We can confront politicians at their town hall meetings. We can write blog articles and letters to the editor. Whenever such stereo types appear, public, in print or other media, we need to speak out. Let’s make classist attitudes on par with racism, sexism, homophobia and any other ism that discriminates.
We should encourage people to get to know persons who live in poverty. We need to challenge the middle and upper class people to talk to the poor. They need to find out what they are really like. It may be possible to hold events that will allow people of different classes to meet up personally.
We need to support political people and institutions that can challenge the stereo types against poor people. Then we need to fight the political system itself. Prejudice against the poor comes from a system that encourages a consumer society and perpetuates the idea that wealthy people are just move valuable to society than poor ones. What we need is revolution and then socialism. Then we can really stamp out classism.
Pix from Meme Generator.
 There are plenty of examples of liberals who are also guilty of looking down on the lower classes and perpetuating stereo types about them. See the “The Culture Of The Smug White Liberal,”
 Breaking down class barriers was one of the goals of the Cultural Revolution in China. Our news media and educational systems have tried to keep people in the US ignorant of what that event was really for. They tell people here that it was all just a purge where Mao Zedong went after his enemies. But that is far from the reason for the Cultural Revolution. One thing Mao wanted to do was to use government campaigns to allow people to get to know members of the other classes. Much of the Cultural Revolution was designed to break down cultural barriers to the various classes in China. That included programs where people from the city where taken out to the country side to meet with peasants, to live and work with them. Such a program would probably not work here. But we can still use that model to find ways to get people from other classes to work together on various projects to produce the same results.