I created a term that doesn’t yet exist for thoughts that often arise, in order to make sense of my own emotions. The term is “poor privilege”, and yes it means exactly what it sounds like: feeling privileged while being poor. It’s a super weird, strange, and odd feeling that I frequently have. Is it possible for poor people to be privileged when we’re already at a heightened disadvantage? The short answer is “No”, there simply isn’t any privilege in poverty; however I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I am equal parts both poor and privileged.
I’m poor, and I’ve been poor my entire young life and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to come out and say it. Poverty should be my ultimate embarrassment, if any. It’s a force that propels me forward, and encourages me to make wiser financial decisions than those before me. I haven’t figured out how to escape poverty as of yet, but I’m determined to never be poor ever again.
What Exactly Is The “Poor Privilege”?
In a few ways, I feel privileged while still being poor. I somewhat have the upper hand while still being at a financial and emotional disadvantage in life. Yes I’m poor, but I don’t share the exact same detrimental situations as poor people around me and as poor people I see portrayed in the media. I still have some kind of financial freedom, overall leeway and a slight enjoyment of life.
Truly no two people are hardwired alike and impoverished individuals differ tremendously as a result of this. However, the media loves to transform into Bob Ross and paint one dimensional pictures of poverty on a canvas in hopes of defining it. The definition of poverty isn’t living in a cramped up house full of small children, complaining about not receiving more (well deserved) government assistance, and not being able to eat.
I’m like the grinch who steals from those who are less fortunate when I’m the less fortunate myself. It feels criminal whenever I classify myself as a poor individual, in order to gain more financial assistance. I’m always faced with this never ending circle dilemma of: I’m poor and you’re poor too but you’re struggling more than I am, so that makes me deserving of less?
What Makes Me Feel This Way:
I was born in New York City and I still live here, my family is from Grenada (a Caribbean country) and migrated to New York in the late 90’s. Being educated and attending school in Grenada comes with a financial burden, many can’t wiggle themselves out of. I’ve attended elementary school, middle school, high school and college for $0 plus I even got free meals from school! My family in Grenada will never be awarded with the opportunities me and my New Yorker cousins possess. Dire hopes of a better life and a chance at survival will only evaporate on that humid Spice Island.
I’ve always considered education to be my one way ticket of poverty, my own personal golden ticket to gain entrance into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Education is all I know, it’s the only thing I have, and it’s one of the many things I excel in. I feel so blessed for the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree free of charge. It’s my duty to make the best out of it and make it meaningful and mean something to me.
I went to a high school in Manhattan for a year and a half, and not too far after my arrival into the school I began to notice something: there was a mini daycare located on the 3rd floor. Sixteen year old me was both curious and stunned. I needed answers and I wanted to know why there were diaper wearing leprechauns crawling on my school’s walls.
I was on my “Law And Order” detective Stabler shit, I kicked down every classroom door on the 3rd floor and interrogated teachers in my school’s run down auditorium.
Okay fine, I’m lying and I’m being facetious. Instead, I shyly asked my history teacher what the deal was.
The mini day care was designed so kids attending my school could take classes during the day while their own children were being taken care of. As a current social work major and even before I started college, I thought the mini day care was a great idea and should be implemented in more schools.
When I learned about the mini daycare and it’s sole intent, I must admit I felt different, and almost like I had no place there and it wasn’t because 60% of people in my school were parents it was because these parents were kids like me. We were the same age and even though I was poor I still had a childhood to look forward to- well the last of my uneventful teenage years. My fellow classmates were only kids having kids which caused their childhood to rapidly wither away.
The Media’s Binoculars:
Price gouging in Grenada is a serious issue that fails to sit well with me. Struggling Grenadians are literally stealing from their own already struggling people. As a result of this gross behavior, my Spice Island family utilizes their telephone to ask for things. Clothes, canned food, and small electronic devices are among the popular items that can be bought in New York for cheap / in abundance then sent overseas.
There are times my New York family can’t even afford to buy these things for ourselves, yet alone basic necessities. The media has made my Spice Island family become semi delusional and develop this misconception that once someones feet has touched American soil they’re fucking golden.
I get it, I understand and I don’t blame them for thinking that way. We may share different time zones, live on different parts of the earth, and have different climates but we’re all struggling. We may not be in the exact same detriment, you’re struggling, we’re struggling too, undeniably it may be worse for you but I’m at my worst too.
Floating from shitty to less shitty doesn’t ensure us an enhanced quality of life it only improves our chances. One of the biggest tragedies that many face is still not making it. My New York family has never made it, they’ve continued to struggle despite their flock migration. They’ve managed to succeed at one thing and that’s being able to struggle with ease and a slight level of comfort mixed with no comfort.
I’m Only Poor Not Privileged:
I came to this conclusion way before I had the thought of turning my feelings into this blog post. I realized that I’m stuck with this “poor mentality” or “poverty mentality” which never fades away despite my improved financial circumstances. Holy shit, did I just invent an additional term that doesn’t exist for feelings that do? Why don’t I go to the mall and buy a black turtleneck then purposely speak in a baritone voice and morph into the female Steve Jobs?
Maybe not, let’s get back on track.
I’ve worked hard for every single thing that I own, and I’m proud of that. Currently I’m in the best financial situation ever and I still refuse to reward myself, I refuse to eat well and eat meals even though I can actually afford to do so now. In an insane way it feels wrong to not be poor anymore, it feels unnatural to not struggle, all I know is poverty. It feels like a crime to be able to treat myself, and when I do get charged the sentence that’ll be handed down to me is remaining in poverty.
What does it truly mean to be poor? Is there any such thing as not being poor enough? What qualifies someone as being impoverished? Does one have to look the part in order to qualify? And what part is that exactly?
In the end we’re all struggling, even though some may shed more salty tears that’s enough to refill the Atlantic Ocean. Our realities may never match up or coincide but we are all just one.