class rage speaks
Ruminations on the personal experience of being poor and my journey toward being fully myself in spite of classism's silencing and setbacks. Here's to feeling a little less alone.
On a recent slow day at work, waiting for a phone call to answer, I found myself perusing the archives of the Dear Prudence advice column. I frequently disagree with Prudence’s advice, but it makes for an interesting read to pass the time. Between the standard stories of fights with the in-laws, workplace drama, and child-rearing problems, I found a letter from a soon-to-be father asking for advice about whether to take a great job offer that would force his new family to move far away from the couple’s parents. What caught my eye was the letter-writer’s mention that neither set of parents had very much money, and moving so far away would mean that they were financially incapable of visiting the couple or seeing their grandchild.
I could go either way regarding Prudence’s advice that the writer take advantage of the job opportunity and do his best to also maintain the family relationships, but what really got my attention was her treatment of the writer’s assertion that travel was not an option. She completely brushed this aside, asserting that a plane ticket was “only a few hundred dollars!” and implying, it seemed to me, that the couple’s parents were being selfish and unreasonable to suggest that they couldn’t afford it.
I was shocked at her disregard for the writer’s assessment of his family’s situation. It’s highly inappropriate to tell someone that they are wrong or lying to say that they can’t afford something.* You probably don’t know what their exact financial situation is, even if you think you know. You may know some of the details, but they are the only person who really knows what’s going on and what they’re comfortable with. Sure, family is important, but sometimes it’s just not possible to come together, no matter how much you want to do so. Jeopardizing your living situation or going into debt, or expecting someone else to do so, isn’t exactly a great expression of familial love.
I’ve encountered the “but it’s not that much money!” attitude innumerable times, applied to everything from social events to charitable donations to desirable objects. I’ve come to read it as a red flag, a warning that the person I’m dealing with isn’t taking time to think about their financial privilege and the situations others may be living with. When it’s stated in a general sense, it’s simply ignorant, and when it’s directed at a particular person- usually in an attempt to force them to accept an expense they don’t think is wise- it’s extremely disrespectful.
The bottom line is this: there is no amount of money so small that it can be assumed to not matter or to be worthwhile to everyone. Not “just $20” for a restaurant meal, or “just $200” for a cheap plane ticket, or “just $50,000” in student loans to get an education. Refusing to respect someone’s self-assessment regarding whether they can afford something or whether it’s “worth it in the long run” (or whatever the pleading phrase might be) is just plain wrong, and deriding them as cheap, selfish, or petty for refusing to put themselves in danger is in itself a selfish thing to do.
*I’m sure there are incidents where an objectively wealthy person is stingy in a way that’s harmful to others, but I think that’s a rather different dynamic, and it’s not what I’m discussing here.