I Didn’t Know You Were Poor
One of the topics I write about is the tension between poor whites and black people. It has been cultivated since the beginning of the country for purely economic reasons.
Books like White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg explain how this negativity was stirred up going back to the slave days. Nowadays, the Russians are trying to capitalize on tensions to divide Americans.
It turns out that a bot had come to my own Medium articles. He pretended to read my articles, then wrote a comment “Stop telling black people what to do”
Of course, I have never told black people what to do about anything in any of my posts. Someone was obviously just trying to stir up trouble on my account. But how does this work?
One of the things my high school friend, J.Z. who is black, told me he did not know I was poor when we were in high school. This was quite revealing to learn. I shared with J.Z. that our high school Student Senate selected our family at Thanksgiving during my sophomore year as the family to take grocery shopping. We went to a large high school of 1200 students. He knew what this meant in terms of depth of poverty.
But then J.Z. has been reading my Medium pieces for over a year so he already knew I was poor before last night. He just didn’t know when we were in high school. So I asked him, “How did you not know I was poor in high school?”
He responded, “Well, you were white, so I just figured you had money.”
I told him about how I had to stay with other friends to get hot meals. I wore their clothes My black friends came over to my house and expressed sympathy for me. It was a pretty pathetic house for starters and the dysfunction was overpowering. My friends usually tried to get me to stay with them.
I had also gone to a middle school that he considered to be on the wealthy side of town. I explained that I lived in government housing during that time period. But we moved to the poor, run-down neighborhood near him. He didn’t realize I even lived in his community.
Then J. Z. and I laughed in appreciation of our school which bussed kids from our neighborhood to the nice side of town for desegregation. It was a special time. It was a special school. Sometimes there were fights. But most of the time, people were friends. A poor black teen ate lunch with a poor white girl he didn’t realize was poor. Our whole gang was diverse.
But the stereotype was there. I apparently got away with hiding my poverty in high school. That’s amazing to me. First, that was my goal so I am probably best to just savor the achievement. I hid my poverty from at least one of my classmates. My best friends loaning clothes to me worked. No one else heard about what happened with the Student Senate Thanksgiving shopping incident. I was sure that it was gossip fodder.
It was humiliating to have to go shopping with the Student Senate leadership when you have just been elected as a representative to the Student Senate. They got to know my family was the most pathetic family out of 1200 for that particular Thanksgiving season. But J.Z. hadn’t heard about it. It was probably something just the white kids circulated about me, anyway.