I know my place. As a white person from poverty, my hunger, untreated medical ailments, and shaming are considered, “not that bad.” It will always be that way, because there are people who are not just poor — they are also dealing with racism. The percentage of white people in poverty is just far lower. What this means is that there is never space to say, “If you were white, and poor, the same things that happened to you because of race, may well have happened to you because of social status.”
When my first grade teacher put me in remedial reading, it was likely because we moved three times that year. It was probably my whiteness that rescued me in the third grade, a privilege. This teacher could easily have overlooked that I was far from remedial if I were black, but instead she rescued me from being tracked for the rest of my academic days.
But Mrs. Eskridge was a fluke. The school targeted my parents in later years. Documenting when we came to school in clean versus dirty clothes. Taking notes when we asked other kids for food. They were part of the reason my brothers, my sister, and I went to foster care. The principal wouldn’t hire my dad as a janitor when he applied, but he was quick to comment to the child abuse investigator that my father was lazy (powerfully untrue).
The toxic hatred aimed at poor white people is likely caused by hatred of black and brown people on some level, anyway. In their prejudiced minds, white folks start associating poverty with racial minorities, they vote for punishing social welfare policy, and all the while, they ignore that the majority of poor people on welfare are still white.
There’s no doubt if you were white, things would be easier for you. That’s just a given. But being white is not a cloak against the treatment you described. Your imagination cannot conjure “the white experience” because there is no such thing. My life experiences have nothing in common with middle or upper class white people. My treatment, and the treatment of my family by society, has been atrocious for as long as the long-term poverty my family endured. Even our extended family choose to shun and scorn their relatives who would be so awful as to use government aid.
I hope white people do face their inhumanity. I hope they finally overcome the sickness that permeates their culture. But I must testify as a white person that this sickness is so great it transcends racism. White people will hate their very own kin if there’s a check at the first of the month.