Who gets to define you? welcome technorati X3WYQXC3933X

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’re poor or low income you know it. You have a personal definition of the experience.  People who aren’t poor,  however, can only wonder what your life is like and they often rely on the government, the media, or perceptions of friends to define you. In turn those people and organizations may have no direct experience with poverty and look at you through an inaccurate and sometimes distorted lens.

The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” Stigma is embedded in this language. One is told to see poor people as socially unacceptable people. The government attempts to define poverty not with words but with financial measures, specifically gross earnings.

Both definitions have potentially disturbing consequence. The first puts a socio-psychological burden on being poor and hides your three dimensional life behind social bias. In other words, it’s hard to get to know people who think you’re less than they are and everyone loses. The second is indifferent to financial exceptions , blind to local variations in cost of living, and sends too many people “falling through the cracks.” Neither definition allows for the possibility that social inequity is wrong. Yet these two definitions define your role in society. They shape your life.

It’s hard to change social definitions. Some change happens through successful engagement with the defining community. It’s important to be visible, to talk across class lines to neighbors and political representatives.  Have you had success in changing social definitions? How do you think definitions of being poor in America could be reclaimed? Let’s talk about helping this country see life at or near the poverty line clearly and without bias.

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