This semester I am in a Sociology 436: Social Inequalities, taught by Clifford Staples. One of the approaches of the class is to start deconstructing victim blaming that goes on when people are in specific situations. Such as, known statements like, “welfare moms are taking up the resources,” or “poor people are lazy” or even recently, statements blaming the people in Haiti for the lack of resources they have after the earthquake. Aaron Wentz’s article from Tuesday is a good start pointing on the history of Haiti.
I am sure we have these statements or maybe even participated in them ourselves. Can we really assume that poor people are lazy? I can’t. Someone who works three part time jobs to feed their family is hardly lazy. Sometimes they can work really hard for decades and never get out of their economic status/class. Sometimes they were born into poor families and never get out.
How about rich socialites like Paris Hilton? Is she busy? Hardly. She parties and is in the spotlight for having reality shows or a recent drama with a friend. She was born into a family with money: the Hiltons. They own those hotels that I am sure most people at this university have heard of. She didn’t choose her family, she was born into, and she doesn’t have to work. Ever. She has more than enough resources to live. Of course, she can star in movies, make records, or have her own clothing line. But she is only able to do that without any sort of education or business experience because she was born into the right family: the family with experiences, ties, networks, money, and a name.
Now that I’ve explained some things, the assumptions of certain situations and ordeals that people happen to be in, often gets blamed on them. Perhaps we can look at the situation on a broader scale. Why are people in the situation they are in? Is it their families? The country they live in? Capitalism?
So lets say this poor person who is “lazy” doesn’t work. Lets say they are on welfare or as so many would “living off the system.” Instead of assuming they’ve never worked a day in their life and sits in their living room watching TV (and then of course, the ignorant question: how could they afford to pay for TV if they’re on welfare?!). Let us start questioning how did this person get into this position? Why is this person in this position? How could this happen to someone? Why do we accept a world in which people need welfare to survive? Why don’t we talk about a world in which EVERYONE has access to basic needs? Why do we normalize poverty, suffering, and welfare?
As the old saying goes, “the surest way to get rich is choose your parents/family carefully.” I didn’t choose mine. Did any of you? My mom and dad are from working class families, my step-dad is from Iran, and I am a first generation college student paying for it through loans, grants, and scholarships. If I was Paris Hilton, I would not have this issue. I certainly don’t think I am “unlucky” or got the “bad deal”, this is just a point of reference.
Another common victim blaming statement I have heard is, “if a homeless person is homeless, how can they get cardboard and a pen to write signs begging for money?” First of all, does it matter where they got the pen and cardboard? Also, the person who is homeless is more than likely to have clothes on, maybe some belongings. Are we going to start assuming if one is homeless, they must be naked with no valuables? But again, why is this an issue? Someone is homeless! No one should be homeless, anywhere, ever. As humans, we all have a right to have at least our minimum requirements meant. Why must we blame this person for being in the position they in? Why not start questioning what kind of world we have BECAUSE someone is homeless? Is it a fair world in which the top 1% of society posses 40% of income in a country?
Not everyone is born into the same opportunity. Because I live in the United States I have gained privileges to (for example) education, sadly not everyone in the world has this opportunity. We are not born into a world with the same “playing field.” Many of have obstacles or oppression that may put us in positions "less" than others. Things like race, gender, sexuality, class, and where we live are a part of this. These things certainly need to be thought about before we start claiming we know other people’s experiences who are in other positions than ourselves.