Are you “We”?

I’ve been writing about how writers and journalists tend to write from the perspective of the well-off rather than the struggling.  I attribute some of that to the fact that it is generally assumed that a writer cannot make a living at writing and needs to have another career, be supported by someone else, or be independently wealthy.  That means, to some extent, writing as a career is limited to people of means and leisure.  There is another factor here as well, which I only alluded to in my article on poor shaming.

A lot of writers do stick with it even though it means struggling financially. We are among the poor.  Yet because of the cultural shame surrounding poverty, we do not dare write in the voice of the poor or marginalized if we want to be taken seriously.  So we end up talking about “we” the financially secure Americans as opposed to “they” the poor, even when that is not true for us as individuals.

I found a fascinating example yesterday of a writer assuming that he and his audience were among those who do not struggle financially.  Jordan Weismann, writing for the Atlantic, wrote an article that makes the case that the poor are not other people, but that poverty is a situation that any of us might face for a time.

The article explains that 40 percent of Americans will fall below the poverty line at some point, but that most people do not stay there for long.

He concludes “What these numbers undercut, though, is the idea that most of the poor, as a broad group, are somehow different than you and me (aside from the bit about having less money).”

If so many Americans are dealing with poverty, and they are not different from anyone else, there is a good chance that some of them are among the readers of this article. They not only like you and me. They are you and me.


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