Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s

By John E. Tropman | Go to book overview
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Indeed, in Michael Harrington ( 1962) book, The Other America, a section entitled "Our Invisible Poor" points out that it is very difficult, at least using public, face-to-face criteria, to separate the poor from the rest of us. We hate them for reminding us they are not like us (and that someday--any day--we may not be like us either). We hate them and fear them for reminding us that they are us after we lose a job, or become ill, or "something happens." The similarities may scare us as much as the contrast. After all, there, but for the grace of God. . . ."


CONCLUSION

These ten mechanisms are the vehicles for how America hates the poor: (1) the problem of values dualism, (2) the threat of subdominant values, (3) the stress on mobility and youth in American society, (4) America's hatred of "dependency," (5) our ability to blame the victim, (6) the use of slippery and ambiguous language, (7) the application of disengagement and ghettoization, (8) the relegation of the poor to peripheral statuses, (9) the application of social policy to the poor, and (10) the presence of disesteem and stigma. Certainly, these interact and support each other, each strand strengthening the choking social rope.

I do not think that there is much question that America hates the poor. Some readers may quibble about the word "hate," and argue for something softer. Others will argue, "Well, there are exceptions--this group and that group," and in that process engage in "categorizing the poor," something we have done for hundreds of years seeking to create "exempt" categories of groups who are poor but okay.

But even if one accepts the general ideas that we hate and fear the poor-- perhaps especially if one accepts it--questions pop up. How can we understand this? If we hate the poor, why do we spend so much to help "them." Are there, or is it too bizarre to consider, positive functions to hate? Perhaps the poor are always with us because we need them.


NOTES
1.
He may be right. The first child abuse case was brought through the New York City Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
2.
One could add the principle of vegetablization, one step below that of animalization. In vegetablization, as in the phrase, "He is just a vegetable now," the distinction between life and death has been finessed. After all, you cannot really kill a carrot.
3.
Disability may be an "advanced" death.
4.
The word "social" itself has multiple meanings. One is collective, the social good; another is interactive, as in "social disease"; a third seems to refer to stratification, deprivation, and status poverty, as in "social problem"; and then, of course, there is "social policy."

-15-

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