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

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Note x
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part I Who are the Poor, and Does America Hate Them? 1
  • Note 4
  • Chapter 1 How America Hates the Poor 5
  • Conclusion 15
  • Notes 15
  • Chapter 2 Poorfare Culture, Welfare State 17
  • Conclusion 23
  • Part II Pictures in Plenty: Conceptions of the Underclass 25
  • Chapter 3 Laggards and Lushes: Images of the Poor 27
  • Conclusion 43
  • Notes 43
  • Chapter 4 The Decent Poverty Stricken: Images of the Near Poor 45
  • Conclusion 57
  • Chapter 5 The Overseer of the Poor: View from the County Welfare Office 59
  • Conclusion 70
  • Note 71
  • Chapter 6 Mothers: Opinions and Stereotypes 73
  • Conclusion 79
  • Note 80
  • Part III The Life Cycle Poor: Images of the Aged 81
  • Note 83
  • Chapter 7 Images of the Elderly 85
  • Conclusion 91
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 8 American Culture and the Aged: Stereotypes and Realities 93
  • Conclusion 104
  • Notes 105
  • Chapter 9 What the Public Thinks: Older and Younger Adults 107
  • Conclusion 123
  • Note 123
  • Part IV Why America Hates Poor 125
  • Chapter 10 The Poorfare State: Embodiment and Revelation 129
  • Conclusion 131
  • Chapter 11 Social Exploitation 133
  • Conclusion 142
  • Notes 143
  • Chapter 12: Mirror of Destiny 145
  • Notes 152
  • References 153
  • Bibliography 159
  • Index 169
  • About the Author 173
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