The day we did the tutorial on poverty tourism/poverty porn, I was late to class. I was late to class, because I was up late the previous night trying to do as much work as I could on my other subjects while trying to manage the reading for the lecture, which I missed because there’s a scheduling conflict between the lecture and another one of my classes. There’s a scheduling conflict between them because I had to stack my classes together as close as possible, so I didn’t have to make multiple bus trips into uni across the whole week. I need to avoid that so I can save money, the dollar fifty it will cost me to make that extra trip, into town, if Centrelink needs me for some emergency meeting, and I need that because if we mess up that finance, then there’s a breach on my record, I need to get in there fast or we might miss a rent payment and lose status with the landlord who might then use that to draw against us and get us thrown out of our house, which we can’t afford to empty, which we can’t afford to replace.
None of this is really true. Or rather, it feels true. I do stack my classes. I do pinch pennies on the bus. But our financial situation is not so dire. My wife is working now. I am a full-time uni student and Centrelink are more understanding of my situation if I say I have to attend classes.
The voice is still there. The fear that I’m one misstep in the beaurocracy from starting an avalanche that leaves me on the street, desperate needing help from family – who also can’t afford it – for the costs of resetting up a house, or something legal, or worse. Bad things can happen because someone petty who has a job had a bad day, or screwed up your paperwork.
Poverty changes you. It deforms you. It leaves a deep, painful mark on you.
Poverty porn isn’t just for the satisfied people.
It isn’t just for the people who are out of it.
For the people stuck in the cycles, it both nourishes us and disgraces us. We can look down on people who are the same as us and say well at least we’re not –.
At least we’re not drug addicts.
At least we’re not homeless.
At least we don’t have dementia.
At least, at least, at least.
It impresses upon you that there’s something grungy about you, something nasty. You smell funny, you move funny, you’re on public transport too much. You see people looking at you as you go to interviews, and slink back home, in the same squeaky interview clothes. As you exist, media tells you everyone can tell and everyone is judging you. So you compensate. You compensate as best you can. You don’t want to be one of those illiterate poor people that can’t talk clearly, doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, doesn’t understand specialty subjects.
You volunteer information because when you’re in one of those Jobfind meetings and it’s nothing but dead silence you know the person who can get your income cut off is thinking what a bunch of losers. You respond to every question with an uncertain I guess because if you say something definite and just get it wrong, they might call you to task for it and get treated like a stupid seven year old in front of adults.
Then people take you aside and explain to you things you already know, and you have to nod and smile because you don’t want to be uncooperative. They tell you it’s for your own good, that they care about you, that it’s about your place in the workplace, and how it’s probably best for you to do things this way, while you’re sitting there wondering what you might step on if you say something wrong in this. You don’t wanna be labelled ‘argumentative.’ Helpful until you’re told to stop. Outgoing until you’re told it’s annoying.
It’s very, very tricky to escape this feeling. Even explaining it can require people to make an empathic leap that they don’t have to, and involves opening up to the grinding, living depression and drudgery that is ‘bludging on the dole.’ When you’ve seen the system from the inside, being able to look at people in the same situation and say I know the kind of things these people are dealing with.
I’m not planning on submitting this blog for assessment.