Editorâ€™s Note: This is part two of â€œWhere Would I Fit Into Romney-Ryanâ€™s New Economy?â€ series of what it is like being part of the 47% that Mitt Romney said he doesnâ€™t “worry” about, and of the Americans Ryan has called â€œmoochers.â€ This series is an invitation to break the wall that often separates participants into passive audience or active actor. You can find part one here.
At the root of America’s economic crisis lies a moral crisis: the decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite. Jobs and the economy remain Americans’ number one concern. While President Obama and Mitt Romney have promised to create millions of jobs if they are elected President, it is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the rest of society and toward the world.
Like many Latino/a, I looked to Barack Obama and the Latino leadership as the hope for a breakthrough. Change was on the way, or so they told us; yet there has been far more continuity than change. Unlike the squeaky wheel that has adopted instant gratification in lieu of the sober judgment, I also know President Obama can’t do it alone.
We should never lose sight of the challenges: to fully recover from the current economic crisis remains a long and uphill journey; various difficulties confront the President’s effort to make all his changes; and there exist serious resource and capacity shortfalls regarding legislation and institutional development.
We live in a complex, divided society. We are divided by wealth, income, education, housing, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. These divisions are discussed; but rarely do we devoted time examining the growing income divide. We know it is there, we feel it everyday when we enter a grocery store, go to the mall, drive downtown, or at an intersection.
The Crazy Uncle Syndrome
And I am/Whatever you say I am/If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?/In the papers, the news, everyday I am — Eminem, The Way I Am
We all have heard the metaphor how every family has that crazy uncle in the family who is seen as the black sheep of the family. Some family members act like they are not part of the family while others tolerate him. When it comes to poverty you can’t help but feel like the crazy uncle desperately clutching to the last vestiges of hope and aspiration.
I have experienced several bouts of poverty in my life. Each one occurred at different points from my life. The first time you experience poverty as an adult you quickly discover the secrecy attached to it. Poverty slowly sucks your own power. But of course you do not admit it â€” you pretend everything is still normal. Like a fly caught in a web of lies, each lie you tell yourself entangles even more. You begin avoiding friends who are not in the same situation because don’t want others to know you are struggling with money. Regardless that over 15% are also struggling, societal and cultural norms still dictate how we judge people and not “making it” makes you look like a failure.
When you are down and out, you learn quickly there are a panoply of rules, taboos, and penalties. Without thinking, you are isolating yourself from people. This happens when you run into them online or offline; you avoid eye contact or you mumble some excuse, either way, they think you aloof and no longer interested being their friend. Sure some of them understand, but there is a constant nagging feeling that you are taking advantage of them or as Rep Paul Ryan a â€œmoocher.â€
It is hard to deny that we live in a world where being part of a powerful, exclusive group gives you power, whether that group is educational or professional. At some point friends and family members advise you not to talk about your situation because it will make others uncomfortable. Thereâ€™s that sense that you might jinx others by concentrating and admitting the desperateness of the situation, you will perpetuate the momentum of your bad luck. And why not, arenâ€™t we told to succeed in life and to be happy, you cut the negative people in our life.
All around us we are bombarded with these messages that drives people around like a roller-coaster, while for us, the messages does nothing but keep us up all night; and steal your friends and peace of mind. You try to find a balance by keeping your troubles to yourself when you are suffering. They are your troubles, after all! No need to tell other people your struggle.
We hush up for other reasons. Men are told women will write us off if we financially stable; just go to any dating site. It is true this is not limited to women, but those social norms are ingrained in what MEN and WOMEN need to bring to the party to be viable mates.
Then again, when was the last time you tried to pay the rent with love?
Poverty feels like a rot. You can see and smell it block away. When Mitt Romney talks about the 47%, we know he and people like him view us and than willing to use other labels for us – Those People, The Dregs of Society, The Underclass. We are the very people they try to avoid at their own peril. When they are confronted by it, they are threaten by it. Powerless in the face of it. That’s how strongly we are indoctrinated with this social rule.
Then the question arises, Why are the 47% despised? â€” in truth, they are despised, universally; one side tends to be open about it. It is for the simple reason that we fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless; as long as it is profitable. In our current capitalist system, the end game is simple, “Make money and make a lot of it.” Money has become a product of virtue. By this test the 47% fail, and for this they are despised.
The isolation poverty pushes you into is painful. The last thing you need is isolation. We are social creatures. we need community. You need a shoulder, an ear, another human to remind you that you are not contagious, or catastrophic. And that your problems don’t make you a bad person, but that they are part of a larger network of faultlines. And that you are not alone.