Hard Knocks and Hard Conversations

“The truth remains self-evident.”Georgia Anne Muldrow, Zulu (The Mind)

We sat around the kitchen table in my aunt-in-Law’s small home in a cute little neighborhood. Her daughter and her new husband were planning to go out to Wal-Mart to take advantage of discounts on video games. In the midst of giving them a hard time for leaving Thanksgiving festivities to shop, she notes that she’d like a new TV if it’s cheap. Somehow we twisted our way into a discussion of the poor and the choices poor people make.

“How are you going to be on assistance and have a 50 inch TV?”

“How are you going to always have your hair did and your nails done?”

“There was a woman on Judge Judy who had seven kids and was suing a man that she had tried to buy a car from that never brought her the car. Judge Judy asked her how she was paying for these seven kids without having a job. She said she got 700 dollars a month from Disability for one of her kids. ‘How are you going to buy a car when you don’t have a job?! Whose going to pay for these kids? Me? Byrd?!”

Incredulous laughter.

I wanted to say, “Yes. Judge Judy is the highest paid person on television. Maybe she and Byrd could afford to provide some additional support for families in need.”

I wanted to say, “How do we expect this woman to improve her family’s condition if she doesn’t have a car? Wouldn’t a woman with a child on Disability need a car?”

I wanted to say, “What do you think you would spend your money on if you were in high stress, grief-stricken poverty?

I wanted to say, “Or better yet, don’t you think she spent as little as humanly possible for her nails and her ‘do? Is it possible that feeling good about how you look is a basic human want and desire? Couldn’t looking presentable help you at a government agency or a job interview or your child’s school or any of the other dozen places you might need to go in a day where people are just waiting to close the door in your face?”

Instead I drank my cran-brrr-rita and waited for the mac & cheese to finish cooking.


It’s hard to get people to acknowledge their own good luck. A two person parental unit with steady income (even if modest). Having those parents know there is better for you out there and pushing you in those directions. Always having food on the table. Always having the lights on.

These are not givens. They are fortunes. We don’t tend to see them as such. It’s difficult to tell someone they don’t have it so bad. Most of our own personal narrative is that we have overcome great burdens to be where we are.

So, single mother of the projects, just do more. Get right. Stop making stupid choices and be like me. I made it. So can you.

It’s hard to talk to people about poverty.

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  1. Erica Mauter

    That Dave Ramsey… thing… was dos muchos.

    "These are not givens. They are fortunes." — Well said.


    1. Jason Toney

      Thanks Erica. Yeah. That bootstrap mentality is pervasive and problematic.


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