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Monday, February 23, 2015

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

You may remember Linda Tirado's infamous essay from 2013. It is the kick-off of her book, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America

What does it mean to be poor? Not the straightforward definition, but the real, day-to-day experience of those who are living, quite literally, hand to mouth. If at all. People working and living with a genuine fear that they will not be able to pay rent next month. Poverty is the daily life of so many in America, and getting by day to day, and making choices along the way, spurs quite a bit of judgement from anyone in a better position. Linda Tirado takes on these judgments and addresses them all, explaining why things may seem the way they do and making connections as to how those living in poverty have both the same and different needs of their better-off counterparts. 

I had a feeling that this book speaking to people like me – people who are aware of the plight of the working class, who understand what it means to worry about paying rent the next month. I have a feeling that some of my wealthier friends would not pick up something like this, and even if they do, they'll probably put it down after the first chapter. It makes people angry to feel they are losing that feeling of superiority. Power dynamics of always been something that fascinate me, and the power dynamics between the haves and the have-nots are no different. People always seek out ways to feel as though they are better off in life than others, and this book embodies that. Not in the way that Linda feels superior to others, but in the myriad of ways she points that others feel superior to her, a self-declared poor person. She points out so many ways in which she is just like every other human being on earth – sex happens whether you're rich or poor, it's desired whether you're rich or poor, you still have to feed your children with you're rich or poor, and the need for transportation doesn't change whether you're rich or poor. Rather, ways in which you exist within these confines differs.

I was particularly struck by a chapter in which she discusses how rare it is for poor people to waste. She is a self-declared non-environmentalist, but it's only because she doesn't have time or resources for it. Not in the sense that she doesn't care, but rather doesn't have the time to care. She says, which I agree with, the people who have less waste less simply by virtue of not having. I fall into her category of "rich," but only because I have savings. A quarter isn't a miracle to me, but often a dollar is. One wouldn't guess that by looking at me, or even walking into my home. But many things she points out exists for those of us whom you would never guess.

It's worth listening to Linda for the 150 pages or so that she explains these things to you. At times she comes across as defensive, but I can understand that. She has spent her life without health care while others look at her and say, "Just take care of yourself." She's been told to pick herself up at by her bootstraps, but it's difficult to do when you're working two jobs and walking round-trip 20 miles to make it there. We all saw this story floating around Facebook, and so many posts were focused on, "What a great worker! I want to work with somebody like this! Such dedication!" These ideas rather than examining the systemic issues that face the lower income classes just simply regarding transportation that is reliable and affordable. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you should probably pick up his book. It's meant for someone like you.

For purchase below. 

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