Why Do We Presume The Poor Are Stupid?

Why Do We Presume The Poor Are Stupid? October 20, 2016


(image via Pixabay)

Almost six years ago now, I went down to the pro-life crisis pregnancy center run by volunteers from local churches. I didn’t have any money to self-pay for a doctor’s appointment, but I needed proof of pregnancy from a medical professional so I could get on medicaid and not have to self-pay. It’s one of those catch-22 situations poor people often find themselves in.

My choices were either go to the pro-life crisis pregnancy center or go to the “women’s health center” which was known to prescribe birth control. I chose the pro-life center. I’m pro-life, after all.

The pro-life center was in a pleasantly decorated Victorian house with eccentric uneven floors and interesting windows; they’d done the wallpaper in historically appropriate large-print designs. I stared at the wallpaper as I waited my turn for the urine test; in the bathroom, I stared at a poster touting the dangers of premarital sex. I didn’t have much of a choice about that. The poster was on the wall across from the toilet, exactly at eye-level to someone sitting down and trying to catch a Dixie cup of their own human waste. I set the Dixie cup on a paper towel, and washed my hands at the old fashioned Victorian sink with expensive, rose-scented soap.

A volunteer in a pretty sundress, not wearing a name tag or anything to tell me if she was a nurse or a social worker or any other kind of professional, took my name and information “just for our records” while we waited for the lines to appear. I was unnerved; I thought this was an anonymous pregnancy test, and they’d only ask for my information after it was done in order to write up a proof of pregnancy form for me. I didn’t want my information going into their “records.” I had very recently separated myself from an abusive situation, and gotten married to a man my abuser didn’t like. I didn’t want anyone to know where we lived. I was even more unnerved when the volunteer chatted about having seen me at Mass in the fancy “traditional” church downtown. I thought this was odd, for her to be verbally establishing that she knew me, in what was touted as a completely confidential test.

I noticed the nice dark lines before she did. I was a mother, for certain. I was a mother to my precious Adrienne Rose. I was a mother for all eternity.

As I marveled, she told me about their “Bridges Program.” In exchange for taking parenting and childbirth classes, I could earn points to cash in at their secondhand shop– the shop didn’t take cash, only Bridges Program points. If I earned enough Bridges Program points, I could get bottles, a used stroller or a crib, or even a car seat.

I decided that, since they already had my information, I might as well sign up for Bridges Program classes and get a free car seat.

And then I found out that all the classes were at one PM on Monday afternoons.

I happened to be in school, trying to finish up my eternal Master’s Degree, at one PM on Monday afternoons. Most people I knew were working or at school at one PM on Monday afternoons. This was the only class the pro-life pregnancy center offered. I wondered if they really expected that the pregnant poor would just show up, at one PM on a Monday, leaving behind their jobs or college or high school, to take birthing classes and earn points toward a used stroller. But perhaps they didn’t expect the pregnant poor to have jobs, or be in college or high school. They expected that we were silly floozies sitting at home painting our nails and plotting new sexual conquests, who wouldn’t know we were being patronized as we stared at a chastity poster while trying to catch our own pee.

I did not earn a secondhand stroller. I carried Rose in a sling, when she came. I breastfed her. We co-slept. I learned about breastfeeding, slings and safe cosleeping practices from books, and from the lactation consultant at the hospital where I had Rose, because I’m not stupid. Mind you, I don’t think people who use cribs and infant strollers and bottles are stupid either. I don’t presume anybody is stupid and neither should you. That’s my point. But let me tell you another story to illustrate it.

Some time later, my husband was out of luck trying to find a job. He signed up for a government program which would provide us with some monetary assistance while he looked for a job. They said that, in order to get the monetary assistance, he would have to jump through several hoops including taking a job-searching class, and he was pleased. He assumed they were going to help him polish a resume and learn how to answer interview questions.

When he got there, he found that the class had different goals. They showed him where the free printer was at the job-seeking center, and they showed him how to print a document. Then they informed him that he would not only be arrested but also denied monetary assistance, if he tried to sell drugs on the job.

That was the entire class.

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