Socioeconomic blindness

A thought from the Ta-Nehisi Coates/Chris Hayes video that I posted yesterday.  They talk about how the socioeconomic ladder is so stratified and there are huge gaps of understanding between the layers.  Meaning that a person who makes $30,000 cannot begin to comprehend what a person on welfare’s life is like and a person who makes $100,000 can’t even begin to comprehend what life is like for the person who makes $30,000 and the person who makes $100,000,000 a year can’t even begin to comprehend what life is like for the person who makes $1,000,000 a year.

This, I believe, is where the whole “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality comes from.  People who say that don’t have the slightest idea what the other person is even going through.  This is also why the Romneys can say they were struggling so much in college that they had to sell some of their stock in order to survive and believe that they’re sharing an experience with the common man.  On the surface, it’s absurd, but seen through the lens of socioeconomic blindness, it makes complete sense.  You may laugh at the Romneys’ complete lack of self-awareness, but chances are you’re just as guilty of committing those fouls as they are.

This socioeconomic blindness is not an easy problem to solve.  The best thing to do is to interact on a meaningful level with people not in your economic comfort zone.  And that’s almost impossible to do.  Volunteering at a soup kitchen doesn’t really give you meaningful interactions nor does volunteering in general (though you should volunteer for something, anything).  But you can ask yourself questions while volunteering.  What would I do if I had no money, no job, no house, and was hungry?  (Hint: If you’re thinking at all about solving the first three, you’re doing it wrong.)

In the end, though, the most important thing to do is recognize that socioeconomic blindness exists.  Maybe then, you’ll recognize that you shouldn’t be passing judgements on someone who is so far removed from your situation you can’t even see what she’s going through.

3 thoughts on “Socioeconomic blindness

  1. Pingback: The poor think differently than you | A Little Rebellion

  2. kitchentourist

    A large part of this has to do with how easy it is to “self segregate” until we only live with and interact with people who live the same way we do. I think this is even more drastically obvious in Chicago than it is in some other cities. After growing up here, it’s strage how I notice right away when I’m on public transit in other cities and people don’t all get on and off in neighborhoods based on race and/or class. You see generational differences still, but not the blatantly obvious groupings as in Chicago.

    But even living in nicer neighborhoods there are often a few people struggling to get by – my mother has a talent for finding the lonely elderly women or the single moms who need help wherever we’ve lived. Of course there are also plenty of people who don’t actually ever want to talk to their neighbors.

    Church was a big part of my interactions with people from different backgrounds, but so was the work my dad did for his “second job” rehabbing the homes of people he worked with – nurses and doctors who came from dramatically different cultures, neighborhoods, and socioeconomic backgrounds than we did. Since I went along with him I saw a lot of different ways people could live and the things they took for granted. It’s always a lot easier to see economic blindness from people “above” you than to see how you’re making assumptions about people struggling “below” you, though.

    Most people don’t necessarily interact with a very wide swath of people in their jobs and in a large city there aren’t as many “third place” locations for people from different backgrounds to interact. Mindfulness helps, but it woud be nicer if there were more opportunities for legitimate friendships to assist with the “cure” to this kind of thing.

    1. Jean-Paul Post author

      Reshaping public housing would probably be a good place to start. Getting poor people out of poor neighborhoods would solve a lot of problems. Chicago’s been good at tearing down the hi-rises, but not so good at creating replacements. The result has been the poor getting pushed to the suburbs.

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