Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Of iPads, Public Housing and "What The Poor Shouldn't Have"

So a couple weeks ago residents in a housing project in New Orleans were concerned about a demolition scheduled nearby due to health concerns over air quality. A pretty big story I would think. So who could have foreseen that what really would get people going was a picture that accompanied the story that showed a young boy sitting outside playing with an iPad. People emailed and called the reporter outraged that someone poor and on public assistance had the NERVE to own such a device. Resulting in a second story about the reaction to the picture in the first story <sigh>.

For me the attack on that kid felt so personal. Years ago in my family I decided technology would be a priority. In 1997 my twins had just been diagnosed with autism, they were only 3 years old, I had read somewhere that children with autism learned better with computers. So I went to Rent-a-Center and found a previously rented Packard Bell computer (yep that long ago). Then I went to Wal Mart and bought every Jumpstart learning software program I could afford to teach my children colors, shapes letters, etc. It worked. Kora would spend hours humming and rocking back and forth using the program where she could press any key to get a response to learn. Soon she and Korina had mastered mouse control and simple games and their speech was improving.They are still wizards at the computer.

I remember when I first acquired internet the same year through a local provider. I thought internet was something only middle class people could afford and when I realized I could afford it I jumped at the chance. It opened up a world of knowledge to me. The internet and having access to it is how I learned about positive behavior reinforcement and other techniques to lessen my daughters harmful behaviors. Medicaid didn't cover applied behavioral therapy yet so I was on my own. Access to the internet made me a better parent. Taught me things like how to descalate a meltdown and also how to do some self care. I found a autism rights community and that led to my first act of direct activism-a showdown with the local school board over funding for my children's' special education preschool class (yes my children did get what they needed).

Today I am sure if some people came in my house and saw the amount of technology we have they would think we shouldn't have it. I have even had someone snap back at me once in a comment section when I said something regarding knowing about being on food stamps I must not be too poor I have internet. As if public libraries don't have internet and dial up is expensive. We have 9 computers in my house 4 desktops 5 laptops it has taken me years to acquire. I have purchased them with tax money and back child support, one was a gift and one I paid for in payments. Almost every one was used and I am fortunate to have friends that fix computers. If  people are mad they are focusing on the wrong fucking thing!

What people should be focused on in my house is what we DON'T have so we can have the tech we DO have. We rarely buy new clothes. My kids don't wear name brands. My kids have NEVER owned a video game system in fact they only have a Wii because it's my partner's. We wear Payless shoes and used shoes. We make our own household cleaners and many of our health and beauty products too. We penny pinch A LOT.  I highly doubt that any middle class family would trade places with me. Internet equals our ONE "luxury" because we never go to the movies. Let's be real in today's world internet is not a luxury it's a necessity. We constantly hear about the achievement gap. One of the factors is lack of access to technology. So we shouldn't be complaining when we see poor kids with iPads. We should be happy. Hell, that is one piece of useful technology. A child can do school research on an iPad.

My overall reaction to the story was SO FUCKING WHAT the kid has an iPad! In fact bravo to his parent or guardian. No one knows how he acquired his iPad and frankly WHO CARES! I wondered if the picture had included him sitting with a Nintendo DS would as many people noticed? I don't think so. That is something acceptable for poor kids to have and do. People think those keep black and brown kids stupid and it fits a "they're so lazy" stereotype.

Often because it is something people wanted and many don't have they pointed their fingers and said how dare he one of those people have something they can't have in the comments. For them the picture played perfectly into the welfare queen myth that Americans have been fed for 30 years now. It makes people feel better to judge others and think "those people" have something they don't deserve. It works even more if we've been told we actually DO deserve it. Even if we already have it we can sit back and say I earned mine and you didn't, so there!

The question we really need ask is what makes us so hateful and judgmental that we think the poor are not allowed to have things that others are. I have heard arguments that poor people shouldn't be allowed to buy junk food with food stamps. I have heard arguments that poor people shouldn't be allowed to have cell phones, personalized license plates, fake nails, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and any number of other things. My question is why do the poor need to held to a standard the rest of society is not?

I know, I know I am living off your money but guess what most of us poor people do work or use to work so it's our money too!  Even if we have never worked or never will work we are not a bunch of immoral children needing the general citizenry's guidance in every aspect of our lives.

We are people just like you with hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children.  We save so our kids can have things. We barter with friends. The difference for us is we are always living on the edge of disaster. One check could make us homeless, our housing may be hazardous to our health, our neighborhood might be dangerous, our job might barely pay the bills and all these problems don't have many options for solutions. That is the difference. When you look at a person in poverty with something you think they don't deserve you are basically saying they are less than you or they don't have the brains to acquire the next level of achievement. I am here to tell you when you do that it is classist, elitist, often sexist and racist and it needs to stop.


  1. Your friend on FB is right. Maybe that family bought that iPad before they became poor. We have not yet adjusted to our new reality. Lots of people have been thrown out of the middle class and are not getting back in. Every few decades, our economy unloads a huge group of workers, makes them obsolete and forgets them. We just haven't realized that it has happened again.

    1. Great point! We never know someones story of how they ended up sitting on those project stairs as I recently told someone who doesn't like paying into the system. Several people who didn't like paying into the system two years ago are benefiting from it this year. That is why the social contract is so important. We have to have a safety net and we have to check our judgments and why we are making them.