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When People Are Left Out: Is It Insulated Privilege or Is It Self-Imposed Martyrdom?

It is hard to tell what is going on when people get left out of things. I have noticed that when things get to the point where those who want to participate cannot, due to class privilege, the poor usually either shut up and leave, or are labeled whiners. We need to talk re this.
When People Are Left Out: Is It Insulated Privilege or Is It Self-Imposed Martyrdom?
By Kirsten Anderberg (

It is hard to tell what is going on when people get left out of things. Is it a class privilege situation, where the haves simply do not notice that others cannot participate, that the bar is too high for many? Or do the haves just not care about the have-nots? Is there a responsibility on the part of the privileged to notice who is included and who is left out? To reach for the lowest common denominator? I have noticed that when things get to the point where those who want to participate cannot, due to class privilege, the poor usually either shut up and leave or they say something and are labeled whiners. Yet when the privileged notice the underprivileged, they receive accolades. So if those left out say anything, they are called whiners, but if the privileged notice the poor, they are exceptional people supposedly, worthy of community awards. Another dynamic is if the situation is such that it requires the poor to self-identify to get the privileged to realize they exist and cannot participate, at that point, most disenfranchised people seem to be fed up and seem to move into what could be perceived as a self-imposed martyrdom. I think it is more a survival technique than that. I think people who are underprivileged and left out, are sick of being humiliated. And I think they quit wanting to try to participate with class-insulated people and I think we need to think about it. A lot.

A classic example of the type of phenomenon I am talking about occurs in childhood sports. If a kid is the last picked for the teams in mandatory physical education classes at school each time, maybe because he is fat, less coordinated, he has no experience with sports, or is just not as popular as others, eventually the kid hates sports and does not want to play them. At all. Avoids them even. And as one gets older, class insulation also takes on a recognizable pattern. A pattern as recognizable as the choosing of baseball teams in grade school. And just like the kid who avoids sports due to the way sports were played in grade school, the underprivileged learn how to leave places in society, how to be silent, and how to become invisible near class privilege. Avoiding the whole situation, like the fat kid who avoids sports. And just as the black community has no obligation to tutor white people about their racism, the underprivileged have no responsibility to tutor the middle class in the ways they leave people out, oblivious to others.

I recently got a community garden pea patch so I could grow my own vegetables and herbs as I am low-income. I got the garden for food, not pretty ornamental flowers. I was the only person out of the 50 or so people at the Pea Patch who walked to the garden. The rest primarily drove SUV's to the garden, and we live in a *very* small town. As I worked hard, preparing my patch by hand as the others rented rototillers, I planted rows of seeds. And the next day I went back, and people had walked all over my freshly planted plot! Confused, I replanted the seeds. The plots around me at this point were starting to become full of $500+ per 10x20 plot of accessories, planting carts, plant starts, plastic lawn chairs, etc. You started to not be able to walk down the paths as people just put their chairs right in the path. The plots around me all had crushed hazel nut shells in every area not used for their expensive plant starts. The people next to me literally installed rot-iron hangars with three tiered planters. I was saving money up for $25 in seeds, from the 50 articles I wrote for the $25.

The class separation between me and the other gardeners kept growing exponentially daily. These gardeners could not recognize a plot with seeds in dirt as being a worked plot, so walked all over my garden repeatedly. Their dogs dug in my plot while they tended their expensive layouts. I could not keep it planted. Since not a single one of their plots was planted with seeds, they did not seem to know a garden could look like dirt until sprouted. Rather they bought very expensive starts, and planted rows of basil, lettuce, etc. that someone else had grown from seed. And ruined my garden repeatedly with their ignorance. Then came the decision. I had already roped my plot off, that did not work. Should I put up signs in my garden telling people to stop walking in it, that it had seeds in the dirt? I chose that over replanting again, but yes. It made people act like I was weird. First of all, I was weird to be planting seeds. And now signs? The rest were glad *they* didn't have to do those things!

The final straw for me, and why I finally gave up and let them plant their pansies over my food garden, was the call for help with the newsletter. I agreed to write some articles for the newsletter. The head of the Pea Patch wanted me to do reviews of fertilizers. Since I am poor and cannot afford fertilizers, much less a bunch of different ones for a comparative article, I told her instead I would write an article on how to make your own fertilizer out of nettles and comfrey, two herbs readily available in abundance. She wanted no part of that in her newsletter. Sick of the whole experience, I gave up my Pea Patch and left. I just was tired of it. They were growing inedible flowers, and many of them told me they had gardens at their houses too. So, I was walking to the garden trying to grow FOOD and they were driving SUV's to play with garden stuff for fun, but I left. Not them. I am the one without fresh food from a garden now, not them. Was I being a self-imposed martyr? Is it my responsibility to educate these people on class insulation? Especially after I am so sick of them and their excessively consumeristic behaviors? I left. And they still have no idea why. The problem is not solved, but I do not have to keep being repulsed by it. They are out of sight, out of mind. But again, the problem is not solved.

When my kid was in the 5th grade at West Woodland Elementary School in Seattle, he was sent home with a box of stale candy from some corporation in another state and told to sell them for the Seattle Public Schools. I immediately gave the candy back to the school, told them I did not support corporate exploitation of children through public schools and I did not support child labor. I told them I had a legitimate children's hat company and if they wanted to sell my hats, instead of the stale corporate candy, I would be on board! I said I would support selling any local crafter's wares over the corporate junk food. So what happened? The whole class sold over $50 worth of the candy each, all but my son (who hated me, you bet). So, his whole 5th grade class went to a skating party field trip during an entire school day, but my son was not allowed to go. Why? Because, as a 10 year old, he did not sell $50 worth of corporate junk for the public schools. He was supposed to sit in the principal's office all day since his teacher was gone!! He was literally being PUNISHED for not selling for corporate America as a 10 year old in public school! Appalled, I pulled him out of the Seattle Public Schools, and got him a scholarship to a private school, where they were more honest about what we all had to pay to participate. I did this after several years of abuse as a mom from Seattle Public Schools.

This scenario had played out around the Seattle Public Schools at Northgate Elementary when my son was in the 1st and 2nd grades also. I ended up on the front cover of the Seattle Times fighting it that time. I proved the Seattle Public School guidelines specifically said they could not give graduated prizes of value for fundraising. Yet they were doing that. They were spending school time parading the same spoiled rotten children across the stage nearly monthly, to give them big prizes for their parents' fundraising. The Seattle School District said their guidelines were not legally binding and they could and would violate them, and they did. So their guidelines are toilet paper. I went to the PTA meeting to find out who was making these horrid policy decisions. I was told I could not vote on any policies until I paid a PTA membership fee. Irate that I would be forced to pay a membership fee to have a say at my son's PUBLIC school, I organized the lowest income parents to attend a PTA meeting. People bused in from all over. We made a showing and told the PTA that we did not want the school run the way it was re fundraising. We wanted events we could participate in, like rummage sales, haunted houses, etc. We were willing to write up City Matching Fund Grants, etc. But we did not support selling corporate crap. Ironically, this time, they were trying to make my son sell Christian Christmas wrapping. Which also violated separation of church and state but no one cared.

When we demanded the policies change to include low income families, the PTA said thank you, but we could not vote or have a say unless we paid. We all refused and demanded the first money out of their budget be scholarships for all of us. They brought in the STATE PTA reps and told us they could not do that. Each person MUST pay the PTA to have ANY say in the policies at Northgate Elementary School in Seattle. So what happened? Month after month, the same kids were paraded and lauded with gifts on stage during school time. The same kids, my kid included, went straight to the back of the auditorium and started goofing off, disenfranchised, hating every one of those kids on stage for good reason. I quit going to any school activities, I disenfranchised from the school completely. I wanted no part of the PTA. I was absolutely disgusted. And the situation is not fixed yet.

The Black Panther Party seemed hip to this. They made sure their events were within the means of anyone who wanted to attend, it seems. Their breakfast for kids program was not just for certain people. It was for all. They seemed to *get* the idea of preemptive inclusion from the bottom up, to make sure to include an avenue for the lowest common denominator. And that common denominator they used was much different than what the average middle class white person would use. I think the Black Panthers are a good example of what social class *inclusion* can look like. They were not perfect, but they understood poverty. And acted on that knowledge. Which is part of why they were so controversial. They empowered and respected the poor.

People need to understand what *internalized oppression* is. The situations I am talking about here, all reflect internalized oppression. The problem is very often that by the time the outcasts have made enough of a stink to be noticed, they are sick of the whole thing. And then the privileged are all confused, saying, "Well, geez, we finally offered to help and they just left!" But that is because the underprivileged were worn down long before the privileged even realized what was going on. To point this stuff out to the privileged is exhausting, as you take constant snide comments and hits for poverty. Social slams and character assassinations for being disenfranchised. Is it the responsibility of the privileged to become aware of these things preemptively? Is it the duty of the disenfranchised to open the eyes of the privileged at such costs as social degradation and personal character defamation? And what about internalized oppression, where it all gets murky as to what help the disenfranchised will even accept anymore, after too much abuse. Every time I raise these class issues, people yell and scream. I expect no different reaction from this article. But I am going to keep on saying this. For that one kid in the back row, watching the privileged kids paraded on stage being lauded with gifts for their parents' fundraising at his school. For that one kid... to know... he is somebody.

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