This is a fictional narrative from a poor, POC kid called Devon. The narrative is based on some real life events. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”
I came straight out of school last Friday, and tried to catch the early bus to get back to my neighborhood. I had to stop in the barber shop on the way. Sometimes gangs open fire on the route that I take from my school to the bus stop, and today was one of those times. I looked up at Mr. Watson, the owner of the shop, and he smiled as he re-opened the curtains once the gun shots had died down. One of his customers tells me that he’d like to take me under his wing. Mr. Watson yells at him to leave his barber shop immediately. That customer was the member of a gang and Mr. Watson tries to keep them from getting to me. He’s a good man who’s seen more than any man should. I smile and I wave goodbye. I see three unconscious bodies on the other side of the street and I feeling nothing; this is my life.
I get on the bus that takes me downtown where I have to catch a city train to get home. It’s the least favorite part of my day. A lot of people on the train look at me with a combination of pity and disgust, if they look at me at all. Most of the time they don’t even see me. But when they do, all they see is a kid wearing over-sized, outdated clothes that my mama got from the Goodwill store. Most of the time I just want to tell them that I am sorry. I’m sorry that I was born into financial circumstances below the poverty line. I’m sorry that I don’t know who my father is. I’m sorry my mother works three jobs but can barely provide for me and my two siblings. I’m sorry that I don’t know if I’ll even finish high school. But what do they want from me?
People shouldn’t make others feel bad because of financial circumstances that are mostly beyond their control. I wish my mother had a choice in how she spent her money but she’s too busy trying to put food on the table and ensuring that we don’t get evicted. Around people who obviously have more money than I do, there is a certain amount of shame that you have to try to fight. Should you classify someone based on what they don’t have? Probably not. It just makes you look prejudiced, unapologetically classist, and unable to see that none of the things you do have, make you a better person than them. Why do you look at me so pitifully or avoid making eye contact with me when I move past you on the train? Is it because you may have nicer clothes than me? What good does it do you, to pretend that I don’t exist?
Unfortunately I grew up around poor people my entire life. In my neighborhood, nobody has much. But in my school, people have even less. Sometimes some of them haven’t eaten breakfast by the time they get to school. Many of the kids are from single-parent homes and a lot of the time, their parents are struggling to find any employment at all. Sometimes the kids live with their grandmothers who take care of them on the little they have. So I didn’t know I was poor until someone called me, “Devon Out Of Cash.” Mama would always try to bring me the best clothes from Goodwill. And I even got to go to Applebee’s like all the rich kids on special occasions.
I’m not one of those people who try to be rich to relate to people. I couldn’t if I tried but I think that’s just dishonest behavior. I may not have a lot but I do know that there is no shame in being poor. Just like there is no shame in being rich. The only thing there is shame in, is being so far removed from reality that you can’t understand the systems and structures that allow some to be more likely to succeed, and others more likely to fail. There is shame in not recognizing that privilege is a real thing and abusing it in a way that you think you deserve anything that you received as a result of privilege. There is shame in taking without giving back, and doing so remorselessly.
People gave Tupac shit for saying, “I see no changes; all I see is racist faces.” But in the end, what he said is accurate of the American society I have grown up in. A society where racism, which is tied to socio-economic structures, has gone from being overt to covert. People were mad because they like to believe in meritocracy, and that we live in a racially-equal society. They like to believe that if you’d just work hard enough, you can make it. I wish someone would tell that to my mother who can’t even afford the store brand cheese at the grocery store where she works – which is one of her three jobs.
What I’m saying is, people should stop making a spectacle of themselves with regard to their wealth. I certainly couldn’t because I am basically invisible to society anyway and when I am visible, I am used as a pejorative example for other people’s contemptible pleasure and obtuse judgments. I am working hard in a system where I have a greater likelihood of being in jail, than of finishing high school. I don’t want to be judged by what I don’t have, even though people do this to me all the time. Because fortunes can change. And if it ever does, I hope neither me nor my children or my children’s children will ever have their head so far up their ass to write a familiarly ignorant, but this time, purposely attention-seeking article, trying to claim some drivel about being shamed for being well-off. But I suppose people who don’t have to worry about basic necessities and staying alive, and have too much time on their hands and not nearly a whim of self-awareness, can worry about things like getting their fifteen minutes of fame. Even if it is in the most trite and tasteless way possible. We all have crosses to bear, don’t we?