Deserving Poor

If there is one phrase I could will out of existence it would be “the deserving poor.”

Amidst endless obfuscation and obstruction of the Affordable Care Act and the de-funding of food stamps, politicians, pundits and your average person on the street continue to qualify charity as only appropriate for the deserving.

I am pretty hard core about charity. For me it is like free speech, no qualifiers. If you are in need, or say you are in need (thereby removing “proof”), you should receive help. Once we think we can decide who is deserving and not deserving – the implication being its their own damn fault – we are climbing up a mountain of butter.

Your definition of deserving may not include drug users because if we help them it is enabling their habit. Or maybe it doesn’t include single mothers because they shouldn’t have had sex if they couldn’t take care of the consequences. Or maybe you’re squeamish about immigrants (legal or illegal) that don’t deserve help because we should help Americans first.

The phrase “deserving poor” has classically been used to differentiate those people who work and strive and are therefore not part of the usual “pathology” of the underclass. Not only is this “pathology” a historic and thinly-veiled euphemism for black people, A pathology fed by under-opportunity, under-education and under-service compounded by over-stigmatization so the snake forever eats its tail.

This chronic problem of perception and value is in my mind today for two reasons. First, I sit on a committee that recommends funding for non-profits and invariably this kind of deserving aspect creeps into the deliberations. and second, because my fall charity donation is in the trunk of my car. Fall clothes, blankets, housewares, hangers, all destined for the most undeserving of citizens.  The charity I give goods to throws nothing away and serves everyone – the homeless, the drug users, the prostitutes, the hopeless and the helpless. That’s why I give to them.

I have the privileged to give away an old fleece because it’s pilled and I don’t like how it looks anymore. I don’t believe I have the privilege to judge who it is given to once it leaves my hands.

What we all “deserve” is a government that serves its citizens rather than corporate interests. I’d like to be on that committee.poor def

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