Monday, December 10, 2012

Do Poor White People Exist?!?

A question I've pondered for years, even here on this blog, is why poor White Americans are for all purposes, completely invisible in the media, politics, and American culture as a whole. Think about it: given the sheer volumes of whites living below the poverty line, and collecting government assistance, why does the predominant face of American poverty still look like The Evans Family?!?

My theories are many, and too lengthy to flesh out here. But of course, poor whites do exist, and not just in "rural" America. Anyone who's gone to Fishtown in Philly will concur. Poor white people are everywhere. And yet, nowhere at the same time.

On the heels of an election in which American poverty as a whole was seldom even mentioned, let alone addressed, the Washington Post delved into the story of a teenager trying to overcome some steep odds to escape her post-industrial Rust Belt hometown. And as intriguing a read as it is, this Sunday A1 story is simply emblematic of the media's tendency to paint poverty stories with a bit more sympathetic brush when the subject is white.

I won't even try and recap Anne Hull's piece In Rust Belt, a teenager’s climb from poverty here. It's good writing, and even better story-telling. It deserves your decidated 20 minutes of reading time, simply because it's that compelling. If you enjoy "intellectual pRon", you'll get your kicks off this one. So go read that before you respond.

Those props aside, I can't help but note some serious gaps in the story here. New Castle, PA is a town that got some very serious issues with drug use and manufacturing, so the omission of this huge problem is glaring, and seems somewhat intentional. Likewise, a city of this size, with this level of poverty is also bound to have some deep-engrained crime issues, but with the exception of one anecdote that involves the story's subject, this problem is also overlooked. Then, there's the child's mother, who is given the sympathetic human treatment despite clearly being a huge reason why this kid's facing such serious odds to "making it".

I can't help but wonder why such factors barely showed up in this story, which seemed to focus more on one (admittedly spunky and driven) kid, against the backdrop of a city whose economy has crumbled now that the factories which once employed many of its residents are gone. There seems to be some easy-to-file excuse for everyone's despair. Everyone's a victim, their downfall tied to something tangible and readily identifiable, yet beyond their personal control.

I can't help but wonder why publications like The Post seldom paint such a sympathetic portrayal of improverished blacks. Maybe you know.

In any event, just read the story. If you can turn your brain off and simply enjoy the good writing, you might just learn something.

Question: What did you think of the story? Was there some evident bias at play here, or is this simply a fair portrayal of the downfall of a once-proud city?!?

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