The Radical Chic Pay Lip Service to the Poor
In yesterday’s New York Times, Charles Blow, one of my favourite opinion writers, wrote a brilliant and poignantly evocative exhortation to politicians of all stripes not to forget the poor in all their shenanigans and manouevres.
Blow called upon his own life’s experience, growing up poor and black in rural Louisiana. Blow’s not many years younger than I, and growing up where he did, I’m sure he remembers just as many raggedy, barefoot and hungry poor white kids in his vicinity than not.
The poor are always with us and in the South, they’re juxtaposed, black and white, and never far from each other. I was in elementary school in the Sixties, in a rural four-room schoolhouse off the beaten track yet 65 miles from that civilisation known as Washington DC. I’ll always remember Bascombe and Zady May Darnell, two transplanted Tennessee mountain kids whose father had meandered into the vicinity to work for slave wages on a rich man’s farm nearby.
Bascombe always missed most of September and October. Big for his age, he had to help with the harvest. He was already twelve years old, looked sixteen, and sat in a classroom of third graders. Zady May had already caught up with him. From April until the end of school in June (and throughout most of the summer) the Darnells walked to school barefooted, not just because the weather was fine and the days hot, but also because they got one pair of shoes every two years – Doc Martens – and they were meticulously saved for cold or inclement weather.
Both kids just disappeared after third grade ended and were never seen again.
Yesterday, as well, Senator Bernie Sanders also wrote about the condition of the poor at present in the country. This is what Senator Sanders does best, as the conscience of the Senate. He’s a real socialist, who genuinely believes to each according to his ability and for each according to his need. The government taxes the haves in order to look after the have nots. Only fair.
Two great voices echoing the same message, only to be appropriated by a third, for recognition purposes.
As soon as Blow’s and Senator Sanders’s words were in print, Lady Radical, herself, Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in on Twitter, exhorting all her followers to “remember the poor.”
That’s it then. Katrina’s done her bit. She’s acknowledged something her class always know, and that’s that the poor are always with us. Yes, let’s remember them. I’m kind and liberal. Now, next question?
Yes, Katrina knows about the poor. She’s read about them; maybe she’s even glimpsed them from a distance as she lives in the upper end of Harlem in a brownstone mansion, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Write about them from time to time, and she’s done her bit, at least enough to justify her Progressive credentials.
Katrina probably knows all the fashionable and au fait parts of London and Paris, but she probably doesn’t know anything about the sink estate high rises in New Addington, Croydon, just south of the Thames (we call them “the projects”) or the fetid banlieux of Paris. She’s probably never ventured into the provincial towns in Britain to view the obese poor trawling through cut price supermarkets for BOGOFS (buy-one-get-one-free) of bags of French fries and tins of baked beans to feed a family for a week.
And in the US, her trips to the South have probably only included the upper end of Atlanta or a fashionable resort in Florida. Going into the mountains of Appalachia would give her nosebleed, and she couldn’t bear the thought of breathing the same air as so many shit-kicking, inbread, banjo-strumming, trailerpark trash-talking Rush listeners, banging Bibles and speaking in tongues, who were probably all neo-Confederate racists. At least, that’s what she’s been told. Besides, she’d probably leave with cooties, if she even understood what they were saying.
It’s better to gaze from afar and opine from the safety of one’s drawing room and ensure any written endeavour gets pride of place in the trust fund gift of a publication bought by Daddy to amuse her and establish her in a topflight career that really took no effort from her at all.
There now. The poor have been suitably acknowledged. Time to move on and continue freedom-fighting at Saks.
Jesus, how I miss Joe Bageant.
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