Sometimes poor people own nice things. Sometimes they own smart phones. Sometimes they own a nice handbag, or a designer pair of shoes. Sometimes they own a family heirloom. Sometimes they own a refurbished tablet they got second-hand. Sometimes they own a car, maybe even a nice reliable car.
Now, my impulse here and the impulse of many authors is to excuse and justify those possessions. It’s a habit poor people learn early, to defend anything they have against the jealousy of people who have more. “I got the TV on sale”, “my dad pays my phone bills”, “we owe more on the car than it’s worth”. But I’m going to resist that urge and not defend the right of poor people to have material possessions by explaining how they deserve or need them.
Instead I’m going to point out how wrong this framing even is. We’ve got this cultural idea that how poor people spend money is everybody’s business and everybody gets a vote. It’s why we want to explain “They use that phone for work!” or “It’s for emergencies with her kids!” We want to say they’re allowed to have it, because it’s an actual need. We’re not too concerned with addressing the wants of others. So we make sure everyone sees our phone as a need, not a want, no matter how much we want it, how much joy it brings us, how much safer it makes us feel. We have to frame it as a need – usually for someone else’s benefit – to be allowed to have it.
Fuck. That. Poor people should get to have phones. Poor people should have enough food. Or maybe try this radical idea on for size: Maybe we shouldn’t have poor people.