Water As Privilege

Some days I log onto The Billfold and crack jokes about my shoes or my hair or Pizza Hut just giving away pizzas to anyone willing to fill out a form, and other days I visit the NYT and read a story about families in California who haven’t had any running water for five months.

“We don’t have the money to move, and who would buy this house without water?” said Ms. Gallegos, who grew up in the area and shares a tidy mobile home with her husband and two daughters. “When you wake up in the middle of the night sick to your stomach, you have to think about where the water bottle is before you can use the toilet.”

It’s so easy to forget, even when you try every day to remember, that America is simultaneously rich/poor. It’s not just California, either. People in Detroit are getting their water through jury-rigged systems of hoses and duct tape, since, to quote ABC News, “city repairs to the water system are on hold.”

That link, by the way, tells the story not only of hoses held on with duct tape but also other workarounds built out of necessity in a bankrupt city, such as Detroit firefighters who use “a can filled with screws that’s knocked over by paper from a fax machine to alert themselves to emergencies.”

I feel so privileged—and, simultaneously, ashamed—that my biggest concern is whether I get a Pizza Hut coupon or whether I overspent by $36 on my “fall haul.”

And in Tulare County, California:

“You don’t think of water as privilege until you don’t have it anymore,” said Ms. Serrato, whose husband works in the nearby fields. “We were very proud of making a life here for ourselves, for raising children here. We never ever expected to live this way.”

Photo: Alex

‘Gold Diggers’ 2005/1933

In the summer of 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and Kanye West's "Gold Digger" hit the radio waves. I was 14 and didn't know how to help, but I had some money saved so I sent it along. There was a collection box in the school cafeteria the week I started ninth grade, and a big poster board chart on the wall tracked how much the school had raised using columns made of crepe paper. Soon I learned on the national news that the Red Cross wasn't doing much with the money. Nobody had planned for that kind of disaster.

Real Problems

I like this Lena Dunham interview in the Guardian.

The Privileged Question of Whether Money Buys Happiness

For all of time, or at least for the time that monetary exchange has existed, we have been asking ourselves this question: Can I buy happiness with this money? Or, if I were to acquire more money, would that make me happy?

Talking Money

The Wall Street Journal's Katy McLaughlin wrote her final column about money this weekend, and her takeaway is something we always talk about here: What we learn from each other when we talk about our money.

Poverty, Presentability, and Expensive Handbags

"Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair."

What’s More Annoying: Checking Privilege Or Complaining About Checking Privilege?

Privilege comes with so much baggage these days, amirite? Especially on college campuses when entering students are often first exposed to the concept. The impulse to bristle and become defensive can be very strong. "Who, me? No, I'm not privileged. Something bad happened to my grandparents too. They worked hard and then my parents worked hard and that's why I'm here today. Why should I apologize for that?"

The Advantages of Looking the Part

Even though I didn’t grow up in a tech-savvy household and couldn’t code my way out of a paper bag, I had one big thing going for me: I looked like I was good at programming.

Over at Slate, Philip Guo writes about his experience being Asian and studying computer science. Unlike many of his peers, he was a complete novice when he started at MIT, but since he “looked the part” no one ever discouraged him or second-guessed his decision.

For instance, whenever I attended technical meetings, people would assume that I knew what I was doing (regardless of whether I did or not) and treat me accordingly. If I stared at someone in silence and nodded as they were talking, they would assume that I understood, not that I was clueless. Nobody ever talked down to me, and I always got the benefit of the doubt in technical settings.

Leveling the Field

Rich kids have advantages that children from low-incomes do not, so what are some ways we can even the playing field? Chuck Collins examines this question in his essay for The American Prospect.