Melissa Harris-Perry: "What is Riskier than Being Poor in America?"


The wealth gap becomes ever vaster, as the working class and poor continue to slog through a still-struggling economy. While some of those amongst the uber-wealthy seem far more vested in acquiring and hoarding more, they also seem to relish patronizing those who continue to struggle to stay afloat, even while toiling away at work every day for a paltry paycheck. Affluent and wealthy folks love to trot out the same "just work harder" boot strap speech to condescend to poor people, many of whom would be hard pressed to find a part-time job, let alone a second or third one to supplement their living expenses. Australian mining heiress Gina Rinehart [pegged as the world's wealthiest woman, with a net worth of about 30 billion dollars], made sure to drive the stake in and twist it, in a recent magazine article in which she accused poor and working class people of being jealous of the wealthy, yet not working hard enough to acquire the type of privilege she has enjoyed for most of her life- "Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing, and more time working." She lectured.



The fact that Gina Rinehart came-of-age swaddled in wealth and got a leg up on the workforce via nepotism and a hefty inheritance, isn’t lost on her poor, jealous countryman. And while her misguided comments addressed the wealth gap Australia, her “I’m rich, bitch!” sentiments about the poor are shared by the affluent, here in the U.S.

The obvious disdain for the poor is palpable… and unbearable during those times when short-sighted anecdotes are offered about the “risks” involved in acquiring wealth and privilege. Most troubling is the demonization of welfare-- mostly by conservatives-- as being nothing more than “hand-outs” to people in need, and the habit of those who speak ill of welfare, of creating pervasive pathologies about “undeserving” Black people.

Today on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show, BusinessWeek writer and guest, Monica Mehta offered a critique of President Obama’s “You didn’t build that on your own” comment, during a July speech he gave, which took wealthy entrepreneurs to task for not acknowledging the folks who helped them build their businesses and wealth,
During a segment that discussed Martin Gilens's book, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy, and the racialization of welfare by wealthy conservatives, Mehta opined that the POTUS failed to emphasize risk-taking in his speech, and seemed to suggest that poorer people didn’t take the risks that wealthy investors and entrepreneurs do.
The usually calm Melissa Harris-Perry [understandably] grew visibly agitated with Mehta's "risk-taking" comment and spoke passionately about what true risk really is. “What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously!” Melissa demanded to know, as she slammed her hand down on the table in frustration. 

“I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it will be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No. There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky. We have to create a safety net for poor people. And when we won’t, because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness.”


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Mehta, who seemed a bit taken aback, continued trying to expound on her comment. A composed Harris-Perry later apologized for getting upset, and while that was the professional approach to take, I don’t think it should be held against her. I believe the conviction with which she spoke is much needed during this tenuous time where people are simply sick and tired of listening to patronizing, blanket rhetoric by wealthy out-of-touch conservatives, about why they’re poor, at the lower-end of the class scale, or why they have the nerve to be Black or brown in addition to not having wealth or upward mobility.
 Melissa Harris-Perry's outburst echoed the frustrated sentiments of many who're barely scraping by and who implore those members of the affluent and wealthy class for some semblance of understanding [which they seem to lack] about the underclass.

3 comments

  1. Great post...the point about the safety net is important b/c you find that the ultra wealthy can do almost anything, go bankrupt, go to prison, break laws, be exposed as a fraud, and they are frequently allowed back into the "club" in a way that allows them to regain both their status and their wealth.
    I was reading a story about a British trader who caused about $1B in losses at his bank, and it made me look up some of the OTHER traders who have done the same (in one famous case, causing the DEMISE of a 200 year old bank). What I'm waiting to see if whether this trader, who is a Brit of Ghanaian descent, will get the maximum sentence or be allowed the slap on the wrist (a year or less or probation) given to his white counterparts who are guilty of the same thing. Almost all of those people got book deals, "consulting" positions, and other high level jobs that allow them to re-enter the .001% again. The only penalty is that they can't be "traders" again but who cares if they have access to 7 and 8 figure salaries in other ways?
    So will a black man guilty of a white collar crime suffer the fate of poorer black men with records or of his economic peers who are mostly white (or part of the majority ethnicity/race in their respective institution and country).
    I'm frankly surprised at the severity of Madoff's sentence...I think it's unusual, but it is probably timing since it came at such a bad time economically.
    Found your blog in a link in another article.

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  2. @Nicthommi: Thanks for your comment and stopping by!
    Yes, money ... especially when it's coupled with White privilege... allows trespasses not often afforded to people of color who're convicted of crimes and often have to contend with racial profiling and Stop-and-Frisk practices perpetrated by law enforcement.
    Excellent point about Bernie Madoff. His ponzi scheme affected the economy on such a MASSIVE scale and had such a global impact, to not sentence him harshly would've been a gross miscarriage of justice.

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  3. Seriously, I had a friend who worked at a hedge fund (only black OR female in her position) and it was one of many financial institutions rattled by the Madoff fallout. She got laid-off after that (does it surprise you that Blacks at ALL levels were disproportionately affected when a lot of the major banks and hedge funds nearly imploded)...so a LOT of high profile Black people were shown the door, Mananging Directors, C-level types, etc.
    I mean, just look at the mess at JP Morgan, which at one point was thought to be above the fray. Their CEO is still sitting pretty despite allowing people under him to lose at least $5B.

    It also reminds me of the fact that on average, don't black male college grads have a higher unemployment rate than white high school grads (so when black people try to poo-poo the importance of formal education, they are comparing apples to oranges b/c even a black-drop out from a prestigious school is NOT going to be viewed as anyone to take a chance on; try passing your hat around a black entrepreneur even if you finish college and grad school).

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