Poor People are Dangerous

*WARNING: Generalisations are employed here for effect. I am aware of them. They are not the point.

If you watch the news, in any part of the world, you will see poor people*, usually with dark skin. They will will wear hoodies and low-slung pants. They will appear, mug-shots, wanted by police. They will walk around the court room and stand behind the glass, heads bowed, charged with violent crimes that we cringe to hear the details of. They will gesticulate to the press. They will wear patches that make them look dangerous, they may not even attempt to display middle-class manners. The news doesn’t usually have to tell us: These are poor people. They are dangerous.

Poor people are dangerous because the laws that protect more-privileged people, do not protect them. The laws that give power to more-privileged people, don’t give power to them. In fact, they tend to do the opposite. For this reason, poor people don’t have any good reason not to break those laws.

Poor people are dangerous because they are human beings who ARE All dangerous when cornered with no other options but to be dangerous. And, because everyone else already judges THEM, they have no good reputation to protect*, no security to protect, no bank balance, no job to begin with, nothing to lose*.

Poor people are dangerous, because they’re suffering, because they’re vulnerable and desperate, struggling under the weight of inter-generational trauma and multi-level policy failure, because the experience of living with trauma is of constant psychological pressure, pain and fragmentation. (Interestingly, people who have never experienced this kind of powerlessness, pressure and lack of options, often find it hard to imagine why poor people don’t “just get a job”. These people are sometimes known as “dipshits”.)

Poor people are dangerous because they reflect pieces of us we cannot bear, because it is easier to project everything we don’t like about ourselves and our human nature onto someone else and judge them, than it is to recognise that we are all capable of atrocious things and a combination of circumstance and will have negotiated where we are now, but if the balance of circumstance tips too far, our will might not be enough.

The poorer and more traumatised people are, the more dangerous they become. They lose the luxury of morals. At this point, they can be called “Criminals”. The way society views criminals is as follows: criminals do not deserve to be treated like human beings. They are scary. they must be locked up (to keep us safe) and punished (because that’s what God did in the Old Testament).

Poor people are dangerous because they make “bad choices”, that outsiders assume are just things they shouldn’t do. They gamble, drink and take drugs, the are violent, they abuse children, or so the news tells us. Every one of these bad choices are related to trauma, often intergenerational. Don’t believe me? Look at the RESEARCH.

There is only one way to solve this problem: WE MUST ERADICATE ALL POOR PEOPLE, by stopping them from being poor; by providing healing and developing therapeutic programmes, by funding mental health services, by reducing inequality and supporting community-based organisations and grass-roots solutions, but most of all, by providing many many possibilities and options.

*Yes, these are generalisations. No, I’m not talking about all poor people, so don’t be offended if I’m not talking about you.


Racist guilt and the defensiveness of the privileged

A few weeks ago I was at a festival in Australia that had honorably tried to incorporate an indigenous element: a ceremony called ‘Welcome to Country’. Hundreds of people, mostly Caucasian, oddly dressed and festively face painted, gathered around a fire in the hot sun of the late afternoon. Children handed out branches of eucalyptus leaves and we waited. Two white men, both founders and organisers of the festival talked, and talked. I wondered when the aboriginal presence would be heard in this supposedly aboriginal ceremony. The cult of the individual in Western ideology was boldly displayed as the second man pointed to every single participant requesting they shout out their own name.  All the while the aboriginal speaker waited patiently for his turn to speak.  When he finally did the flood-gates opened.

He explained that, traditionally, the eucalyptus leaves were placed in the fire by visiting people as a token of peace.  He went on to speak of the atrocities committed in the colonisation of this land, of the countless people slain in vain, of rivers running with blood, of stolen children, and also of his optimism for the future. He spoke of tolerance, of social change, of healing and restoring the vitality to indigenous communities. At his request, we came forward, one by one, throwing our branches into the blazing fire where they were immediately claimed by the flames, releasing their camphoraceous sent.  

Clearly his speech was powerful.  I have no doubt that everyone in earshot was moved, but I was surprised at the reaction of a new friend standing next to me. “I feel so guilty” said the white male Australian. “I hate it when I hear stuff like this.”  I couldn’t help but ask why. “Because it feels like it’s me he’s attacking – the coloniser – the white man.” I was taken aback. The speaker had been acknowledging the atrocities of the past, not condemning the participants in the present. Then I remembered that this kind of guilt is really common. Lots of while people in New Zealand get up in arms at the mention of the Treaty of Waitangi or colonisation, as if they are being personally attacked.  I don’t feel this kind of guilt, probably because I was raised by white people who have worked along-side and supported indigenous people, possibly because my loyalties and politics are more closely aligned with the underprivileged than the privileged.  I don’t feel guilty about being white. I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of the way they are born – although, I do sometimes feel ashamed of racist, bigoted people who sometimes share my ethnicity.

This got me thinking about privilege, guilt, shame and defensiveness. I wondered whether this type of guilt, of feeling blamed, is a sign of latent racism (or ethnic insecurity) because the sentiment is often expressed by people who also express opinions along the lines of ‘I just with those natives would shut up and get over it’.  It certainly echoes sentiments of not wanting to face the past, of preferring to take something personally (‘that man is making me feel guilty for being white’) and feeling victimised rather than acknowledge the harsh reality and trying to take positive steps forward, as the speaker was actually encouraging us to do.  

It also brought to mind the concept of privilege being invisible to the privileged because, intentionally or not, white privilege was being challenged. Maybe all it takes is a challenge to the legitimacy of privilege to bring it into awareness.  Then again, people tend to close up when they’re feel under attack.  

Australia is a white-dominated country, notorious for its awful treatment of indigenous people and daylight racism. The friend standing next to me wasn’t being ‘racist’. He was genuinely distressed about the atrocities his ethnic forefathers had carried out in much the same way that young Germans are sometimes still burdened by the legacy of their history. The atrocities of WWII have left their mark on generations, but not everyone is weighed down by the mistakes of the past.  I don’t think guilt is particularly useful in any of these instances, unless it helps to serve as a reminder not to repeat the past.