This offers excellent critique of part of the design of the In Our Neighbors Shoes event in March 2015. As a part of the service learning, 8th graders participated in a simulation that was not quite as relational as it could and should have been and skirted too closely the edge of the trap into which Gwyneth Paltrow and so many others have fallen.
The next iteration of such a fieldtrip will correct for the insight offered by Brittney Cooper in the excerpt below from her article “White America’s Gwyneth Paltrow problem: How it’s playing games with the lives of poor people” for Salon.com.
“The few states that have implemented drug testing of welfare recipients… have roundly discovered those programs to be a waste of money because drug use by those on public aid is negligible. Still conservatives persist in believing a range of myths about poor people’s lives. This attempt to regulate the social activities of the poor is a wrongheaded attempt to control a structural problem that happens from the top-down by policing individuals from the bottom up.
“Good liberals also make the same mistake of thinking the problem can be solved through individualist acts of consciousness-raising. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, recently made headlines when she took the (ill-advised) food-stamp challenge, and tried to live on $29 worth of food for an entire week. By day four, she had given up. While it is always great when celebrities try to raise awareness about causes that matter, opportunities to put on and take off privilege are ill-advised.
“These are acts of poor-face, or class-face, that are not unlike uses of blackface, or dressing in fatsuits, or spending a day in a wheelchair to raise awareness about racism, fatphobia, and disability. The point in each case is that the person with privilege can stop at any time. They can bow out. They can declare that this is all simply too much.
“In the case of both Kansas and Gwyneth Paltrow, white people on the left and the right are playing with the lives of poor people. On the right the games are more insidious as they involve a kind of malicious toying with the well-being of the poor for the sake of legislating the value of hard work, as though poor people in this country are not largely constituted by folks who work many hours each day for subpar wages. On the left, these forms of play are well-intended but still largely ineffective as a solution. The only thing that will solve this problem besides a fundamental redistribution of wealth — the thought of which exasperates those on the right into a level of mania that is absolutely absurd — is a sustained commitment at the level of policy to building and maintaining a robust social safety net.
“But there is, I think, a deeper psychology at play here as well. The middle class in this country is shrinking and the wealth gap is widening. Americans work seemingly longer and harder than we ever have before. I cannot think of one friend I know who is not inordinately busy, and while many have written about the seductions of this type of busyness, I think that there are actually structural reasons at the heart of it, and one of the main causes of busyness is the increasingly pervasive philosophy of austerity. Austerity measures work in part by making us believe that we have to work harder and harder to justify our value to corporations and institutions that want to give us less and less. The rise in automation at our jobs means that in many professions, one person does the job that two or three people would have been paid to do 20 years ago. But the salary increase is not commensurate with the increase in labor.
“Those of us solidly situated in the middle class work harder and harder with less to show for it. That can only be justified at a psychological level if there are clear demarcations of value. So when we look at the poor, their lives need to look appreciably more difficult than ours, in order for our lives to look like middle-class lives.
“Class position in this country has never just been about economics, but about a particular kind of “habitus,” as Pierre Bourdieu has called it. We perform class through the amusements we partake of, the kinds of taste in food, clothes and entertainment we have, the kinds of things we read and talk about, where we go to college if at all, where we vacation, if at all.
“In a world where there is much economic precarity even among members of the middle class, one way to insure that folks feel content in their middle-classness is to create more and more barriers and rungs on the ladder between the middle class and the poor. If the poor aren’t on the ladder at all, then perhaps one will be fooled about how low on the ladder one now is, as a member of the middle class. In other words, this kind of social regulation of the poor keeps our criticisms and our focus trained below rather than above.”