Monday, January 23, 2012

Won't #410 - disbelief of American poverty

One of my students recently told me that she went to an Italian restaurant which was offering venison as a special dish. She asked me if I'd ever tried deer meat, and I told her that, because I grew up very poor, I indeed had eaten venison because sometimes my family had no money for food and my father would have to kill deer, rabbits, and, even squirrels, so we'd have food to eat. This topic also comes up when I talk about other aspects of my life such as paying for college with loans that I paid off myself. When I talk about growing up in poverty, Japanese people have literally waved such words away with their hands. They believe I'm simply exaggerating as a way of displaying modesty. I would believe this was because they believe white people can't possibly be poor, but one of my African American coworkers expressed the same frustration when he tried to talk to them about poverty in the U.S. (which he also experienced). As he put it and I paraphrase here, 'they believe all of America is represented by the tourist-safe areas of the cities they visit.' They can't conceptualize that there is incredible poverty in a country as advanced and powerful as the United States.

I won't miss people dismissing my personal history as mere exaggeration because they can't wrap their heads around the notion that there are extremely poor American people.