some of us are brave

The Logic of Stupid Poor People

We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 12.11.13 PMTo be fair, this isn’t about Eroll Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?

One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.

My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my grandmother and mother, use our minimal resources to help other people make ends meet. We were those good poors, the kind who live mostly within our means. We had a little luck when a male relative got extra military pay when they came home a paraplegic or used the VA to buy a Jim Walter house (pdf). If you were really blessed when a relative died with a paid up insurance policy you might be gifted a lump sum to buy the land that Jim Walters used as collateral to secure your home lease. That’s how generational wealth happens where I’m from: lose a leg, a part of your spine, die right and maybe you can lease-to-own a modular home.

We had a little of that kind of rural black wealth so we were often in a position to help folks less fortunate. But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college. Consequently, my grandmother and mother had a particular set of social resources that helped us navigate mostly white bureaucracies to our benefit. We could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.

I remember my mother taking a next door neighbor down to the social service agency. The elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising. The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate. I watched my mother put on her best Diana Ross “Mahogany” outfit: a camel colored cape with matching slacks and knee high boots. I was miffed, as only an only child could be, about sharing my mother’s time with the neighbor girl. I must have said something about why we had to do this. Vivian fixed me with a stare as she was slipping on her pearl earrings and told me that people who can do, must do. It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn‘t work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. It was unfair but, as Vivian also always said, “life isn’t fair little girl.”

I internalized that lesson and I think it has worked out for me, if unevenly. A woman at Belk’s once refused to show me the Dooney and Burke purse I was interested in buying. Vivian once made a salesgirl cry after she ignored us in an empty store. I have walked away from many of hotly desired purchases, like the impractical off-white winter coat I desperately wanted, after some bigot at the counter insulted me and my mother. But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. It’s a mixed bag. Of course, the trick is  you can never know the counterfactual of your life. There is no evidence of access denied. Who knows what I was not granted for not enacting the right status behaviors or symbols at the right time for an agreeable authority? Respectability rewards are a crap-shoot but we do what we can within the limits of the constraints imposed by a complex set of structural and social interactions designed to limit access to status, wealth, and power.

I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.

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.

In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment.

I have about a half dozen other stories like this. What is remarkable is not that this happened. There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men. What is remarkable is that these gatekeepers told me the story. They wanted me to know how I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor.

I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.

The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates. If I need a job that will save my lower back and move my baby from medicaid to an HMO, how much should I spend signaling to people like my former VP that I will not compromise her status by opening the door to me? That candidate maybe could not afford a proper shell. I will never know. But I do know that had she gone hungry for two days to pay for it or missed wages for a trip to the store to buy it, she may have been rewarded a job that could have lifted her above minimum wage. Shells aren’t designer handbags, perhaps. But a cosmetology school in a strip mall isn’t a job at Bank of America, either.

At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.

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78 comments on “The Logic of Stupid Poor People

  1. Shank
    April 2, 2014

    This was a great perspective. I got to it from a comment on a news story about ‘fronting’. It holds up in other cultures as well. There was a great article in the Economist’s year end issue in late 2013 about Cockney funerals. Cockneys are working class white people on the East End of London, people who lived their entire lives on the periphery of great wealth and privilege but have very little of it themselves. As the author of that piece notes, they also ‘have tastes beyond their means’, and this includes their funerals, which are lavish and can cost many thousands. People save up for their own funerals for years, so they can be carried to the cemetery in flower-dedecked cason drawn by 6 horses, even though they were, say, a construction laborer or store clerk in life. But it is important, to the very end, to show the world you were just as respectable as those who you worked for, and there’s this sense that you convey that through consumer goods. Fascinating.

  2. fleurdamour
    March 12, 2014

    When I lived in NYC, one ofthe cruellest social hierarchies on Earth, I realized could wear a plain dark suit or dress, but that I needed to invest in an ostentatious designer handbag in order to secure the barest modicum of respect. I dropped $428 + tax on a large black Coach monogram purse. Within months, it landed me a job paying $9,000 more than my last one I’d had, so I would have to say it was a good investment. People are subject to all of the instinctive status ranking behavior of animals. Wishing they would be better than that doesn’t make it so. I still have that handbag and deploy it as needed.

  3. Melissa
    January 22, 2014

    First, poor people like me can’t buy fancy things as you are saying. I’m almost 30 years old and I’m hoping to go to law school soon.. All great right? I can’t afford to take courses for my LSATs. I live alone, I work a fulltime job but I need 3 full time jobs. Ive never had nice things. Never have had anything that anyone had envied. I live paycheck to paycheck and I’d love to work for the life I’d desire. But I work and work and get no where. Granted I work at animal hospitals. I suppose I asked to be paid peanuts your right. But what can I do? It’s a mans world and all I want to do is be independent and support myself. You really don’t know the meaning of poor do you? I have card tables as my kitchen tables, a futon as my couch, my bed from when I was in high school, that’s all my furniture! My car is a death trap.. Sometimes I don’t know if I can afford food for the month but my pride refuses to allow me to go for government help. I hate to accept charity.. If I do I need to work it off. I have a bachelors degree.. But no one will hire me.. I want law school but I’m at a complete stand still. Just be nice. I understand when you see someone selling their food stamps or driving a Mercedes while on welfare.. That’s not me. I’m some one with hope.. Trying, working, dreaming and not giving up.

    • Reggie McGahee
      February 22, 2014

      Melissa, I read your post and want to help. I work in admissions at a DC law school. I cannot promise you admission, but I am willing to talk to you and formulate a plan to get you where you want to be. You can find my Facebook page with this comment. Please reach out as you can.

    • Nancy Dryden Lorieau
      March 14, 2014

      You need to get out of your own way. Is it pride that causes you to turn away from the little government help that is available, or is it right wing propaganda that has defined you as, somehow, less if you don’t suffer in silence? Do you think you’ll be better off with a belly full of false pride, or you feel better with a full belly and some physical energy. And remember that, when you tell yourself that no one will hire you, the universe will agree with you. Keep filling out those resumes; keep your spirits up, volunteer.

      I am 74, and no longer prosperous thanks for the North Country’s version of Bernie Maddoff. My husband pretty much gave up on life after that happened and has passed away. My situation is similar to yours in that I drive a 25-year-old car that runs great, hunt for clothes at Value Village and similar sources. I shop wisely, get a small government pension from my years in the work force, and get a little top up because I’m low income. The difference is, I live in Canada, and I’m grateful for the help I get from government and other sources because, over the years, I happily paid into the system on which I’m now dependent. Our current PM is trying to work quietly toward a system more like that in the US, but I don’t think he has a chance. Canadians are conservative at heart, but not to policies that would deny all Canadians a decent standard of living.

  4. Lisa M. Alter
    December 6, 2013

    The Errol Louis post at the beginning serves to illustrate a thought that seems to be held by many – that freedom of choice is only for those who can afford it. This post illuminates why those that seem like they can’t afford it may need it the most.

  5. Patrick Braun
    December 2, 2013

    I really liked this article and I want to point out that the concept of looking great is not just a “Black or Brown” issue. I am a 68 year old white male and I am in my 44th year in the financial services industry, working as the national sales manager of an insurance firm. But when my wife of 43 years and I got married, we had a combined net worth of minus $5,000 and I earned $125 per week as a premium collector. One of our first purchases was a blue sport jacket, two pairs of slacks, three white shirts and two “rep” ties. We both knew that I had to look as good as possible. We took a $5 bill to Chapin’s grocery each week to buy our food for the week. We dressed up for the trip! Hard work for 4 years took me into entry-level management. Eight more years took me to middle management and a few more to senior management. I read a lot of “success” books including the classic “Dress For Success”, a must read for anyone who wants to advance. I always bought the clothes which I saw people wear at the next level! We never could afford those clothes. The same went for cars. I always bought a late model American car because I was selling to Americans! Later, when I gave training seminars to new agents, I would bring in a clothing store manager along to show these new agents how to buy good business ensembles as reasonably as possible. I’ll never forget how one of these men stressed the importance of shining your shoes every day. He actually gave a demonstration on how to put a good military shine on a pair of wingtips. Incidentally, I have hired minorities over the years. Although I was more empathetic than the VP in your article, I did make hiring decisions based somewhat on first impression. If the candidate showed some coachable aspects, I would overlook the inexpensive clothing if the candidate was clean. I always remembered my humble beginnings. I want to thank you for this article and hope that it is well read!

  6. Cantanker
    November 28, 2013
    • AndR
      December 2, 2013
      • Cantanker
        December 3, 2013

        No doubt KillerMartinis is from a different perspective than tressiemc. It isn’t as well written and it doesn’t have the same credibility. That said, both messages on making decisions helped me learn to not be so judgemental.

        Maybe KillerMartinis is a scam or a fraud, but both her initial and 2nd message were helpful to me in building compassion and an openness I did not have before.

        It was good to find both authors in this thanksgiving season. As our nation’s economy wanes and the federal government fails to keep us all in our benefits, I hope to see us be more fair and support each other more.

  7. Mara Cohen
    November 11, 2013

    This was a very interesting piece to read, thank you. My personal circumstances are quirky, but perhaps not so unusual in this economic climate: I’m poor right now, but college-educated and from a middle-class or upper-middle family. My husband is self-employed and I’m working a retail job for the health insurance, as we have two young children. I think that my main assets are ones that you brought up: education, and (more importantly) *sounding* well-educated: proper grammar, good manners, the ability to wade through bureaucracy. So, I am in the not-so-enviable position of knowing EXACTLY how I’d act if I were poor… sigh. Being that we’re pretty thoroughly blue-collar at the moment, we don’t spend any money on clothes or things like that. I do over-spend on the kids’ preschool, and on family vacations, good food (I can’t ever quit Whole Foods, because I’m hooked on the employee discount now…) That said, I still shake my head over some of the things that I see my coworkers buy, or covet. The status symbols that you described (nice cars, clothes, etc) are tickets to better jobs, or so-called upward mobility. But there are plenty of status symbols that do not lend themselves to a higher-class image. I know women that spend as much on their nails as I do on my children’s preschool, and it’s not for the classy French manicure that you described, but for tacky 3-inch-long talons with designs on every nail. Funny how you see those on cashiers but not on the store manager… “Bling”, gold teeth, rims (for cars), the latest phones with tricked-out cases (NOT professional-looking), hip-hop attire. These are also status symbols, and not just for Black, Hispanic, or the so-called “urban” young. It’s one thing to point out that a silk shell could equal a newer, better job, but how to explain blowing off the electricity bill to get a manicure that would actually *prevent* a young woman from getting a better job?

    Anyway, my finances are a wreck and I’m in no place to judge; it’s none of my business. Just wondering what your take is on other kinds of status-spending that can’t lead to a better position outside of certain industries?

    • Eel Lee
      November 28, 2013

      Sounds like you aren’t poor, you’re broke. Also, how can someone who considers Whole Foods a reasonable use of limited funds judge anyone for their spending choices?

      • Mara Cohen
        November 28, 2013

        Well, as I said, I don’t think that I am in a position to judge. Why would it be any of my business how anyone else chooses to spend their money? And I freely admitted that my household does overspend in several areas. Whole Foods… is kind of a mixed bag. It can be a whole lot more expensive than other places to buy food, or not, depending on what you buy. If you want (or need) to avoid certain ingredients, it’s actually cheaper and easier to shop there, especially with a 25% discount.

        Regarding poor vs. broke… I am not sure I understand the difference. How long must one be broke before one is poor? i think too many of us are desperately clinging to the label of “middle-class” because we wish it were true; because it *used* to be true. We have been “low-income” for about 3 years now, and although my husband’s business is slowly gaining traction, it will be some time before we can crawl out from under that label. It’s a nice thought that maybe we’re not actually poor, merely broke, but I do not think that it’s accurate.

        Your response does not address my question. The author makes the case that spending on luxury items is justified because it can open doors– the right suit, the right undergarments, the right car. I simply asked her opinion about over-spending on items that will not open those doors, and might even push them further closed.

        • Jennifer Stevenson
          November 28, 2013

          George Bernard Shaw wrote about “the unsuccessful middle class” and pointed the distinction between them and the working class. A working class laborer would scorn to have boots with holes in them; he’s clean, tidy, appropriately dressed, and always eats well by the lights of his class. The unsuccessful middle class fellow has holes in his boots, looks like a bum, owes money everywhere, goes hungry, and sucks at managing his money. Just paraphrasing Shaw here. But I know what he means. You don’t have to grow up without money to be bad at managing it.

    • Ann Helfrich
      December 5, 2013

      Mara, I think you missed something in your reading. The author makes a clear distinction between people who are born poor and people who are “poor for a little while.” I.e., if you are going on family vacations – much less over-spending on them – you are not actually poor. Actual poor people often don’t ever get a chance to leave to city they were born in. You are broke. I’ve been there. You’ll get out of it. Re-read that last paragraph.

      But the point is, because you were raised by people who had college educations (I presume) or at least an “upper-middle family,” and because you are white, you have more freedom in how you dress and present yourself. There is a difference in how white people (I speak for myself, I am white) and people of color are perceived in public spaces. Ask yourself, of your co-workers of color, how many of them show up with ripped jeans? How many wear worn out shoes, faded clothes, or carry old backpacks. How many show up with their hair not “done?” I would wager none. My high school friend used to iron her jeans. Can you imagine? Ironing your jeans??? That is being raised with a sense of what you need to do to be presentable, at a level that you and I never had to even think about. We can afford to not do that. We can afford to walk down the street with holes in our knees. Sometimes we might even buy jeans that way (well, not me, but some people.) The only time I ever see a person of color with ripped clothes is when they are truly homeless/shelterless and probably also have mental health issues. This is because people of color are held to a different standard. And while you can show up, with your college education and husband who owns his own business and your hetero-privilege (I’m not being mean, I’m just stating what is so), in a cotton tank top, and probably get a job at Whole Foods, a person of color has to wear clean, new, un-torn, un-faded items just to walk down the street or go shopping, and be seen as respectable. I know this seems ridiculous but it really is true. (I don’t know if this is different on the West Coast. I live on the East Coast. I could imagine it being different. But Barney’s is in NY…)

      As for the woman with the nails, we do not know if they’re status symbols or not for her. Maybe she just likes them. Either way this woman is making different choices about what is important to her than you are. She is free to do this. Maybe she has different ambitions. Maybe she doesn’t have children she needs to put through preschool. Maybe those nails make her happy and that’s what she values and chooses to spend money on. And maybe they are status symbols, but in a place/situation that you have no status in, so therefore cannot understand. This is status of a different kind than getting ahead in Corporate America, so Corporate America (read: much of white America) devalues it. But it is obviously valuable (because it costs money) and therefore has a payout. Whether people outside of the system can comprehend that payout or not, is insignificant.

      Hope this helps.

      • minmin
        December 13, 2013

        excellent reply Ann!

      • Mara Cohen
        December 13, 2013

        Ann– thanks for actually addressing my actual question! I feel that every other response I got was merely parsing my own level of poorness/ broke-ness, which is hardly the issue. After all, I could just as easily have posed my question without giving any background on myself at all. As I’ve said a few times now, I don’t care in the slightest how others spend their dough; I just wondered what the author thought of ‘status’ spending that did not equate to ‘better jobs etc’ spending.

  8. Dave Benfield (UK)
    November 7, 2013

    One reason Christians should not judge.

    C.S. Lewis ‘Mere Christianity’ page 86-87
    Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

    It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as friends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But god does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

  9. Keshia Jackson
    November 7, 2013

    My friend, thank you for sharing such wealth and knowledge. System of privilege, power, and difference. Job well DONE! Thank you again for your wisdom.

  10. CJ
    November 4, 2013

    I’ve been paying more attention to how poor people are treated since the Occupy movement began. When the Occupy persons were discussed, my opinion was that they would be treated poorly and ignored because of how they looked. I’d said that if they showed up in suits and ties, and spoke articulately and elegantly, the movement would have a stronger impact because appearance means so much. It’s frightening how much it means.

    I used to think why did poor people buy things they couldn’t really afford, but then I realized how most people want nice things and a lot of people buy things they can’t afford, even on a $100K annual salary. People want to look good and feel good, and if having a designer bag or pair of shoes helps them do that, it’s none of my business. We all have to make our own choices.

  11. Rachel
    November 2, 2013

    This is a smart and perceptive article, and I learned a lot from it. But as a child of the maligned white “hippie”-types she describes, this all sounds a little — well, a little Southern. I agree with many of the author’s points, but after giving it some thought for a few days, something still nagged at me. The “rules” she describes are true particularly in the Deep South (which seems obsessed with the trappings of “appropriate” behavior and attire), and in the corporate world, which is obsessed with competition and status symbols. But that doesn’t make them the key that all Americans (or even all white Americans) use in judging each other. It makes them the key to corporate, materialistic success. I get it that beggars can’t be choosers, and poor people have a perfect right to fight for corporate jobs — but the author seems to imply that there’s no other route to success.

    The author talks about how an aging white hippie can cut his hair and slip into a Brooks Brothers suit, and there’s truth in that. Being a hippie implies a certain amount of privilege, in that you don’t have to combat a stereotype and can “afford” to look poor. But the aging white hippie is also the person who is most likely to hire the job candidate who is wearing a “tank top” instead of a “shell,” because he would neither notice or care. He’s not just “dressing down” as an ostentatious display of status, he’s doing it because he is legitimately trying to embrace a different set of values.

    Poor people have a right to try to buy their way into status, but do you really want to take the mentality of Duke sorority girls and say that the sooner poor people learn to think like that, the better? Doesn’t that just create more “gatekeepers” instead of opening the gates?

    • humanliberty
      December 11, 2013

      Loved the article and your reply (and the many thoughtful comments in general, actually.) “I am”* a 40 yo white man. I was raised upper middle class in one of the wealthiest towns in the US (and therefore the world.) Growing up I saw tons of people obsessed with status symbols – and they could afford them. Tons of futile attempts to buy happiness. Tons of groundless entitlement attitude, materialism, elitism, etc. I’ve never fit any category like “hippie” but I always consciously rejected all that stuff and refused to play that game, but because I thought and think it’s nauseatingly shallow, and again, existentially futile. I rejected opportunities I thought were unfairly presented to me by accident of birth rather than my own effort, though not all of them – that would have been almost impossible. Now I live in another super wealthy community, making a high income, but still driving my dented 1993 honda accord among the swarming BMWs. But what I’ve been wondering lately is if that’s a noble battle, or just tilting at windmills. Viscerally I still want to rebel, but practically, I wonder if I’m cutting my nose to spite my face. This article describes a process I’ve always perceived, but attributed more to people, both rich and poor, trying to buy a sense of worth in their own eyes, more fundamentally than in those of others. I suppose both motives – the internal/psychological and external/practical, are equally prevalent. Anyway for me, this article gave food for more thought, but not decisive clarity. One point it talked about – that VP who said “we are in the image business”, made me think, maybe I get way with my status0symbol rejection socially is because I am, or people perceive me as being, in the “I’m not in the image business” image business…? Or maybe I don’t get away with it and just don’t realize that…? I’ll contemplate that on my way back to the drawing board. Or maybe to the car dealership…?
      *in quotes because these superficial demographic blurbs in no way describe what any human being actually, existentially is.

      • Karolyn Liberty (@karoliberty)
        February 14, 2014

        Wow, wow, wow. “or people perceive me as being in the “I’m not in the image business” image business…?” THIS.

  12. Chloe
    October 31, 2013

    I cannot say how much this post means to me – thank you for sharing your experiences and reflections!

    I’ve had similar experiences as I’ve grown up, although by the time I was a teenager, the household financial situation had changed. Through university (and beyond!) I’ve met a lot of people who have incorrectly assumed my family is very well off, and it’s always been hard to explain to friends from richer backgrounds why I feel I need to buy the better than I can afford.

    I also remember when I was a student, making the choice between good, healthy food and smart, well-made clothes. I never starved, but I often sacrificed so that my public appearance was more dignified. My family always considered it a good thing that I have a very subtle regional accent – to them, speaking like they do on the BBC really does represent better opportunities in life.

    Although my family have social privilege as white people, many of my (great)grandparents were/are Irish, and public appearance was/is everything to them. Of my grandparents and great-grandparents, you can pick out the 2nd generation immigrants from the way they present themselves. (I think) they really believe that your appearance is a reflection of the respect you have for not just yourself, but your family too.

    (Wow. I’m sorry for the long comment! Thanks again for writing this. Definite follow.)

  13. Kristen Duvall
    October 31, 2013

    This was amazing. I grew up very poor. I didn’t have heat in my house, we sober months without running water and there were holes in our floor big enough I could have fallen through them. I’m not educated and managed to land a great job few years ago. I wore a Calvin Klein suit, had a French manicure (my first and only one) and I landed the job. Because of how I’ve been treated prior to dressing that way, I know the name brand helped me. I’ve had bosses tell me to dress for the job I want even if I can’t afford it. So much of this is true and until someone has been there, they won’t understand how hard it is to go from rags to riches. I’ve shmoozed and ended up getting a lot things I wouldn’t have gotten if I weren’t a pretty white girl wearing a nice outfit. I can tell countless stories of this being the case. I had to pretend I wasn’t poor to get these opportunities and to do that, I had to dress the part. One manager even told me I needed to buy a new car in order to succeed within the company even though I was a poor college student working my way through college.

    Some people won’t get it. I wish they did, but acknowledging privilege isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s much easier to assume anyone below you deserves it than to admit that any one of us could be in that situation had we been born into different circumstances.

  14. outdoorafro
    October 31, 2013

    Very well done and a necessary national dialog – thank you!

  15. Logan
    October 31, 2013

    With the attainment for wealth and status, being apart of the “group”, comes many the inconvenient truth that being at the top/wealthy/upper class isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As you “move up the ladder” you are also being judged by your ideological discipline (ie. how well you can mold yourself to fulfill the ultimate interests of your corporation), and how well you force others to think likewise. If your ultimate goal in life is to amass wealth, then I suppose these are risks you are willing to take. But you also have to think about the “opportunity cost” of not worrying about it all… Some people don’t want to sell their souls for a “privileged” existence. One person’s intelligence is another’s idiocy.

  16. Jennifer Stevenson
    October 30, 2013

    There is class, and there are the trappings of class. Someone with the right trappings can “pass” even if they’re the wrong gender, color, or background. But it’s always about money and the training one receives in *how to use money.*

    I was raised by suburban whites with some college education, but they were first-generation suburban. They didn’t know how to dress or how to use money the way their new “peers” knew. Their poor roots showed. I myself have advanced degrees; I’m “through and out the other side” of the values my parents were born into. I wear what I like because I work a job where clothes don’t matter. People may assume I’m trash until I speak; then I speak with fifth-generation-high English, which throws them, and they adjust their assumptions about me: I must dress this way out of arrogance. Whatever.

    I often wonder what differences from mine exist in the education of the children of the very rich. Their “history of money” must be different from the one I learned. Their scale from “trashy merchandise” up through “merchandise worth owning” and on to “overpriced luxury merchandise” must differ from mine. How they save money differs from how I save money. Where they expect their income to grow and why.

    How were you taught to use money?

    How does that identify which class you come from?

  17. Trisha Mead
    October 30, 2013

    By the time I was 10 years old my parents were reminding me to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” They sent me to cotillion to learn manners and they enforced social courtesies stringently. This was social training that very overtly acknowledged the class mobility codes that you so eloquently articulate here. I think about that quite frequently when I am advising younger people who clearly have not received the same lessons in the home. What I had not considered, until I read this article, was that that training, while effective, might in itself be reinforcing my own class and race stereotypes. In coaching me how to be seen as a member of the tribe, I was implicitly learning how to identify those who were not members of the tribe. And that it was appropriate to judge them. Much to think about here, especially as I raise two white sons of my own. Can I teach them to navigate the existing social codes “correctly” without also inculcating classist and racist assumptions at the same time?

  18. J. Palmer
    October 30, 2013

    Your post has dramatically impacted my perspective regarding the logic of poor people, a perspective that I mistakenly (and probably arrogantly) thought was already nuanced and informed. Thank you.

  19. Da Realist 1
    October 30, 2013

    Really enjoyed your post. I appreciated your reference to the Jim Walter homes; I’ll bet a lot of people have no idea what they are.

  20. Barbara Jennings
    October 30, 2013

    An exceptional and valuable essay. Thank you.

  21. Stev Parker
    October 30, 2013

    So with your knowledge of the situation, your understanding of the position of the administrative assistant, could you not have done something to help? I understand you were not doing the hiring, but a word of understanding and explanation could go a long way. As we all come to understand the pitfalls we can hand out the map around them.

  22. Anonymous
    October 30, 2013

    Really excellent post… I’m a white woman who is pretty disgusted by some of the consumer choices my friends have made as they’ve aged and amassed some wealth. A $2,500 handbag is off-putting to me, no matter who buys it. So, I purposely stepped off that treadmill, and aggressively do not care about designer shoes/purses, big diamond engagement rings, etc. But… I have the privilege, as a well-educated white person, who speaks “the Queen’s English” to be able to do that. I can still be accepted into the “club” without those things (for the most part, anyways). I definitely enjoyed reading your perspective on this… very thought-provoking.

  23. parrotttd
    October 30, 2013

    This was a beautiful article with deep truth in it. When my wife was supporting both of us by working at a fast food place, we scrimped and saved up the money to buy a nice suit for me to wear to job interviews. After six months of searching, it was the second interview I wore the suit to where I was offered a job. The person holding the interview even commented on how nice it was to have someone ‘dress up’ for the interview. I am convinced it played a serious factor in getting the job. If that is the reality for a white male, I am grateful to never have to deal with things on a more difficult level.

  24. mick boyce
    October 30, 2013

    i totally feel you bro, and i am a white man. my family of poors acquired wealth much as yours did – tiny pensions, disability, etc. we were well read and well educated, though, no fools in the bunch. just poor.

    had a job as a legal assistant in my 30′s. i made crappy money doing this, but thanks to the largesse of a friend, i had some very fine hand-me-down suits. i looked fabulous, but my pockets were empty. i was treated very respectfully whereever i went in my Armani power suits. i lived on ramen and eggs.

    then i got in the electrician’s union. made very good $ indeed! doing construction, though, i dressed like a dusty ragged hobo – that is the way of hard work. i was even mistaken for a bum a couple of times. and not treated very well at the store or the gas station.

    white people get this kind of disrespect too, based on appearance. not to the extent that blacks do, of course, but Bro, I Feel You!

  25. Race Files
    October 30, 2013


    I so appreciate this article. I grew up poor but dressed my way to success. It wasn’t just the way I dressed, it was the luck I had and the people who helped me but all of that was magnified by my sporting the right symbols that trigger the notion that someone is one of the privileged class or at least willing to go out of their way to pay tribute to it by going into debt to dress as if they are.

    My mother did the same. She wore shoes dyed to match her dresses, sewn at home from Vogue patterns. Costume jewelry, handbags, always something truly expensive looking (she called it dressing high-low). It made life easier for me in school that my parent showed up “properly” coiffed and dressed to the nines.

    In my case, it, in combination with a Japanese last name and light skin, opened doors that would have remained closed to me because of my lack of formal education. I taught myself speak the Queen’s English and left behind the pidgin and creole of my youth. Focused on key concepts and ideas that signaled middle class.

    I’m aghast at those who will spend $50,000 on a wedding – much of it for a dress they will wear for only a day – who complain of poor people spending in fashion beyond their apparent means. How is one debt different from the other except for the fact that one is a signal of wealth, now lost, and the other is a signal of the capacity for wealth hoped for?

    While folks just don’t get this stuff because the status symbol they wear is their skin, purchased at no cost but the suffering of others.

    Again, thanks…

  26. Lynn Turner
    October 30, 2013

    I so appreciate how candidly you share your experiences. This IS a great read, as long as one’s mind does not clamp shut at the first mention of why it might be necessary to ‘look like’ one fits into a certain ‘mold’ so to speak. Changing one’s outer appearance to obtain a goal does not change the person’s personality from within. I would also agree that K mart apparel cannot make one presentable without the outfit screaming,”I got this at K mart”. There are, however consignment stores where designer items can be had at far more frugal cost. I am now 45 years old. I have spent the last five years crafting my wardrobe in this way. I own significantly fewer pieces, but they all work together. It’s too bad that, in our ‘consumer’ society, it took me 20 years of my adulthood to figure this out.

  27. Jackie
    October 30, 2013

    I teach at a prep school now but definitely did not grow up in a family that had access to this kind of education (I’m white). One day when meeting me here to go to dinner, my mother said to me, “I’ve been watching everyone come in and out of this building, and I was so happy when you came out in a cute outfit–you really looked like you belong here!”

  28. wentoutwalking
    October 30, 2013

    This is a hard one. As someone who grew up destitute in a way that most american poor haven’t (i LITERALLY starved half my teen years, as in ate rice and was both malnourished AND underweight not due to choice) I still can’t spend more than $200 on any one item. Even when I was making $160 grand a year. Even $200 seems excessive to me right now (at way less than that now that I’m divorced, and then I used to feel guilty at over $50) with the exception of an entire outfit I’m having custom tailored.. Let that sink in. I’m having a floor to neck outfit made for $200 from a local seamstress (fabric and notions add another $100). Why do we humans seem to think that a label or a name of an item infers well anything other than “i have money” Why is “I have money” anything that should show the value of a person? For me, ok, you get the item/outfit, etc to “fit in” or in a lot of cases to “feel superior.” And sometimes to open up opportunities. But maybe we should be addressing why a bag that is going to fall apart with repeated use but caries a silly name and a hefty price tag is what is giving us an opportunity. Maybe we should be breaking down the classism a bit when those of us who have the opportunities are in the place of sharing them with others instead. Maybe there is something missing in me that I feel that that is the last thing I want to prove to the people around me?

  29. my name is just a name
    October 30, 2013

    BRAVO! Thank you for writing so eloquently what is too often left unsaid.

  30. hmmybe
    October 30, 2013

    Good article. Appearances matter, no doubt, and it’s a standard rule of interviewing (and being promoted) that you must dress for the job you want, not the one you have. This is why charities like Career Gear ( exist.

    But it’s also worth noting, I think, that this is EXACTLY the same logic used when women get blamed for a rape; because whether it’s ‘fair’ or not, how you present yourself determines how people treat you… in a boardroom or a bar.

  31. chelsealevinson
    October 30, 2013

    Incredible piece. Thank you for writing it. Saving it to reference for every time someone on my newsfeed doesn’t seem to get it. Or, y’know, just generally acts like a bigot.

  32. Tasha Turner Lennhoff
    October 30, 2013

    Sent here from a link on John Scalzi’s blog. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I hadn’t thought about how big a difference there is between “presentable” and “really taken seriously”. Well written and thank you.

  33. Jendi Reiter (@JendiReiter)
    October 30, 2013

    Thank you for teaching me never to make those kinds of judgmental comments (like Eroll Louis’s) again. I had no clue. Thank you for exposing the raw stuff of your life to show me my privilege. So glad to read your work out there.

  34. miss fidget
    October 30, 2013

    Thank you for communicating this so beautifully. I was raised “po white trash” was a rebellious punk rock teen and learned early on how what I wore and how I spoke affected how people treated me. My early teen years were filled with deep painful yearnings for the items that conferred social acceptance. Some people will never understand that feeling.

    I want to share this with all people of color. I’m a white lady. I live in a city, sometimes I ride a bike, sometimes I take transit and I don’t consistently dress-for-success, instead I dress for riding my bike 4 miles comfortably. If I’m not well dressed suspicious sales clerks will follow me doggedly and give me the stink eye and bad service, too and it happens often! I got “can I help you-ed” out of the Ralph Lauren flagship store when I went in less than spiffy clothes. Often when in comfy threads I get mistaken for sales help, at the mall, grocery store, drug store. I’ve had clerks of all stripes look down their noses at me, even when I was well put together. Heck, the other day a fellow customer (an Asian lady) at the Lucky Brand store gave me ugly attitude and flat out said she didn’t “want anything to do with people like” me.

    So don’t think it is all about racism, class-ism plays a role, too. Don’t overlook the one thing that isn’t an ism, some people are just assholes and retail is full of them.

    • Angie unduplicated
      November 6, 2013

      Thank you. I could wear haute couture and still look like a hillbilly. I made the choice to take a low-expense job. My workday is spent in fifty-cent garage sale Ts and dollar pants. I have to choke down giggles when sales help or others discover that I do speak standard American accented English with decent grammar and have an IQ above 50. For POC, though, it’s an ongoing nightmare with no morning in sight.

  35. nhb
    October 30, 2013

    Just beautiful…

  36. (Please pardon the ridiculous Twitter name. It’s a silly video game joke for Halloween…)

    This is absolutely brilliant and rings so true. I’ve gone kind of the opposite way — I’m a white girl from the deep South, was raised pretty comfortably middle class. The bottom fell out of the economy right after I graduated college (thankfully without loans or I’d be even worse off) and five years later I still haven’t gotten a career started, or even had a job more than about nine months. I’m living off savings that are gonna run out in a few months and I might have to move back in with my parents, several states away, who aren’t doing that well either and really can’t afford to be supporting me at almost-thirty. I’m having trouble learning to pare down expenses — what I can treat myself to, what I can’t, what I should. I can’t make myself buy nice name-brand clothes or get a haircut and color, but I’ll drop 20 or 30 bucks on wings and beer without thinking about it.

    I’m applying your explained not-poor logic to my now-decidedly-poor self. But, again, as an educated young white woman in the South, I don’t HAVE to invest so much to present that image. I’m in a hole for sure, and it’s a bit deeper hole than it’d be if I was a man, but it’s also not nearly the hole a non-white person (with my exact same background, even) would be in. Privilege is a complex thing.

  37. Tom
    October 30, 2013

    Most poor in America are poor because of they lack the discipline of hard work not because they lack the opportunity to move up in society. LoL, silly American.

  38. martin
    October 30, 2013

    When did it become, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their swag.”?

  39. BJD
    October 30, 2013

    I highly appreciated your message (and your writing)!

    Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” laid the ground work for this topical area – albeit in a different time and context. But this article ( is an interesting when read in juxtaposition with your article. I recommend it!


  40. Alice Mac
    October 30, 2013

    Thank You Very Much! I truly appreciate this piece.
    Your lucidity and storytelling are both inspiring.

  41. A commentor
    October 30, 2013

    Your well written article fails because it uses the typical cop out of “if you aren’t a member of XYZ group you cannot know or be correct.”

  42. Michael Bradford Forbes
    October 30, 2013

    I think this article is well thought out. However I think in its momentum focusing on dressing for “Gatekeepers” it misses a very important point and the apparent core of E. Louis’ comment. The majority of the superfluous spending of impoverished people is not a matter of “getting in the door for a better job”, or anything long term like that, that would actually help end their poverty. These “status symbols” are symbols used to evoke in themselves and others the sense that they are in fact “above” those who truly couldn’t (or wouldn’t) come to own these accoutrements under ANY circumstances. It is bravado, not for the sake of perception that would lead to doors being opened, but for the sake of stroking one’s ego and gaining status in a very specific culture that IS NOT the domain of the particular gatekeepers described in this article. My point is exemplified in one major area: simply the clothes. Yes, the clothes that are marketed to and consumed by the “poor” (and i’m really talking about non-white cultures here) are priced with the intent of making their purchase a symbol of wealth. However they ARE NOT designed that the “white privileged” would recognize their wearers as ones for whom to “open the gate”. Very different garb.

    My point is that we should be cautious walking away from this article saying that the Gucci, Nike, Timberland, $70 fitteds and $150 throwbacks are “necessary to help open the otherwise locked gates of privileged society”. They are clearly not even supposed to be and I argue that these consumers are not in the least concerned (truly) with gaining access to that realm. This spending is to a similar, even parallell end of “status”. But ultimately they’re playing a whole ‘nother ball game.

  43. Elizabeth Burton
    October 30, 2013

    And had the cosmetology school applicant purchased that silk shell, everyone who saw her do it would have been thinking there went another welfare cheat wasting honest taxpayers’ money.

    The fact is simply that if you’re poor you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, because the not-poor are so terrified because there but for the grace of whatever they hold responsible for their exalted status go they.

  44. Kat
    October 30, 2013

    This is brilliant and thoughtful and timely. You made me think and feel. I am white and prosperous, but there is a parallel situation that helps me feel this much larger injustice, which is that I have been at various times significantly overweight. This makes me an undesirable non-customer in certain clothing boutiques. The prejudice the sales people have against larger bodies is apparently a bigger force than any ambition for commissions on sales. Last year after I had lost 75 pounds, I went into the store where I had promised myself a great new outfit when I had reached a certain weight. I stood around, looked at things on the rack that I knew I could wear at long last, stood around — and in a nearly empty, small shop, was ignored for some 20 minutes. Of course I could have demanded attention, of course I could have requested information, a dressing room, all that. But the way this felt — it was humiliating. Shaming. I left in tears, money in my wallet.

  45. veraewatson15
    October 30, 2013

    I so much enjoyed reading this essay written so beautifully in lucid English prose. Speaking the ‘Queen’s English’ is one particular skill but writing it with such elegance is another skill altogether. I am from a poor white English family and I have indeed found myself saying similar things about the extravagance of other poor whites. Your essay gave me a different perspective on why people do the things they do. I was brought up to be respectable and talk in the appropriate manner. The Welfare State was established when I was ten years old and I was able to benefit from it. There is now a retreat from universal provision of free education which makes me very angry. I will take your advice and keep on keepin’ on.

  46. agtebo
    October 30, 2013

    Sweet baby deity, preach, you fantastic being! I loved every second of this. In just a few paragraphs you really broke it down. Anybody who’s outside of the accepted class has to make strategic decisions about how they present every day, but you elegantly laid out how much more that is the case the more you are outside of that idea. The feeling of barely getting away with your presentation by the skin of your teeth is something that many people don’t understand.

  47. Skegeeace
    October 30, 2013

    Um, YES! This, this, this! I thank God for people who can articulate these things with alacrity what would take me books and years to put into words.

  48. Jonathan
    October 30, 2013

    Incredible article.

  49. greenspirituality
    October 30, 2013

    To be fair to E. Louis, I SMH at ANYONE who spends $2500 on a purse. If rich people didn’t feel the need to show their wealth, then the rest of us could relax! But THAT day is never coming!!

    • OutPastPluto
      October 30, 2013

      The problem with the $2500 purse is that it is excessive even in terms of middle class posturing. You can spend a lot less and generate the same “desired” effect. Past a certain point, posing stops looking respectable and just looks ridiculous. That may become it’s own problem.

      • Becca Mills
        November 11, 2013

        I was thinking this, too, but then it occurred to me that being able to determine exactly where that line is (the line between looking comfortably professional and looking like a poor person trying to fake their status by flaunting an exorbitantly expensive bauble) is itself a matter of privilege. You might have to be “in the club” to be able to perceive the subtle messages various clothing/accessory choices, combined with the rest of your presentation, can send. Or at least you’d have to have studied “the club” from the outside with an unusually perceptive eye.

        • tressiemc22
          November 13, 2013

          Yes, Becca. If everyone knows where the line is the status symbol loses most of its utility.

          • Sidney
            March 23, 2014

            Tressie, this is a beautiful article…thank you for its insights and power….

  50. Deb
    October 30, 2013

    Well written and insightful. Thank you.

  51. Ryan Smith
    October 30, 2013

    As a young, poor white man, I’ve known there was something behind the concept of ‘white privilege’ for a while now. Someone once explained it as the settings of a videogame, and what sex and what race you are born at directly affect the difficulty setting. That convinced me that it exists and in general how it works.

    You, though. . . you provide accurate explanations for the societal mechanisms that make up that concept. You pierce through the simplicity of that metaphor and instead show the real-life situations, not analogies. Very helpful, and eye-opening. Thank you for sharing such an intimate picture of what the world looks like from your point of view. The honesty is what makes it ring true. I only hope more people are willing to look at the world through this lens you have shared.

    • Barbara Jennings
      October 30, 2013

      Hi Ryan
      The “someone” you refer to is John Scalzi, and his (also excellent) blog is called Whatever.

  52. Carolyn
    October 30, 2013

    That was eyeopening. Thanks for sharing.

  53. texasmel
    October 30, 2013

    I struggle constantly trying to explain White Privilege to my family. This will help. I thank you for writing.

  54. FemOutLoud
    October 30, 2013

    You wow me with almost every post, Tressie–thank you so much for sharing your voice! I honestly did just print five copies of this, pasted, reformatted to fit on little folding sheets, and very clearly cited as yours.

    The next five mouthy bigots in checkout lines near me (or any similar venues) will get their own personal copies, given out for free by this very appreciative white lady. If even one stops to think for ten seconds, it’ll be well worth the ink.


  55. Courtney Herring
    October 29, 2013


    I want to lift every word and quote it on my Facebook page with a link to this piece. Every. single. word is the complete, unadulterated truth. Your words hearken me back to a couple of classes I took while in grad school on race and poverty…especially rural poverty. One of the readings we had to do discussed how we think the poor are underserving and are the underclass. We think the poor are undeserving of the same “luxuries” and other items for survival – yet, we (especially those who are just one leg up from being “poor”) believe *we* are deserving of those things. You’re right about the fact that all of these things boil down to exclusivity and belonging and I really wish that those same people you mentioned who are either wealthy, barely middle class, and newly not-poor could remember or be mindful of just how expensive it is to live in poverty…on all fronts: both socially and financially. Thank for this. Your words are EVERYTHING.

  56. hello
    October 29, 2013

    Amazing, thank you for sharing!

  57. DOA
    October 29, 2013

    In a word… Brilliant.

  58. Me
    October 29, 2013

    Wow. I wish I had your mind. Really fascinating, thought-provoking piece. Frightening actually. But thank you for sharing. x

  59. Andrew J Brown, Jr (@ajqiz)
    October 29, 2013

    My JESUS!! tressiemc this is so on point, so insightful, so personal and poignant that I am moved. I have just related to a very good acquaintance that when I show up on a sales call, I know that 99.9999% of the execs, their admins, their gatekeepers will be white and there is a shift, a dance in which I am adept: 6’2″, Black, 198 lbs I see the relaxation when I speak as well as I do and smile as brightly as I do. That 1st boundary had been surmounted, “He’s not the Negro I saw on Fox News last night” When other challenges come I’ve let go of wondering how much of it it based on my ethnicity and how much on a general scepticism towards the sales profession. I say I am creating a space in which you can solve your problems, meet your challenges, hit your targets with what I bring. Some step into that space others will not.

    That 1st boundary is sometimes manifested by a stone face, a surprise-born-of-fear face, or by clearly stated hostility which, to me, underscores, “We didn’t expect (somebody like) YOU to show up.

    Buying a crazy expensive belt or jacket, or suit, or pair of shoes while being poor, economically out of it – I’ve done it. it was a calculated gamble. I am not blind. I knew that If I had enough components of “the uniform” of the industry into which I sought entree, then my chances were better if only on the margin.

    Yes, my book is OFTEN judged by the cover so it makes sense to polish up the cover, no? Don;t ridicule me/poor Black folks for risking to invest-qua-invest in the polish and polishing rag to do so.

    Keep on keepin’ on tressiemc

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