Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Poor-Shaming ... How Is That Funny?


DeEtte Peck uses her Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in Portland, OR, to purchase food. Photo by Brian Duss

There is something I’ve noticed in organizing around hunger and poverty: those who experience need don’t want to admit it.

I’ve often had people come up to me after I’ve given a talk and tell me about that time they depended on food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) to get them over a tough patch, but it’s usually in the hushed whispers of shame.

With increased poverty rates brought on by the recession, labels like the “Food Stamp President” as a derogatory appellation, and politicians publicly equating safety net benefits with feeding wild animals, it is easy to understand how poverty can feel like a dirty word.

The fact is some people work full time and don’t make enough money to feed their families. With need growing, calling the poor irresponsible builds the political will to offset funding for the military with cuts to the safety net. Turning poverty into a mark of shame in our national conversation makes it easy for us to diffuse responsibility and blame our neighbors in need instead of helping them.

With budget cuts looming and SNAP a target of many proposed cuts, now is the time to address misrepresentations. Poverty is not a sin, and using the safety net is responsible parenting when your children need to eat.

In a recent Colorlines blog post, Akiba Solomon writes about a joke she heard about Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards made at the expense of the poor. She then relates the story of a family doing all the right things and still needing food assistance.  Solomon argues that with the Farm Bill negotiations in process, now are not the time for “food stamp humor,” especially by women of color (her target audience) who disproportionately experience hunger.

Solomon writes:

“I have a wild suggestion for comedians, commenters, moralists and opinion-shapers of color, particularly women: At least until the 2012 Farm Bill passes, let’s create a moratorium on unfunny, uninformed, poor-shaming EBT talk.”

As Christians we are called to help our neighbors, not shame them.  Irresponsibility is increasing poverty and ignoring truth. So here is a Christian suggestion:  Let’s create a moratorium on unfunny, uniformed, poor-shaming EBT talk period.

+ Read more about Bread's mini campaign to extend domestic nutrition assistance.

6a00d8341d945753ef0168e847f0a0970cRobin Stephenson is Western regional organizer for Bread for the World.



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