Cory Booker & his appropriation of the poor

Nov 26, 2012 @ 1:19 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 6 Comments

America has a new Mayor. This title was once held by Rudy Guiliani, but he has been eclipsed by Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker. Booker is by far everyone’s favorite do-gooder, statesman, and superhero. He has been called Superman, and quite frankly that title isn’t the least bit hyperbolic. The man saved his neighbor from a burning building, shoveled snow for his constituents, and during the summer of 1999 went on a 10-day hunger strike to highlight the drug issues in Newark. Booker has also lived in Newark’s worst housing projects as Mayor of the city. The most impressive tidbit for me is that he does all this while managing a burgeoning Twitter account (Booker has over a million followers, and he talks to them). He is a Rhodes Scholar, holds a law degree from Yale, and played football for Stanford. This dude is legit, not to mention he has a flourishing career and is very handsome. With all those awesome accolades to his credit, when Mayor Booker stated that he was going to live on food stamps for a week it made me very uncomfortable initially, and later the more I thought about it, I was disgusted.

The number of Americans living in poverty is 46.2 million, and 21.5% of which are children. Currently, the number of people on food stamps is 46.6 million. The majority of people who are on food stamps are part of the working poor. For e.g. at everyone’s favorite modern day plantation Walmart, 80% of workers are on food stamps. A family of three that has income of less than $15,030 has just won an all expense paid trip to living below the poverty line. The usage of food stamps is about food insecurity, and food insecurity is precipitated by poverty. In order to qualify for food stamps one’s entire financials, or lack thereof, must be taken into account such as income, rent, mortgage costs, and bills.

Being poor and not being able to eat is not a joke, a fad, or a hipster costume that one can just put on and take off at whim. It’s not something you can do for a week, it is not a diet or a fast. Poverty is real. Those who suffer from poverty must also deal with the assigned societal pathology that comes along with it. There is an assumption that the poor don’t work, don’t value money, and use their food stamps to buy illicit drugs, and are blamed for whatever moral decays of society that people feel like attaching. The implication of poverty is pervasive and reaches depths that only one stricken with poverty can understand.

I understand wanting to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, but you also want to be sensitive to your neighbor’s plight and not come off as voyeuristic. This is why I am both disgusted, and shocked than an educated man like Booker couldn’t resist resorting to a poverty bet in order to prove his point that he empathizes with the poor. A week on food stamps ain’t nothing. The national average of food stamps is $21 a month which equates to $3 a day. I’d like to see Booker try living on food stamps for a month. I’d like to see Booker at the end of the month try to negotiate real life decisions that many food insecure people, who also live in food deserts, have to face making real life decisions about how they’re going to eat. Then maybe Booker’s experiment would be worth the Twitter hoopla. Try living to live on food stamps for a month when you can’t buy toiletries, cleaning products, or even a hot sandwich from the deli. Poverty chips away at your soul and makes it hard to smile genuinely. These are nuances that will be lost on Mayor Booker. In true Booker form he will be live tweeting his appropriation of the poor with his nifty hashtag #SNAPchallenge (SNAP is the official name of food stamps which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

The same way appropriating someone else’s culture, religion, or spiritual artifact isn’t okay, neither is appropriating their narrative. If you want to help the poor, Mr. Booker, do so by lobbying for them and championing their cause the same way you did when you were on Meet The Press defending Bain Capital and private equity firms. The dubious honor of the negro please award goes to Cory Booker for appropriating poverty!



Categories: Mind Over Chatter

6 Responses to “ Cory Booker & his appropriation of the poor ”

  1. I could not disagree more. How better to understand someone then to walk a mile in their shoes? Sure he could run a marathon and do a month, or six months or a year, but a mile or one week is at least a start. And I can’t think of a better way to be an advocate for the challenges that SNAP recipients receive then to actually know, first hard, what those issues are. I applaud Booker for taking on this challenge and for raising so much awareness on this issue.

  2. I’m with you on this, for so many reasons. This is essentially a stay-at-home version of “poverty tourism”, and eating for one week on $38 doesn’t begin to illustrate what people with limited means face. I’ll be generous and assume that New Jersey food prices are about twice the national average, and ignore that its scheduled between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there’s no getting around the fact that for many of us the rice and beans we had for dinner today is the same thing we had last week, and last month, and probably will be having a lot more of in the foreseeable future. As with so many other facets of life, the impact of poverty is the lack of choices.

    I spend about $15 a week on food, and another $15 or so a month on long-term staples. On good months I go out to eat once (fast food mostly) or buy a frozen pizza or ice cream. Bad months, I visit the local food bank. My only regular indulgence is coffee with flavored creamer. (Today’s the 27th, and I had to make the sensible choice between store-brand caramel mocha and a pound of cheese, and I’m just hoping the Folger’s instant holds out til Saturday.)

    One thing that makes my menus bearable is that I have a good assortment of herbs and spices. (Just counted – 14. Most were gifts or mark-downs). That’s something I’ve never seen mentioned in any discussion of food insecurity, but I’d bet part of the reason people opt for frozen entrees or McDonald’s Dollar Menu is to get something with more flavor to it than a box of macaroni and cheese.

    The real challenge is to get enough protein. I was not very tactful when a friend showed up at a church food drive proudly bearing a case of green beans. When economically stable people hear “canned goods”, they think veggies and soup. The rest of us think tuna, chili, beans, corned beef hash, evaporated milk, and even sardines. Peanut butter fits in here too. Lots of peanut butter. And, speaking of perishables, when you’re not sure if you can pay your light bill you don’t tend to stock up on frozen food no matter how much of a bargain it is.

    One last issue is the challenge of being discreetly opportunistic where food is concerned. Showing up at a potluck with a loaf of garlic bread or homemade biscuits, and going back for seconds on the brisket and baby spinach salad. If you’re having lunch out with a group, trying to steer them away from the “girlie” restaurants where half a sandwich costs $8 and toward a place where the same $8 will provide leftovers for tomorrow. Always carrying food-storage Baggies just in case you’re offered something to take home.

    That’s about it. I know Mr. Booker agreed not to use any food he already had, or anything he was given, but I’d like to see what he does if Christmas cookies start showing up around the office.

  3. One piece of information is missing from this–Mayor Booker is doing the “challenge” alongside a woman with whom he was disagreeing about the role of government in taking care of the most vulnerable. It appears he is undertaking this challenge in an effort to educate the person who did not understand the value of the SNAP program or the realities facing too many of our citizens.

  4. Couple issues:

    1) Booker is a superstar, sure. And for good reasons. But that doesn’t mean he’s a good mayor. (Although I’d probably trade my mayor, Rahm, for him):

    The whole story speaks to a quintessentially American love of amateurism and cowboy theatrics, but it also speaks to our neoliberal age: like the superhero of comic-book lore, Booker is a stand-in, a compensation in this case for a public sector that doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work—the reason we put more stock in the antics of a Batman Mayor than a well paid and well trained city employee—is that we’ve made it not work: through tax cuts, privatization, and outsourcing, policies that Booker himself often supports.

    2) Those of us who live in poverty can smile. We even do. We may worry how to make the bills stretch an inordinate amount of time. We may even resort to less-than-healthy coping mechanisms. But we’re not wretched individuals.

  5. You know, I have one serious issue with this whole food stamp challenge thing. Not one of these politicians has said they’ve had to use their own time as a form of capital. I want to see them have to get on a bus & travel to another area to get some lower price groceries. I’ve had to do that a lot as I’ve been on and off food stamps. And there’s not a lot more exhausting when it comes to grocery shopping than taking an hour on the bus both ways because you really need to save two dollars on food.

    To me, that use of physical capital is an essential part of living on food assistance.

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