Monday, 26 August 2013

Much ado about a girl called Jack.

Trigger warning for discussion of suicide and poverty.

Perhaps you've heard of a girl called Jack, a much feted face of "poverty porn", the acceptable face of "impoverished" people. What you won't have heard is how intensely problematic the tropes she plays into are.

Recently someone wrote an article on why she has a platform and is considered legitimate.

The other article talks about the politics of acceptability, but it didn't go far enough, it merely address how Jack is seen without addressing how Jack plays into it.

First off we have the title; This tactic would not work for anyone who wasn't a white, seemingly cis, able bodied, articulate, and perceived to be middle class person. You'll see from the comments that immediately many relatively privileged people clustered around her to "defend" her, because a privileged person's tears are the first thing privileged people see. It is not that I lack sympathy with that level of despair, it's that "Well I tried to kill myself" plays right into those aforementioned acceptability politics. It renders Jack "vulnerable" and rouses privileged people's instinct to defend her, she's one of theirs after all, not one of ours. Instead of sympathy, it becomes a rallying defense cry in the world of acceptability politics.

Then comes the accusation of how others think and feel about her, it is pure defensiveness. As she was to complain to me later, she's "sorry" for her privilege, this is a purely privileged move, as again it structures other people as being unreasonable and contains a plea for defense. It's also profoundly immature and defensive, I say this as someone who has pulled it in the past. Quite frankly, it's the sort of shit you say when you don't know any better and see no reason to learn better.

The next comments claim she doesn't respond to criticism, I've yet to see her let critical comments lie make of that what you will. She also completely fails to understand the other article in a blaze of immature defensiveness. Then again she works hard to be "acceptable", to stress what a good job she had, how hard she's worked to find work, and what a wonderful parent she is, and to say "I'm just like you" to middle class people, while running and hiding behind "but my life is crap" when criticised for stances or for the pandering. In short, she works at having a image of a what I call "poor but", not as being seen as poor, but being seen as:

Poor but Hardworking.
Poor but Unlucky.
Poor but Just like non-poor people.

And by default, poor but not like me or other poor people. She repeatedly emphasizes she does not belong to our group over and over. Whether or not Jack recognises this, she plays into the idea that she is an acceptable poor person, which means by default, we are not and she is not one of us. Jack plays right into the worst stereotypes about poverty without ever thinking about it, and when confronted with it? She runs and hides behind "but I'm poor, I've suffered", without it seems ever thinking that she's talking to people who are also poor and suffer.

She uses her suffering as a justification of how qualified she is to talk on poverty, but never considers the larger picture of poverty. Her future looks bright, many people who were born in poverty unlike Jack? We don't have a bright future.

The next section of it contains complaints from Jack because she apparently cannot understand that getting nasty comments is not the same as social judgement. She is indeed judged relatively lightly due to her privilege and conformity to the "good poor person" stereotypes. This is a demonstration of just how much privilege she has, that a few nasty comments loom so large in her world view that she cannot discern the difference between that and how much shit others with far less privilege get.

Then she spectacularly failed to understand food politics. Cheap is not necessarily the same as poor person's food. To prepare many of the foods Jack enjoys one requires knowledge and time, both things that poverty often renders in short supply. Not to mention being able bodied, there is a reason many poor disabled people rely on premade foods. In short, money is not the only barrier to diet. A impoverished mother working two jobs to keep her head above water probably doesn't have the time, energy or knowledge to whip up a Dhaal. Jack's food is cheap but it is does not erase those barriers, and thus it is not food every poor person can have. In short, that is why she lands up as the face of the squeezed middle not the face of ground in poverty.

Then we go onto a rant about validation. Jack has a real bee in her bonnet about validation it seems, it's why she stresses how poor she was over and over again. I suspect she's well aware that in poverty terms all she's taken is a short dip in the shallows of a lake of poverty some people have never been able to leave. She doesn't seem to get that her privilege grants her automatic validation and approval from the majority of society.

And then we go into poverty porn, another lavish description of just how hard Jack has had it. She doesn't seem to think that the people reading it might have just as bad stories to tell. The focus as always is on Jack and Jack alone. Jack's poverty is not my poverty, I realised this as I got to a description of "walking everywhere". Able bodied privilege on display, she lost me as a reader as I fondly remembered when I could walk everywhere but didn't have the energy to at 5st nothing and sank into memories of crushing from birth poverty. The pain of being hungry not for a year but for everyday of your life. Something Jack hasn't experienced and something I hope to her son doesn't experience.

Then she talks about her suicide attempt and the aftermath, and you know what I remember? I remember being in the same place and the lack of sympathy, I remember being stalked from the food bank and being berated by my landlord for wanting them to surrender the tapes to catch that guy. I remember being three days hungry and cold and still being to blame because some creepy guy tried to follow me home. I remember pulling out clumps of my hair and being unable to sleep because he was still out there. I remember the constant message of nobody cares, not sugary tea, because I am not acceptable, and never will be. I remember wanting to die when I was just a child. I remember people always being angry with my poverty and need because I am not acceptable and I remember that Jack plays into the beliefs that make it so. I remember that her body would be a tragedy, mine wouldn't even be noticed. I remember acceptability and who has it out of the two of us, and I remember that I am like the majority of poor people in this.

Jack constantly plays into "acceptability". She might not have created the idea, but she's complicit in it's perpetuation. By being the "good poor person" and "poor but", the need for the "bad poor person" is created and maintained. When Jack plays into that? She hurts people like me.

When we try to tell her she is doing so? She explodes into defensiveness and dumps her fans on our heads. This is why a girl called Jack is intensely problematic, her identity is built on a stereotype that hurts long term impoverished people, and she refuses to acknowledge that.

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