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Privilege and guilt and shame

bonk!
So we are moving into a part of Chicago that has been notoriously low-income, crime-ridden, left to fester for years. About ten or so years ago, a few folks decided to change that, and with a LOT of work, they engineered a pretty fabulous change. Now businesses are thriving, the community center offers all sorts of services and socialization opportunities, there are foot patrol cops all over the place, the city's newest park field house was built here, and it's clean and beautiful.

There are lots of reasons we are moving here, but one of the main ones is that we could afford it. I'm bringing in a tiny bit with my writing, but we are mostly living off of Bill's income, which is well below the national average (it will get a little better with tenure a year from now, but it will still be nothing close to that), and puts us a bit above the median income for the entire Chicago area. There is no way we could afford anything this size (1250 sf) any closer to Bill's lab, and the history of this little corner of Rogers Park (called NoHo, for North of Howard) keeps this little island of Chicago within reach.

So far, we've managed to do OK. We eat well, we can afford Linc's archery, we can keep the car paid for and maintained, and we're able to (slooowly) pull ourselves out of the debt we fell into after the foreclosure (seven years ago next August). But it's been hard sometimes... we have to not do trips or conferences we'd like to go to, we don't see our far-off friends or family nearly as often as we'd like, and we have to say no to opportunities because of our cash flow. We wear clothes until they are shredded, and we get a lot of them from the thrift store. We very, very rarely eat out, and going to movies is a once- or twice-a-year event. I'm mostly OK with it... I think the benefits of homeschooling have proven themselves beautifully and we're committed to continuing it with Linc.

We just signed up Linc for a couple of parks programs that we NEVER could have afforded anywhere else on the Northside. I've got a garden in a space that was created for people who didn't have any other way to get their fresh produce. And I'm considering joining another food program for low-income folks, Top Box. And I'm feeling kind of funny about all of it...

Part of my problem is that I don't want to think of myself as disadvantaged. We're really not... I'm pretty sure we're doing better financially than most of our neighbors. We are struggling, sometimes, but when we worry about money, it's more about finishing off my budgeted amount for groceries too early, not something like missing the rent payment. I just toasted pine nuts to go on our organic kale salad, which will join organic quinoa cooked in homemade chicken stock and oven-roasted chicken thighs and Costco wine for our dinner... we eat really well and I'm grateful for it. But we sure as hell couldn't even think about becoming homeowners again, and probably won't be able to for another eight or ten years if we are lucky. If the car really craps out, we'd be up a creek.

So my kid can benefit from a city-subsidized parks program, I can grow more of our food, and we have access to another source of food, all aimed at families who are worse off than we are... are we poor enough for it to be ethical for us to do these things? (By the way, I am entirely certain that our participation in these things do NOT prevent someone else from having access to them... in that case, it would be very clear to me that it would NOT be OK for us to do them.) In the case of the parks program, it will be a great way for Linc to meet the local kids. The food buying program seems to be a type of cooperative purchasing deal, which I'm all for. And I was the last person on the waiting list for the garden; all the others ahead of me declined for this year, and we are planning on helping purchase new hoses and bringing equipment that the other gardeners can use, too.

Yet still... I'm uneasy. My sons just graduated from DePaul, where their tuition was a benefit of Bill's employment. I'm white and know that I can go freely into Evanston, the white-as-mayo enclave to the north (where I will be taking yoga and Nia classes with other white women). I have a car and credit cards and a pretty snazzy phone; I can use them to solve a myriad of problems. Is it right for us to take advantage of these opportunities?

Why is it so hard to think about money rationally? Argh!

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
jedusor
Jun. 7th, 2014 07:55 am (UTC)
Maybe volunteer to help out with the organizations you're taking advantage of? And/or ask the folks in charge of these programs for a frank opinion? If the area is gentrifying, you're probably not the first middle-class white person stewing in guilt they've dealt with. :P
mamagotcha
Jun. 7th, 2014 11:47 am (UTC)
Heh, good point. And I signed Linc and myself up for volunteering at the community center right when we signed the lease.
rightkindofme
Jun. 7th, 2014 12:37 pm (UTC)
In my judgmental as fuck opinion, if you qualify-use the services. Everyone is doing the best they can. Some months your best could use extra help and some months you have extra help to give... So you do.

I have see nothing over the years to indicate you are a wastrel spendthrift. It's ok to get help even if you aren't in the bottom 2%.
mamagotcha
Jun. 8th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
Thanks. Judge away!
elainetyger
Jun. 7th, 2014 11:03 pm (UTC)
It took 5 years of therapy to get me to be my own defense attorney and let someone else be the prosecutor. As long as you're not lying to get into the programs, it's up to those who set the parameters to change them if they think too much gentrified riffraff is getting in.
mamagotcha
Jun. 8th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC)
I love that phrase (about someone else being the prosecutor). No lies at all, we were invited to two and welcomed into the third. And that's a good point; it's not up to me to do the screening. My part is apply and see what happens. Thanks.
metaphortunate
Jun. 9th, 2014 05:33 am (UTC)
She's totally right!

I hope you love your new neighborhood.
metaphortunate
Jun. 9th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)
Oh my god, I love that phrase.
mh75
Jun. 10th, 2014 06:42 am (UTC)
It is, perhaps, the case that people are offering you the space because they are building a community, and they want to make that community inclusive. Perhaps they see value added with your participation. I tend to agree with the folks that said that if you qualify you shouldn't feel guilty about participating.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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