As I sit in a public waiting room in a medical facility, I am bombarded by the loud television. The television is playing news media and interviewing a senator, Tammy Duckworth.
They are reporting on her service in the United States military, how she lost both her legs in a helicopter crash.
They report on her family and growing up.
It is well known that her family struggled with poverty while living in Hawaii.
Her family migrated early in U.S. history, but often the focus is on her racial categorization as Asian. Apparently this means she is a first generation American born immigrant, she must not speak English as a first language, etc. All wrong of course.
Everyday is a gift.
Tammy Duckworth wrote a book: Everyday is a Gift.
At first glance, everyday is a gift is a great idea and title. It is affirmative. It is positive. It relates the importance that each day is new with new possibilities.
Live in the moment.
Yet the title is cringeworthy. Let me explain why.
If we look a little deeper, a different story emerges. This story is the one Tammy Duckworth is almost required to tell, in order to even have a career as a politician in the United States.
It is the story of the American dream. The fairy tale that anyone can succeed in America. The fantasy that anyone can work hard and get ahead in life.
In reporting on Duckworth’s text, we are being told a story of perseverance. But we are also being told a story of tragedy and sadness. Duckworth’s past is tragic. This is incontestable.
In celebrating her perseverance, we are ignoring the conditions of her existence that so many other people live with everyday. In this manner we diminish the experiences of those who do not persevere. We diminish the reality of living in poverty. The inability to succeed in America. The isolation of immigrant communities from the rest of society. The many conditions under which people living in poverty exist.
Duckworth’s story is not a story of immigration though! As I said before, her family migrated early in American history. Hers is a story of another type of success despite adversity.
Everyday is a Struggle
For other people who live in conditions similar to those of Duckworth, everyday is not a gift. It is a series of disappointments. They live in poverty. They live high stress lives. They struggle to maintain homes and families. The do not have access to medical care. They are over supervised by state entities. Jobs are scarce, pay low wages, and insecure.
Poor people are judged by healthcare workers. They go to emergency rooms for simple health issues. Medical workers perceive this as a personal problem and ignorance. They work in a system that hides the reality of poverty from them, making empathic care difficult. For the poor a trip to a doctor or urgent care facility is out of reach. Those living in poverty in the USA do not have that luxury.
Living in poverty is a series of degradations from judgemental social service workers to a judgemental public. Privileged people think they have the answers. They make poverty sound easy to escape.
Duckworth’s book contributes to that narrative. Even if the message within the book is something else the media do not portray it that way.
It is almost a requirement for successful non-white people to parade about making claims that everything is fine and we do not need to change anything to make the poor and people of color’s lives better. Even as they use their previous social condition for political leverage and make claims about wanting to alleviate poverty.
Poverty experienced in the past is political clout today.
The underlying logic behind the title of Duckworth’s book is something like this:
If everyday is new and we live in the moment, then our past has no bearing on our present.
Except Tammy Duckworth has faced racism. She has faced poverty. The conditions of her past are not anomalous. Her rise to the top is what is anomalous.
What kind of message is it to say “nah nah nah boo boo you can’t have what I have” …if that is the interpretation we make? This is after all the narrative behind the American dream.
If the American dream is the message that anyone can achieve success, what makes it a dream? It should be the American standard in that case.
The American dream is an anomaly.
The American dream exists because it is a dream. Dreams are thoughts (ideas, experiences, acts) that occur inside the mind when we are sleeping. A dream is a deeply held, unlikely aspiration.
Too often the American dream is presented as something everyone has access to, but that is far from the truth.
Immigrants often hide their pain and degradation from families after they migrate. The social myth of the American dream is strong and permeates the whole world.
It seems sacrilege to not be able to support your family back home on work in the U.S. Some make the decision to return migrate to their homelands for self-preservation after facing the social reality of life in the U.S. with its unwelcoming culture for migrants seeking a better life.
For example in the following video from an organization called DESGUA, people discuss migration from Guatemala to the United States. Migrants working in Chicago share their experiences, lamenting the reality of life in the U.S. and calling it a nightmare.
The video is 20 minutes long. At 7 minutes 50 seconds, the video cuts from the journey of migration to the destination, Chicago. Here people discuss what life is really life for an immigrant in the United States.
Freedom from poverty is not possible under the currently existing conditions in the United States. Even GoFundMe recognizes this! 1 in 3 fundraisers are for medical expenses?! That is ridiculous.
GoFundMe is kind of silly in saying this of course. It captures America’s love/hate relationship with poverty. People love feeling good about donating to a cause, and what more feel good cause than paying for that poor baby’s chemotherapy?
The donation based system of medical provision is ironic in the U.S. because that is exactly how medical care works in the world’s poorest most underdeveloped countries.
The Celebration of Poverty
Duckworth’s media rounds for the release of her book and GoFundMe are just two versions of the same celebration of poverty. These celebrations depend on rich people getting the feels for someone poor so they redeem themselves and feel better with generous donations to the cause.
It really is a strange world we live in. Maybe we should reevaluate. Maybe it is time to rethink what it means to express care and compassion. Maybe we can create a better world by providing basic human needs like medical care to those who need it.
Those working the lowliest jobs are doing the most important work. I think we should provide them with medical care. After all, other countries do.