The Republican Party has a long history of denouncing America’s poor as freeloading parasites, living off the hard work and innovation of the rich while contributing nothing to society. The left, meanwhile, offers a more inclusive and egalitarian perspective, arguing that more poor Americans could join the middle class with the right education, training and opportunities. Too often, however, liberals and progressives end up shaming those they intend to help, criticizing lower-income earners for everything from their dietary choices to their inability to make charitable donations. And in so doing, they’re only adding to the misery of one of the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Below are five ways in which liberals and progressives shame the poor without even realizing it.
1. Diet-shaming from organic food proponents.
Leftists are often vocal proponents of healthy eating, and understandably so. But nutritious foods can be expensive, which is one reason America’s poor are more likely to make unhealthy eating choices. RedAndHoney.com blogger Beth Ricci has written at length about the challenges of trying to feed her kids on a tight budget, and how “condescending, sanctimonious, ignorant and presumptuous” proponents of overpriced organic food can be. When informed these foods can cost a small fortune, she writes, they often resort to the snide talking point that “cancer costs more.” Ricci reminds her readers that, “some people literally don’t have the luxury of choosing to pay more now in order to potentially save significantly in the far-off future.”
2. Diet-shaming from vegans.
In a recent article for the Daily Collegian, writer Sophia Corsetti criticized the vegan movement for its assumption that “everyone has the privilege of choice.” Corsetti is not against veganism; in fact, she’s a proponent of the diet. But too many vegans fail to understand that the poor often live in food deserts. Rather than badmouth their diets, Corsetti urges vegans to be “more concerned with ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable, affordable food in the future.... In order to be taken seriously, the vegan movement needs to remove the guilt tripping and shaming that so often accompanies their rhetoric.” Corsetti cites Grow Food Northampton in Massachusetts as a commendable nonprofit that is helping the poor embrace veganism; its Red Bag program supplies local food-stamp recipients with bags of vegetables for 10 weeks at $2 per bag.
When the left isn’t chastising the poor for their diets, it’s often bullying them for their failure to contribute to progressive causes. This often takes the form of checkout shaming, in which consumers are asked to contribute a dollar to charity they might not be able to afford. This is not only common practice at pricey chains like Whole Foods, but also big-box retailers like Kmart, where poorer people are more likely to shop.
4. Aggressive street canvassing.
Aggressive street canvassers are a fixture in progressive cities, and the ones doing the canvassing aren’t always sensitive to the fact that the pedestrians they’re soliciting might be struggling financially. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace all do excellent work well worth supporting, but when someone earning $9 an hour can’t afford to make a donation, their representatives must be able to take no for an answer.
Encouraging Americans to visit foreign countries is unequivocally a good thing; humiliating them if they can’t is ignorant and insensitive. There’s a world of difference between not having the money to purchase a plane ticket and refusing to do so out of political or moral conviction, as some conservatives do. Trends analyst Richard Florida reported in 2011 that residents of blue states were more likely to own passports than residents of red states. (Those who lean liberal are also more likely to speak a second or third language and possess a greater knowledge about the rest of the world.) As Florida points out, 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin never owned a passport before 2006, and George W. Bush had “hardly been overseas before he became president.” Both obviously had the means to travel abroad; perhaps they simply lacked the intellectual curiosity. But one shouldn’t assume that those who haven’t traveled wouldn’t like to, and Americans living paycheck to paycheck shouldn't be "travel-shamed" because they can’t afford a trip to South America or Europe.
Progressives and liberals who are quick to urge conservatives to check their privilege would be wise to follow their own advice. Today, America’s poor are under siege by a Trump administration whose budget proposals include draconian cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, heating assistance and other social programs. The last thing they need is to be demeaned by their purported allies.