This came in my Medium.com digest email subscription the other day… An article on entitled:

Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat

With the following tagline:

“Folks of privilege don’t understand how $17 can ruin you.”

So I clicked on it, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately how certain lifestyles (specifically ones that involve omission of certain food groups and the alternative food products that come with it are really like status symbols that demonise the poor).

Western-style veganism, as one example, is not like Indian Hindu vegetarianism or halal food or kosher food (in Jakarta, where there is a huge Muslim population, people just simply don’t eat pork, but nobody’s marketing overpriced pork alternatives/faux pork). It’s never like vegetarian Hindus who don’t eat beef, it’s an industry that sells you alternatives to substitute the food groups you omit from your diet… At a price. Marketed to you as a lifestyle. It’s even more consumerism masked omission and “ethics”.

I post vegan food on my Instagram every once in a while (let’s say I had pecel with tempeh, and the street vendor made it inhumanely spicy) but I never make a fuss (HASHTAG: #VEGAAAAAAAAAAANNNNN) because it’s just normal everyday food. And even with halal culture, when women wear “halal nail polish”, I feel like they spend a lot of energy being defensive and explaining to their Muslim family members how their nail polish is halal in the first place and that it’s okay to wear (and I feel for them because I do love my nail polish and I don’t want others to miss out on the fun).

It’s less about an individual’s vertical spiritual relationship with God/Allah/the Gusti/the Universe/whatever your beliefs, and more about a horizontal interaction between one human telling another human that they’re morally superior or “woke” or can afford a 5 gram bag of chia seeds that cost £7 (or, true story, this annoying Londoner at the ashram I stayed at in Bali spoke of an “ethical shampoo” that costs around 17 or 18 quid a bottle). Which inspired me to write this:

🥥 Because Scorpios and posh people are The Devil and I probably shouldn’t even be writing this blog post because the Eclipse Full Moon is coming and something bad might happen to me as a result and even coconut oil won’t be able to save me this time~ 🥭

Don’t get me wrong: I like doing good things that make me feel good and making conscious buying decisions too. But if I’m going to promote/recommend something like an environmentally-friendly product, I usually take care to promote something affordable and reasonable or might save you money in the long-run, like refillable pens or reusable bamboo/metal straws.

I do post and own a couple products that I am aware may be unafforable to the many Indonesians (such as my Moleskines) but I don’t go around finger-wagging and telling people that they’re “unethical” or how “unwoke” they are or that they’re terrible, immoral people for not being able to own them. FFS.

Now, I clicked this link in my email so fast because I thought this was about food politics and world hunger and stuff like how overpriced “healthy” food is an injustice…

(FTR, I don’t even remember how I have a Medium subscription. All I remember was the last Medium article I read on purpose was one written by another Twitter user who was, like me, wrongfully suspended for “automated behaviour” because Twitter apparently thinks I’m a robot. I found that article helpful and informative.)

At first this article was informative (I did not know how food stamps work in America) and it was easy to to sympathise with the articles “protagonists”, if you will, even if her camaraderie with Mae did come off like an “us against them” statement (the “them” being the villain of this story: Teh Evil Rich People). Like the American answer to a phenomenon the English like to call “posh-bashing” (because good God, Posh Spice is freaking evil).

Occasionally it sounded like the author was romanticising poverty, which I usually find gross but I tolerated it (because I did not grow up in poverty and she did, so maybe I have no right to accuse her of such thing and she has a free pass to do so—just like I have a free pass to crack inappropriate jokes about my chronic illness and my mental disorders).

By the end of the article, I hated it so much, I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a “social justice” statement in my life (this is even worse than that time a bunch of Australian women “joked” about harpooning the Japanese like whales).

The article has been bothering me for the last 24 hours (and not for the reason you think) so I had to get this off my chest…

Unpopular opinion, but I think this article’s tagline should have been:

“16-year-olds don’t understand how US$17 can ruin you.”

Because it sounded to me like the author’s teenaged self also didn’t understand how much this would have devastated her mother, either.

By the end of the article, the author’s mother is the only person I sympathised with in this story (I’m not even sure I like Mae at this point, but maybe it was just the article’s divisive tone that I didn’t appreciate). The image of this mother just breaking down into tears is heart-wrenching to me and I hope she’s living a more decent life now.

And where are the parents in all this? I wish her mother would have called Marla’s mother and told her their situation and perhaps Marla’s mother would have let them not pay the US$17 (which even in 2019 is not a small amount of cash in Indonesian Rupiah). I’m sure the adults would understand.

Alternative Headline: “16-year-old does stupid thing that makes mother cry, 30–40 years later pins the blame on her 16-year-old friend for it… Because the friend is rich.”

I’m stunned that the author (even now as an adult) seems think that she can just borrow people’s things, break them, and she’s entitled to never pay for them because her parents are poor?

Her mother should have made her get a job (like many American teenagers do) to pay for it with her own sweat.

It was a party outfit. Not a school uniform, not a school textbook, not a sandwich.

She didn’t really need it.

Just like I don’t really freaking “need” any of my planner stickers.

You are entitled to aid, a decent education, and basic human rights… But you’re not entitled to be an asshole to your friend.

Marla sounds generous. When I was 16, I wouldn’t let people touch my things. Hell, I don’t even lend my clothes to people as an adult.

And am I the only person who would have been even more alarmed if Marla acted like her clothes didn’t cost money and that the US$17 value was nothing? At least Marla has a concept of the value of money? She may not understand what 17 bucks might mean to a working class family, but at least she understands her things cost something. Wouldn’t Marla have been considered even more “out-of-touch” had she acted like she didn’t think US$17 (in 1980’s money) was sort of a big deal… even to someone in her own socioeconomic bracket?

To me, the author seems more out-of-touch than Marla and she’s beating Marla up (which I hope to God that’s not her real name because the author had the decency to respect her privacy) for something she “did” as a minor.

And that’s not even the worst part…

The author goes all high and mighty about how this awful woman berated an American man for using food stamps while his cart was full of food for his child… Meanwhile, the author herself writes these awful paragraphs where she berates and shames coat-donators:

Don’t confuse aid with charity. Charity is old coats. Donating a coat doesn’t make you a good person but I bet it makes you feel like one. You didn’t even want that coat anymore, what you wanted was the closet space. Sure, you could have sold it at a garage sale and made, like, twenty bucks. It was an expensive coat, damn it. But you, with your heart of gold, gave it away. There’s a twinkle in God’s eye just for you.

What makes you a good person to others (and not just to yourself) is the same thing that makes me, or anyone who can afford the occasional $12 cocktail, a good person: Your vote. Not your coat.

Just when you thought the Mary-Sue Litmus Test was the most disempowering thing on the Interwebz

When I read that (and since I am a delicate self-centred special snowflake who takes everything personally because I’m narcissistic that way) my first reaction was to be butthurt.

The other day, just 24 hours before this angry article made its way into my inbox, I had just been browsing through looking for school supplies to buy for our house-staffs’ children. One of their children had just enrolled to vocational school and I thought I’d buy her a year’s supplies of pens and correction tape, because I thought she might be struggling just to be at that school.

(And I know this because our maid asked us a favour to pay next month’s salary in advance so she could buy a scooter for the daughter to go to school. Because while the vocational school itself is tuition-free, it’s pretty far from the village she lives in. There is no public transport and the friend who had been giving her a lift just broke her motorbike, so since that one broke down, now she needs her own. My head spins thinking about all the money she’ll have to spend on petrol just to get to class.)

Granted I’m a little broke myself and I have about the equivalent of about US$5.00 in liquid funds right now, but I thought once my investment (TD) matures, I promised myself I’d go ahead and buy some school supplies for her…

(Because OMG apparently “giving” doesn’t always make one feeeelllsss good, doing the right thing can be a pain in the ass. Who knew?)

I spend money on stupid shit but at least I own my own stupidity and I don't blame others for making me pay for the stupid shit I end up paying for
I spend money on stupid shit but at least I own my own stupidity and I don’t blame others for making me pay for the stupid shit I end up paying for

Then I read the bit about the coat and I almost decided, “fuck it, and fuck this shit.” Because I felt shamed into wanting to donate something for someone genuinely in need (for school supplies, not for some brat who wanted to attend a fancy-pants party in literal fancy trousers in another [upscale?] neighbourhood).

It ruined my good-vibes Saturday morning. I really should stop reading articles about First World Problems, seeing that I live in Indonesia. They make me want to punch a hole in the wall.

First World SJW are so out-of-touch and annoying.

I understand the context of this article, that this article was written in the Autumn of 2016 and that out-of-touch pussy-grabbing permanent A-list male presidential candidate who lived in a golden penthouse before he moved into the White House was even more unlikable than the hawkish female candidate was running for office (hence the references to voting).

But disliking a bad politician doesn’t make you a good person. One can hate a bad person, but it won’t change the fact that one is an a-hole themself. (And should I remind Americans that their expats down here in Indonesia, including the ones who identify as “liberals/progressive” snear and look down on our governments when they come to our country? Just really ugly behaviour and a superiority-complex that you can almost expect from Americans… Now they’re getting their own taste of a “Third World President” like some weirdass karma and all of the sudden everyone’s losing their minds! I mean, really, a little self-reflection wouldn’t hurt, America…)

I hope she doesn’t think she’s some kind of “hero” for saying that (although the 3.7K people who gave her article a thumbs-up apparently do). And I didn’t have time to read all 300+ comments (mostly praising her) but I wondered if anyone left a passive-aggresive comment like:

“Oh, I’m sorry I can’t afford to donate a brand new coat.”

Now make no mistake. I am one of the most cynical of cynics when it comes to “charity”, and I have seen the worst of the worse. I have worked at human rights groups, the UN, and international aid organisations (and I know not every employee there is a good person or genuinely care about the people they’re supposed to help—it’s cutthroat, the office politics is insane, and it can be a hostile work environment). On the side, I also attempted acting and I know that many actresses more famous than me (I’m Z-list in Indonesia) while claiming they’re “using their profile to raise awareness” of a cause are really just riding on the “charity work” to raise their own profiles. They do it for PR. And I have been office-bullied at an aid project (I only lasted a few months after getting promoted to Lead Editor in my 4th month) by expats who just wanted to be there for the salary and the laid-back work. I’m the most skeptical person you will ever meet when it comes to “charity” work.

I am usually the first person to doubt or question a person’s motivation for being “charitable” (just ask my friends). I side-eye celebrities who do “charity” so hard, my eyeballs do a 360.

So serious, much career~
So serious, much career~

But the coats paragraphs went too far… Even for jaded old me.

Making yourself “feel good about yourself” is pretty benign for a selfish reason. Especially compared to the things I’ve seen (and it’s not just celebrities, I literally have civilian friends who will “give” to orphanages on their birthday and have photos taken of the event politician-during-campaign-season style to post on soshul meedja; don’t even get me started on what I’ve seen from work experience in the aid/charity sector—I feel like wearing one of those button pins that sez “ask me about _____!” LOL).

Because, at a practical level, I have to wonder how many “lost-cause poor” (her words for describing the homeless as opposed to the “working poor”, not mine) missed out on a good warm coat that winter because somebody who wanted to give away an old coat was too ashamed to do so after reading her article.

Then what, you’re going to vilify me for not donating my coat?

And before anyone even has a chance to leave a comment and taunt me “oooooh the article hit a neeeeerve”, I’m going to say it first:

HELL YEAH IT STRUCK A NERVE!

Yes, I realise that it was not an article that was supposed to make your insides feel warm and fuzzy, but it was outright disempowering (seriously, fuck you).

Me, if I don’t get over myself, some Indonesian student out there might not get the pens she could’ve received from me. Because some angry American woman hurt my delicate feewings.

Why am I even letting an article that contradicts itself get to me and affect me in any way, I do not know… (And I’m not even talking about someone being vulnerable by blogging conflicting ideas that they internally struggle with, this article downright contradicts itself.)

So here I am writing a blog post for myself to “deshame” myself so some Indonesian vocational school student can have some Goddamned pens.

Really, this grown woman is still angry at her minor friend for essentially not letting her get away with ruining a non-essential item that she ruined…

I just wasn’t raised that way? I remember when I was growing up, the “It Toy” was the Casio Baby-G watches. They were these candy-like translucent plastic watches that in hindsight would’ve looked ridiculous on my small wrists, but okay, I was kind of clueless back then… I wanted a pink one and would stare at them in magazines (I wanted the one with the Hibiscus patterns on the canvas strap/band). Which my parents thought were inappropriately-priced for a 14-year-old. They said if I wanted one, that I could buy one with my own hard-earned money. While at the same time, they warned me to not buy a knock-off; either buy the real deal with my own hard-earned money, or don’t own one at all.

My parents used to buy me watches... Until they didn't. (Wheeeee~)
My parents used to buy me watches… Until they didn’t. (Wheeeee~)

Then when I was about 15, I got my first paycheck (for writing an article in the youth column of a national paper in Indonesia, Kompas). Now I had the money to buy a candy-coloured Baby-G but now I didn’t want to blow all that money I had earned (it was a lump sum payment) on one purchase. Now I got it.

Again, I didn’t grow up poor. But I went to school with children of the poor. I attended a public (government-subsidised) middle school, because that’s what’s considered prestigious in Indonesia since it’s competitive and only students with good grades gain entrance (and, yes, my parents and I are aware that this is an utterly fucked up education system because students from lower-class backgrounds will tend to get lower grades due to various factors such as malnutrition and lack of resources, so in the end they end up paying more for education).

This meant that many of my classmates were underprivileged (many of whom wore knock-off Baby-G watches, but I don’t remember anyone being mean about it). One year, my parents threw me a G-rated New Year’s Eve party and we ordered a bunch of donuts… We were out if donuts within the first hour. That’s when I realised some of my classmates were so poor they probably came to my party hungry. Now I’m convinced my parents threw that party to teach me a lesson (it was out-of-character of them to throw me a party like that).

I guess it’s a cultural thing? I know Americans are more comfortable with debt for nonessentials than we are (every time I watch a YouTube haul video, I have to remind myself that the American in the video is very likely to be in debt so as to prevent my brain for normalising their consumptive behaviour—because God knows I’ve made some stupid financial decisions in my life, mostly due to mental health issues like that time I spent all my life savings because I thought I wasn’t going to be alive the following year, but I’m not about to get into debt as a grownass adult for planner supplies and beauty products).

And just to one-up the author in the Teenage Misery Department. (Oh teh dramaz!) Her party was a one-night affair whereas if you don’t have an “It” watch/backpack, you have to go day-in/day-out to school watching other students own the latest It-Toy, and you don’t… But some of us just suck it up and deal with it.

I just wasn’t raised that way (and I’m not trying to blame the author’s mother at all, she probably had no idea her daughter insisted on attending parties in neighbourhood they don’t live in because she was working long hours at two jobs).

But, I simply don’t go to places where I don’t belong? I just don’t get it, as I don’t get parents who strain to get their minor children to attend schools where their children might socialise with the children of the wealthy/influential? (Such as those English people who put their children in boarding school, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about.) If you had to struggle to pay for your child’s tuition to even be there, imagine the struggle your child will have to go through socialising with children who have way more than them and spending their formative years around other children who have things and status that they don’t (it messes-up their psyches and then they grow-up into these ultra thirsty adults who will never feel quite accepted/adequate). I believe every child deserves a quality education but some parents just enroll their children into damaging, traumatising awkward socioeconomic situations because the parents want to social-climb (and “social mobility” which is a basic human right, is a completely different thing from “social climbing” just to be clear). How can you expect a child to navigate that on your behalf? What child should be at school “networking“?! It’s almost like a form of psychological child abuse.

As far as I can tell from the article, the author’s mother did not push or force her daughter to attend that party. The author’s 16-year-old self wanted to go, and the mother simply didn’t deserve this.

And nobody deserves to miss out on a good winter coat because the person who would’ve donated it was shamed into not donating.

Go donate that coat.

And the pens.

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