I just finished Maid on Netflix and thoroughly enjoyed the limited series and it reminded me of another Netflix show called Hillbilly Elegy that shows a poor, White person who eventually makes it out to become successful. Both shows were based on the real-life stories told by the authors who lived them and it made me ask “Why do people care so much about White people who get out of poverty, but not other minorities?” The answer is that there is a huge market for this poverty-core view that White people love to embrace, but they don’t actually want to see the realities of minorities who are living it. Instead, the narrative of a poor, White person who rises above their station is the quintessential story of “making it in America.” The backbone of our country thrives on this story and pushes this narrative that anyone can make it, so publishers are more eager to pick these books to be made into movies, making the author even richer. However, stories about minorities usually come with racism and they don’t go down as easy, so it’s nicer to see stories that don’t focus on race like The Glass House, another book that was made into a movie about a poor, White person livin’ the dream.
Stephanie Land, the writer of Maid, has written about how minorities experience poverty and sees beyond just her story, but most of America doesn’t. This doesn’t discount the actual lived-experiences of the authors, but asks why their stories are in the spotlight. The public wants stories that can be spoon-fed to them and makes them feel good about themselves. If that girl can make it out of the domestic violence shelter and become a successful author, anyone can do it! Right? I don’t think so. I don’t think that the books of minorities who may go through a similar history are treated the same. Way too much adversity to tackle in a two-hour movie. In America, we want to believe that anything is possible and ignore the history of our country and what those who have been relegated to the thresholds have experienced, so we tend to uphold stories like these to make ourselves feel better. And why are we obsessed with the poor, but ask why they can’t help themselves? Morgan Spurlock lived on minimum wage with his girlfriend in his documentary 30 Days and Barbara Ehrenreich did the same for her book Nickled and Dimed. We want to watch poor people as they are entertainment, but distance ourselves when they ask for help.
Once gain, all these people are White because it is easier to hear the message of the down-trodden when it comes from those who look like you. And in the end, we all know Morgan and Barbara were only cosplaying as poor people and not actually poor, so we don’t have to really feel sorry for them. This White perspective colors a lot of things that people don’t always catch right away. Movies like Sicario and Wind River show a White protagonist who must enter a world they don’t understand and try to make sense of it. Although at the surface, it may be trying to show us a world we have not seen before, it actually makes alien this world that we don’t know. It tells us time and time again that they are the outsiders and you need a translator to even begin to understand what’s happening. Even when the story opens on a White person entering a minority space, it is centered on the White person and as such, relegates the characters of that minority to the sidelines.
What does that mean? We live in a world where if you’re a minority, your story is not heard over the stories of your White counterparts and when it is, you’re not the main character. And everyone loves to see people make it out of poverty, but they also relish watching people go through poverty knowing either that they’ll make it out eventually or that they’re not actually poor. Minorities have always known that their voices were silenced and have lost out opportunities when they had the same skill sets, but it can become so glaring when we see how media views the treatment of people who are just pretending to be poor. Because when it comes down to it, we don’t want to see poor people just being poor and we certainly don’t want to see people of color being poor because there are implications as to why they are poor. And as such, we continue to try to push the narrative that anyone can make it in America if you just try hard enough and when we’re confronted with data that people can’t make it on minimum wage, we just shrug and look the other way. Oh look, a new movie is out.