Scalzi: Class and Privilege in Modern-Day America

In his blogs entries titled “Being Poor” and “Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today”, John Scalzi explores stereotypes regarding race, privilege, sexuality, and social status. He uses simple yet effective rhetoric in order to make the point that these issues are a pervasive part of our society, and though uncomfortable, need to be confronted. However, his purpose in blogging about these issues is more than just social commentary; it is a challenge to those readers who are privileged enough to not worry about poverty or partiality in American society to face these problems. Scalzi writes this entry on the days after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. He challenges the commentators on the natural disaster who dismissed the need to help victims by justifying that those victims could have left before the hurricane hit.

But Scalzi argues that poverty and lack of resources were the reasons almost 1900 of the people affected could not leave and therefore, died. Those who luckily survived lost their property, jobs, livelihood, and in many cases, even their loved ones. Scalzi is therefore stating that if Americans were more aware of the persisting problems of poverty and privilege, such a huge loss of human life, and others like it, could have been prevented. He pleads, using a form of repetition called anaphora, that readers of all races, religions, classes, and social statuses should stop pointing fingers at each other and start empathizing and understanding the depth of the issues involved.

It is startling to realize that some commentators were obviously unaware of what it means to be poor in America. One user named Derek commented: “People who own cars, hell, people who have someone in the family who ever learned to drive, can’t be poor!” (# 31) It is misconceptions like these that cause those who are not poor and are privileged to stereotype against others less fortunate. One can have a car to drive but that does not mean that they can afford three meals a day, education, healthcare, or even a place to sleep at night. If someone is not able to afford even one or two of these essentials, they are obviously not well-off, and would be considered poor. Other commentators, however, argue that instead of competing over who wins the prize for being the least fortunate, readers should learn how much they have to be thankful for. As one user named Christopher commented:

Honestly, people, there’s always somebody worse off then you. Even if you live in a box on the street in a first-world country, there’s some guy in a third world prison being tortured who would give a whole hell of a lot to trade places with you. But does this mean that you aren’t allowed to say you’re badly off for living in a freaking box? I don’t think it does. If we use this standard, then only the worst off guy in the entire world is allowed to complain about his life. Even the guy getting tortured in prison can’t complain, because some other guy is getting tortured twice as much. (# 381)

 

Scalzi also makes the same point as Christopher, stating “Being poor is knowing you’re being judged. Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.” He uses the rhetorical technique of anaphora in order to reinforce his point that the poor are misunderstood easily. Those on the outside are quick to criticize them are whiners, milking their profits from their situation, living off of welfare and even enjoying its benefits.

However, others who have experienced and overcome poverty, or have never been unfortunate enough to have to go through it are more sympathetic: “Why is it so hard to remember poverty once you get past it, if you get past it? Why is it so hard to empathize with poverty if you have never had it? What the hell is wrong with us?” (# 26) Repetitive questions such as these help reinforce Scalzi’s statement and further argue that modern Americans have succumbed to antipathy and mistrust of any and all who claim to be poor or under-privileged. The reader first notices that the entry is not numbered or prioritized otherwise. Each sentence and situation has the same significance as the rest. So, interestingly, the very structure and format Scalzi uses for the post shows that he gives equal importance to all of the signs of poverty; there is no need to create a hierarchy, neither is it important to highlight some situations and not others. All who are poor are in need of help and deserve understanding and support. Scalzi, therefore, wants us to realize that we are quick to judge and slow to understand.

In his other blog post titled “Things I Don’t Have to Think About Today”, Scalzi specifically targets stereotypes and privilege. Scalzi specifically targets this post at those who are privileged enough not to worry about these issues and pleads that they should be thankful while arguing how ignorance causes some people to nurture gross misconceptions about others they do not know. He begins by tackling the issue of religion and hate crimes, again using the format of anaphora and repetition. Using easy to understand rhetoric, Scalzi confronts the problem of Islamophobia and those who “hear terrorist” when someone states that they are Muslim, especially after September 11th, 2001.

Scalzi does not number the sentences in this post either. Instead, he even removes the double-spacing he used in the “Being Poor” post in an effort to synthesize and bring the issues together. One can argue that Scalzi’s primary concern is that he literally wants his readers to see each issue of racism and privilege as just as important as the next. The author also confronts the stereotypes people have against those suffering from a disability or a mental illness, those who have been bullied, those who have eating disorders, and others who are undocumented. Even when he moves on to such issues as homophobia, sexism, stereotyping against people with disabilities, and outright racism, he still maintains this format in order to create a feeling of solidarity and acceptance. Scalzi wants his readers to associate each issue with the next, as connected, not separate.

Scalzi’s blog posts are a reminder to all those who do not have to deal with the issues of class, privilege, race, and social status in modern America. Scalzi’s approach is direct and concise and he uses the rhetorical strategy of repetition using anaphora in order to reiterate that some in America, who are definitely more privileged than others, take that for granted. He appeals to those of us who are not bothered with the issues that affect millions of American citizens every day, and asks us to reflect upon our shortcomings. When Scalzi ends his post with “Today I don’t have to think about all the things I don’t have to think about. But today I will,” he is accepting that he is also a part of those lucky few who are privileged enough to be relatively carefree. He is cleverly employing the last sentence as a method to circulate the argument and bring the reader back to the beginning of the post. He hopes to appeal to the consciousness of the privileged few by ending his argument thusly, urging them to also think about the issues mentioned in his post and allow understanding and acceptance to overcome bigotry and prejudice.

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