The street pimp, uses his power (physical and emotional) and privilege (access to resources and information) to exploit others for self benefit. While we think of this normally in terms of sexual exploitation and control, pimping the poor and other disadvantaged individuals and classes has been with us for centuries.
Poverty Pimps, come in the form of organizations, whose very existence depends on the continued struggles and stories of the poor. There are also Individuals who use relationships with persons who possess less social power as a means to financial or emotional benefit. Pimping the poor, the disabled, or other disadvantages groups often begins innocently. Like patronizing – good intentions, inspired by privileged thinking, rooted in racist perspectives becomes care giving that is more about fulfilling the desires of the “giver” than caring about the true needs of the “recipient.” However the difference could be summarized as:
- Patronizing “helping others to help me feel better” It may appear altruistic, but the one in power makes all the major decisions.
- Pimping – “using others to help me get reward- financial or emotional” It may have started with some altruism, but became focused on self-survival.
A warning sign that an organization or person is in a pimping relationship? Is the focus on just treating the symptoms of oppression; (ie. homelessness, poverty, addiction)? – OR – is there a commitment to end the causes of oppression; the systems of racism, classicism, and un-restrained capitalism that maintain and keep oppression in place?
I’ve heard plenty of excuses, and I’m sorry to say I’ve even used a few as well.
“We don’t .have permission to use this in our news letter but her story is amazing – I know she’s uncomfortable with it being told, she thinks it is shaming. But truth is, she will never see the newsletter and it will help us make budget”
“True, we don’t offer students of color an excellent education or learning environment – but we need to keep that data out of admissions and recruitment, we need those students because they bring a lot of financial aid money to our institution.”
“I spent an intimate time with some _______ people. (fill in the blank with class, race, or culture) now I’ve written a book to tell their story and I’ll make the money.”
Finally, while there is a racial and class component to poverty pimping, the art is not limited to white people and in fact there are those who make their living exploiting the struggle of their own people. They live in comfort, raise money talking about oppression and struggles, while do little to change the causes of oppression in the communities they came from.
So for people with power (most anyone who has the access and ability to read this…) ask hard question about your relationships and the organizations you are part of:
- Why do we do what we do? Who stands to gain?
- Who’s involved in the decision making and the profit taking?
- Are we raising funds to treating symptoms and pay salaries OR change systems and liberate people?