A recent column in The New York Times by Charles Blow – ‘A Town Without Pity’ – described several recent reports on the negative images of the poor and the homeless.
He writes, “poverty and homelessness can easily seep beneath the wall we erect in our minds to define it.”
A December report by the United States Conference of Mayors that surveyed 25 cities found that all but 4 of them reported an increase in requests for emergency food aid since 2011, and three-fourths of them expected those requests to increase in 2013.
The report also found that 60 percent of the cities surveyed had seen an increase in homelessness, and the same percentage of cities expected homelessness to increase in 2013.
“The stereotypes of poor people in the United States are among the most negative prejudices that we have. And people basically view particularly homeless people as having no redeeming qualities — there’s not the competence for anything, not having good intentions and not being trustworthy.”
Fiske’s research shows that people respond not only to the poor and homeless with revulsion, but they also react negatively to people they perceive as undocumented immigrants — essentially anyone without an address.
If some people’s impulse is to turn up a nose rather than extend a hand, no wonder we send so many lawmakers empty of empathy to Congress. No wonder more people don’t demand that Congress stand up for the least among us rather than on them.
As Fiske so aptly put it: “It seems like Washington is a place without pity right now. A town without pity.”