The positive reception given Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Nickeled and Dimed by so many reviewers reminds me of nothing so much as the critical acclaim granted to Black Like Me. In both cases, comfortably middle class writers pretended to be something they were not and then wrote about their experiences living this other life, sharing “revelations” about people most of their intended readers presumably know little about, despite the fact that such people live everywhere around them. It is striking that so many american readers today apparently either don’t know, or don’t believe, the people who really do work at low wage jobs, and need to hear of their plight from someone more “reputable,” just as, years ago, many white people were unable to appreciate the discrimination experienced by black americans, until another white person had experienced it themselves.
Just as this country is, in some ways, still segregated by color, it would appear that many people who are better off financially are segregating themselves by economic status, as well. Many choose to live in suburban, or upscale urban, areas, where they interact only with other people who bring in a good income, and no longer have any meaningful contact with the poorer working people who produce so many of the products and services americans purchase and use. If better-off americans really want to know how poor working people get by in this country, perhaps they should just get out more and interact with these people themselves, instead of avoiding them.