Verity Johnson: We're not intimidated, we just don't like poor people

OPINION: We have a very odd relationship with poor people in NZ. We'd rather they didn't exist, if they could manage it. And then we pretend we don't think like that. 

There's no more of a classic example of this than the case of window washers. It's a thing, especially among white, Suzuki driving classes, to hate window washers. The champion of these types, Mr young and sensible MP Jami-Lee Ross, sums this up by saying that they're "very threatening and intimidating."  He wants to make window washing "effectively illegal" and punishable with a $150 fine. (Genius. They'll all have the money to pay that.) 

I'm not entirely sure how intimidating it is when you're separated by a tonne of metal and glass. And when you can just shake your head and they generally leave you alone. It's a flimsy argument covering the fact that we have no real reason to hate these guys…

Except we just don't like being confronted with poor people. 

I know this. You know this. We all know this. Who has ignored a beggar on the street? I have. I stare firmly into the middle distance with the determination of middle class willful ignorance. We don't want to see them. They're a symbol of how broken New Zealand really is. It's inconvenient when I'm on my way to get my nails done. 

This is why we say that we, "don't mind beggars on the street if they're doing something". We'll give a few cents if they're doing something safe like busking or drawing chalk murals. But if they "do something" that forces us to directly acknowledge their existence ... we're 'threatened'. 

You know what, I'm actually really ashamed of myself for being this way. I guess I'm middle class so I just inherited it along with my fondness for Country Road. 

But it doesn't make it a nice, or acceptable part of my or anyone else's personality. And it's certainly not something we should legitimise or encourage. Making window washing "effectively illegal" is doing just that. It's saying our disgust and willful ignorance of poverty is actually just fine. We're the victims here. 

It's not fine. It's just shitty and hypocritical and mean. It's the worst side of humanity that's inside everyone, and needs about as much encouragement as Wilson's car parks.  

We don't need to fine window washers. What we need is more funding for addiction, mental health and social support systems. Then we might be able to start fixing New Zealand, which is a much, much more effective way of making sure Jami-Lee feels safe in his Suzuki. 

Verity Johnson is a Newshub columnist and feature writer

 

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