Every so often, we’re treated to yet another person playing pretend conducting a social experiment in an attempt to shore up their weak position understand something outside their experience. Most recently, it was libertarian douchebag FoxNews hack reporter John Stossel, who dressed up and spent (from what I can tell) a whole hour pretending to be homeless. Based on this experience, Stossel believes that he understands people in that situation. There are a lot of things wrong with the story that aired on Fox, but the idea that an hour on the street pretending to be a homeless beggar in any way qualifies you as an expert on the subject is ridiculous.
I suppose there are reasons for doing this that wouldn’t be so offensive to the people you’re imitating. Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin, did it to get a first-hand look at what people who are homeless in his town deal with. Johnson spent several days and nights sleeping in shelters, panhandling, eating at soup kitchens and asking for free food at restaurants. And, from what I can see, he doesn’t feel that qualifies him for expert status. Or, sainthood either, for that matter.
But, no matter how you do it or what your reasons are, don’t think because you spent a few hours, or even days, pretending to be homeless or gay or black or anything else that you have the slightest inkling of the reality these people live with. You don’t. If only because, at any point, you can walk away from your play-acting. That’s not an option for them and it makes a huge difference.
If you want to know what people who are homeless, people of color or people who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender go through, here’s a novel idea: ask one of those people. You’ll be surprised at the things you’ll learn. Mostly, what you’ll find is that these folks are no different than you. They love their families, they worry about their kids, they bust their ass to keep body and soul together. They might do it in a different way than you do, but they do it all the same.
I’m so tired “social experiments” like this, especially ones that end in gratuitous bashing of my friends by well-to-do people who seem to be looking for a way quell the cognitive dissonance caused by their hoarding of wealth, conspicuous consumption or religion-based discrimination. Like I said earlier, if you want to know what someone who is homeless, LGBTQ, of color or anything else is dealing with, find one of those people and ask them. But, if you’re after more fodder for the outrage machine, just go away. No one needs that crap.