“What is considered chic when the rich make it, but looks cheap when the poor do it?” A young New Zealander asked her small followers on Twitter in 2016. “Don’t do a whole day,” replied one user. For the rich it is a “well-deserved break to gather new strength”, while poor people are simply considered lazy. “Emigrating to another country for work,” commented one woman, “wearing second-hand clothes,” another. To date, almost 30,000 people have responded to the question. This week, the four-year-old tweet went viral in the United States.
It is no coincidence that a post that is so lively – in Internet years – is being discussed so animatedly. The question is particularly nerve-racking in the United States: Over 36 million people have lost their jobs since the outbreak of the corona pandemic. Many suddenly experience what it means to be poor – and that means not only not having money, but also struggling with an enormous social stigma.
Up until modern times, a stigma was an outward characteristic that was inflicted on a person in order to outlaw him: prostitutes had their hair cut, honest men cut their ears, and the thief’s entire hand was cut off. In modern societies, the ostracism proceeds without bloodshed, the stigmatization is more subtle: not a visible characteristic, a property or activity in itself is devalued, but only discredited in connection with the individual: The sweatpants of a single mother are considered “asi”, but in general the Hollywood star on the leather sofa she goes through as chic “lounge wear”.
The exciting thing is: without this comparison to the supposed “norm”, the rich, stigmatization does not work either: sociologists keep on observing that children who grow up in a poor, homogeneous environment have long had no idea that their behavior depends on Others are devalued. Only when they were young did they recognize the fine dividing line drawn by the upper social classes between their large family’s Neukölln apartment and the hipster flat opposite, the year the father was unemployed and the sabbatical of his boss. And then they try everything to overcome this demarcation. Real jewelry, a big car, branded clothes – everything the rich shine with, only pulls the poor deeper into the stigma. They are simply considered “chubby”.
Incidentally, people who have to socialize in a foreign society experience similar stigmatization processes. They copy the behavior of the “long-established” in order to adapt, and yet they have to realize that they are subject to different standards: their mother tongue in Arabic is branded as an obstacle to integration, while the Alman, who knows Arabic, is already celebrated as a half diplomat.
Already from these examples it becomes clear that the double standards, which the numerous answers to the viral tweet expose, are not an American phenomenon. Of course, the differences are particularly obvious in a country in which a celebrity couple has their fridge covered with Swarovski stones on television, while every seventh citizen regularly waits in line for charitable food expenses. But here too, the gap between rich and poor is widening, stigmatization is increasingly becoming a means of the upper classes to differentiate themselves.
This is also shown by the numerous responses from our readers who we asked on Instagram what is considered chic in their environment when the rich make it, but is devalued when the poor do it. “Little furniture in an almost empty apartment”, “put on my 80s parents’ clothes”, “alcohol for breakfast”, “get money from the state”, “pay in cash”, “grill with the whole family”, “children in Set the world «… – the list was long. In the end, one reader got to the point: “Pretty much everything. All life is stigmatized when you are poor. ”