intention vs impact: choice and appropriation

Good afternoon friends,

I would like to take a moment to bring up questions for discussion and reflection that were brought up on our Facebook page by a student. Thank you for bringing these up! (to respect this person I will not use their name, as I have not asked permission).

We were directed to this article written in The Establishment that highlights the appropriation of poverty in the whole tiny house movement. I personally had not considered this perspective. As a privileged, adopted Chinese-American woman I own that my upbringing and personal qualities resulted thus far in my limited perspective on the whole movement. I apologize if this has insulted others, it was not my intention, but clearly could have been an impact.

This notion of choice is one I think of often, and I am thankful for the suggesting to reflect and think more about this notion of choice with regards to the tiny house movement. Here are some discussion questions I have drawn from the article:

  • Are tiny house movement participants aware of the impact on those who have only been able to afford living in small, mobile homes?
  • Are we aware that it has become trendy “with those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle–and it is troubling for one simple reason, choice.”?
  • Are we aware that the concept of a return to a simpler lifestyle could be insulting to those who have had no choice to live similarly “simple” lives?
  • Are we aware of the image of a “glamorized” tiny house lifestyle is insulting to those who had not had the choice?
  • Are we aware that this is seen as a sub-set of an “entire hipster movement” that is rooted in capitalism might be perpetuating inequalities and a system that does not support equality?  

I am humbled and am taking ownership of addressing these questions and concerns in our proposal as we move forward. I had not been aware of this perspective prior and am thankful that someone had the courage to call me out on a part of the picture I was clearly not able to see on my own.

As I reflect on my personal life and experiences with regard to “intention vs impact” and “choice and appropriation”, one element in particular stands out to me in the article regarding the authors history with rice. As a Chinese-American and as who I am, rice is inherently a part of my identity. Not to mention various prejudices and stereotypes brought about to my identity and assumptions about my affiliation to rice, I have never considered that I was appropriating someone who could only afford rice- that is had no choice to eat only rice. That being said, it doesn’t make my perspective wrong or right, just not fully informed. I have never known anyone who could only afford rice growing up, that is the nature of my life history. That also being said, I am more than ready and open to engaging in how my intention creates an impact that I am unaware of. I’d like to quote the end of the article because I think it speaks eloquently to a way forward:

But I do think it’s time to start having conversations about how alternative means aren’t a choice for those who come from poverty. We must acknowledge what it means to make space for people who actually need free food or things out of dumpsters, who participate in capitalism because they’ve got a kid at home and they are the only provider. Additionally, we need to shed light on the fact that many people who grew up wanting for more space and access to foods that weren’t available to them don’t understand the glossy pamphlets offering a simpler life.

Because, let me tell you, there is nothing simple about being poor. ~ July Westhale

Moving forward, I hope that hearts can be reassured that we are open to discussions about how this decisions impact communities that we may not have the knowledge or background to fully recognize. And we will do our best to address the impacts of our actions and choices.

Sincerely,

Lily

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