A reader writes:
I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. Every time people at my office start talking about their background and where they grew up, I tend to avoid the question by changing the topic. I can’t relate to everyone in the office. I still have a lot of family members who live in the same area as well. Coworkers make jokes and comments about poor people all of the time and I find the remarks very offensive.
I revealed it at a previous job and the barrage of questions were upsetting. I’ve heard everything from “Did they rob people there?” to “Did you hear any gunshots?” One person gasped and gave a look of astonishment.
I tried to stay positive and say don’t judge everyone by their background. There are smart people in poor neighborhoods trying to do well with their lives and I’m an example of that. I have struggled with this for quite some time and am not sure how I should handle this. Maybe I’m being too sensitive about this. What is the best way to approach this subject when people ask in the workplace?
What the hell is wrong with these people? Please don’t let this make you feel self-conscious. These people are sheltered and clueless. Do they not travel? Do they not see that the majority of the world is poor?
Part of me wants to say that you should educate them by explaining that most poor people are just like them, just with less money, and part of me wants to say that you should educate them by giving them a withering look and the finger. (The first option will be more effective.)
Or you could handle this is the same way I’d advise handling a racist comment: Look genuinely puzzled and say, “Wow. What would make you say that?”
Thoughts from others?