What is ‘poverty appropriation’ and how are some people committing this microaggression?

What is ‘poverty appropriation’ and how are some people committing this microaggression?
Tiny house made largely from recycled material. (Image: Screen grab of YouTube video)

Move over cultural appropriation. Or at least make room for a new subset. It’s called poverty appropriation, and if the popular (albeit inexplicable) appeal of living in a tiny house has your number, then you might be guilty.

The tiny house craze, for those not up on what’s sweeping the nation, is, as J.E. Dyer artfully put it in an essay last September, “downsizing” your living space “to a footprint the size of a one-car garage – or less.” In some cases, way less.

Why this miniaturization of home has become trendy is hard to say, but tiny homes have become associated — both positively and negatively — with poverty and homelessness. A county in Oregon has provided incentives for homeowners to host tiny houses for the homeless, while the opposite has been occurring in Los Angeles County, which has seized tiny dwellings occupied by otherwise homeless denizens.

It is the connection to poverty that has given rise to the notion of “poverty appropriation,” which as far as I can divine was coined by a self-described “activist femme shark” named July Westhale, who has a piece in the “intersectional” blog The Establishment titled “The Troubling Trendiness Of Poverty Appropriation.”

Westhale’s argument is that people who grew up in poverty (of which she is one) have a right to be offended by who did not but now appear to be going through the motions. And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that is raising her hackles. It’s also “bars and restaurants that both appropriate, and mock, low-income communities.”

Perhaps the most egregious example is San Francisco’s Butter Bar, a trendy outpost that prides itself on being a true-blue, trailer park-themed bar, serving up the best in “trashy” cuisine and cocktails. With tater tots, microwaved food, and deep-fried Twinkies on the menu, the bar also serves cocktails that contain cheap ingredients, such as Welch’s grape soda. The bar has an actual trailer inside, and serves cans in paper bags, so that bar flies can have a paid-for experience of being what the owners of this bar think of when they think of trailer trash.

I’ve never been to the Butter Bar, but I did dine years ago at a now-defunct restaurant in New York called Hell’s Kitchen that was set up as a series of tenement rooms with rickety chairs and tables and dingy flowered wallpaper. The idea wasn’t so much to teach or mock. Rather, it was a gimmick, much as I suspect the Butter Bar is meant to be.

As for Westhale’s beef about people “squatting” in tiny homes when they can afford better, she provides a link to a website titled The Tiny Life, which explains the many reasons people have made this choice, among them “environmental concerns, financial concerns, and the desire for more time and freedom.” I would think that the first item alone would be enough to quell the concerns of a social justice warrior, but having grown up in the lap of white male privilege, what could I possibly know?

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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