Yakkin’ About Poverty And How It’s Done (Well)

From Guernica, Emily Brennan interviews Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Katherine Boo about her book on inequality and poverty in Mumbai. IT IS SO EXCELLENT. The interview is ostensibly about reporting techniques, but Boo makes so many excellent points about The Way We Talk About Poverty that I think it’s a must-read. Just a few of the head-smacking, lightbulb, this makes so much sense, why isn’t it top of mind all the time, moments:

• “Most of the people who do the talking about what it’s like for the very poor don’t spend much time with them.” 

•  “In my kind of work [following people over long periods of time], you don’t parachute in after some big, terrible event, which is important and has to be covered, but offers only a glimpse. It’s the kind of work in which you ask, what is my understanding of how the world works, and where can I go to see these questions get worked out in individuals’ lives?”

• “As a reporter, you know the tropes of how stories on poverty work in any country. A reporter will go to an NGO and say, “Tell me about the good work that you’re doing and introduce me to the poor people who represent the kind of help you give.” It serves to streamline the storytelling, but it gives you a lopsided cosmos in which almost every poor person you read about is involved with a NGO helping him. Our understanding of poverty and how people escape from poverty, in any country, is quite distorted.”

• “… me staying in a shelter is not the same as someone who’s been evacuated to that shelter. This whole thing of, “I’m walking a mile in their shoes by living this certain way.” Well, I’m not living that way. I can turn around and leave. We can do the best we can to get to the core of people’s circumstances, but it’s ludicrous to think that my being in Annawadi all of that time is walking in their shoes. It’s not.”

Read the whole interview at Guernica. 



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