How to write about poor people, cont'd (the Interactive Edition)

This second post is the result of crowd-sourcing this satire. I turned to all of you in response to one commenter who really thought I needed to improve the satire quality of the previous post. Another commenter suggests reading the all-time-great classic "How to Write About Africa," which was of course an inspiration, and whose brilliant author, Binyavanga Wainaina,  I would no more dream of matching than Shakespeare.

An anonymous commenter  (an extremely talented, knowledgeable, and well known writer on global poverty, among other topics) got the ball rolling by suggesting these additions to the list:

11. Assume that all poor people everywhere have the same interests and views on all subjects. 12. You can take the views of Western-based NGOs as a proxy for the composite opinions noted in rule 11.

I then went to crowd-sourcing and many great suggestions have now come in. I have taken the liberty of liberally editing the suggestions to fit the format, the original authors are listed below:

Alanna Sheikh MPH:

13. Leave untouched the assumption that poor people are all non-white, but never openly admit it.

14. You may use the phrase "these people" as an alternative to the poor, as in "these people have nothing" or "these people still live as their ancestors have for centuries"


15. Suggest specific answers that will end poverty in every possible situation, such as a package of microcredit, fertilizer subsidies, and a women's handicraft cooperative.


16. Simplify poor people's cultural, social, and political systems as easy to understand and easy to change. You will not have space to attempt to explain why THEIR societies are so different from OUR intractably complex societies.

@altmandaniel on Twitter:

17.  It is not necessary to talk to any real poor people, they do not understand how to solve their problems anyway.

Tyler and Sarah and booksquirm inspired the following:vanity-fair-bono

18. Use liberally the pronoun "we," such as "we must act now to end poverty." You don't ever need to make clear who is "we," although it is obviously not the poor.

And John was the inspiration for this one:

19. burning-hutWhen you give an anecdote about one poor individual, make sure it is as extreme and non-representative as possible, such an HIV-positive famine victim being chased by child soldiers

Transitionland inspired:

20. Do not mention any individuals in a poor community who have now escaped poverty, don't seek any lessons, it was probably either luck or evil behavior.


21. Write about the interests of the poor as entirely consistent with other good things, such as preserving the natural environment and fighting global warming.

and inspired by Word_Bandit:

22. Appeal to the voyeurism of your rich audience reading about "the poor," but do so tastefully.


23. If anyone does finally object to the label "the poor," use "the vulnerable" instead. "Vulnerable"  has the added advantage that it is so vague that you can make up just about any story you want about this group.


24. Be sure to include statements in the form "X children die every minute because of  diseease or problem Y. Y could be easily eliminated at a cost of $Z (a modest number)." X, Y, Z can be quoted from other people whose methods of estimating X, Y, and Z you do not need to scrutinize too carefully.

Indirectly inspired by many readers:

25. Sarah-McLachlanSuggest to the readers some demonstrative action that they can do to end poverty,such as wearing a white band on their wrist. How these actions affect global poverty does not have to be completely spelled out.

OK I think that's a wrap, thank you for all of your suggestions! The outpouring of responses suggests a lot of discontent with the cliches, stereotypes, and tolerance for nonsense in poverty writing. (I don't claim to speak for all of you, feel free to disagree.)  As I have said before, remember that satire is the weapon of the weak. None of us have much direct power to change the unaccountable establishment's "consensus." But we can tell poverty writers: "get serious,or beware of ridicule."