The Shame Game

Overturning the Toxic Poverty Narrative

Mary O'Hara

The Shame Game

Mary O'Hara

Distributed for Bristol University Press

232 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Paper $24.00 ISBN: 9781447349266 Published February 2020 For sale in North and South America only
What does it mean to be poor? For decades the dominant narrative in the United States and United Kingdom has been that it is caused by personal flaws, or bad life decisions. People living in poverty have been depicted as lazy, dependent, and irresponsible so regularly and for so long that it has powerfully affected how people see, think about, and treat their fellow citizens who are financially vulnerable. Drawing on a two-year storytelling project and her own experience of childhood poverty, this book by journalist and author Mary O’Hara argues for a radical overhaul of this fundamentally pernicious portrayal. We can’t begin to address poverty until we actually see it clearly. To start the process of doing that, O’Hara turns not to pundits or social scientists, but to the real experts on poverty: the people who live it.
Contents
PART I : The inconvenient truth: poverty is real A short prologue Introduction 1 Who are these ‘poor’ people anyway? Being on the breadline in Britain 2 What? There are poor people in the richest nation on earth? PART II: Turning the screw on poor people: shame, stigma and cementing of a toxic poverty narrative 3 A twisted tale: evolution of a the poverty narrative 4 Lights, camera, vilification: the narrative in action 5 The games we play: weaponising the narrative 6 Shame on you: making the toxic narrative stick PART III: Flipping the script: challenging the narrative war on the poor 7 Feeling it: the truth about living in poverty 8 Changing times: fighting poverty, not the poor 9 New generation: young people writing their own script 10 Altered images: constructing a new narrative
Review Quotes
The Washington Post

The Shame Game illuminates the disparagement that the poor confront in a prosperous America. . . [and] points to our collective need for better social supports, including cheaper medical care, improved access to education and even periodic government cash giveaways through programs like universal basic income. . . . As O’Hara puts it: “There is a long history of the poorest being shunned and shamed and ‘kept in their place,’ but there is also a history of these practices being challenged with genuine successes. . . . Ultimately, finding solutions to poverty, including ending the blaming and shaming of the poorest among us, rests with all of us.””

Jameela Jamil, actor and activist
“A necessary book in divisive times.”
Conrad Murray, BAC Beatbox Academy
“O'Hara sees the potential of talent and magic in every kid and every adult. This book explores the absolute travesty of blaming each other.”
Mahsuda Snaith, author of How to Find Home
“In a time of extreme social and economic division, O'Hara lifts the lid on who truly benefits from keeping us divided and how we can flip the script of poverty to make a fairer society for all. A powerful and important book.”
Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth
“Rich people should be required to read this book and poor people should be allowed to. I have rarely seen a more broad and beautiful picture of people who have done more with less than this book. O’Hara has woven a rich tapestry of joy and terror and talent and lost opportunities and the picture she draws is the most comprehensive description of poverty I’ve seen yet.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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