Some years ago I was at a party where I was introduced to a banker. We had a conversation that has haunted me ever since.
I had asked him about a study I read that said that minorities have a harder time getting services at banks than white folks. His response shocked me. He said that it wasn't true, but that he knew what they were talking about, and that it was the people's fault and not the bankers. He went on to "explain" how, "when white people come to the bank they have everything they need: ID cards, bank books, tax records, etc. When black people come they never have the right card or the right form, and then they get mad and make a scene as soon as they have to wait. It's their own fault."
I was taken aback by his coarseness and his racism.
Nevertheless, I know what he meant. In religious life I have spent a lot of time working in social relief services; indeed this is a lot of what we do, either performing social services or trying to get someone else (i.e. the civil authorities) to provide them. But often it's hard for poor folks to take advantage of the services that are there because they lack the basic skills needed to use them.
So at times I've shocked myself by questioning the liberal/social service/social justice model I've been brought up in both in my family and my religious order.
I wonder if the whole idea of "social services" or the idea of using them is in itself a bourgeois idea; to take advantage of a social service, whether it be a bank or a food pantry or the unemployment office, requires a very bourgeois skill set: being able to take care of an ID card, not losing your papers, waiting patiently for your turn, being polite in order to smooth over stressful and awkward interactions.
These are skills that good middle class children are taught from an early age, but either because the misery and fatigue of poverty have robbed people of them or because they are not part of the culture of poverty in the first place, often the poor lack these things. And then the problem ceases to be a lack of services for social welfare, but the inability of people, culturally, to take advantage of them.
This reflection really bothers me, to be honest, and I'm not sure what the implications are.