Sunday, September 18, 2005

Eliminating Poverty

Homespun BloggersThis week's Homespun Blogger Symposium (number XXXIII) asks the question:
How do "we" eliminate the "deep, persistent poverty having roots in
racial discrimination" such as we've seen in the Gulf Coast region over
the past three weeks?
Let me tell you what I think a large part of the problem is. People only seeing it over the last three weeks. I got news for you, Charlie: Poverty ain't nothing new. It's there every day. We just choose not to see it. Or, if we see it, we ignore it. So, if we don't see it or pay attention to it, then it doesn't exist. Until it's thrown at us on the 24-hour "news" channels.

But we do have poverty around us. It's nothing new. And it'll be around for a long time:
The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. Matthew 26:11 (New International Version)
That doesn't mean we shouldn't do something about it. But that piece of Scripture does teach us that we should prioritize what we do. Just throwing money at something doesn't solve every problem. But I think we should try to do what we can.

What I don't like about the question is the part about "poverty having roots in
racial discrimination." That's an awfully general statement, isn't it?

Now, I'm not saying there's no such thing as racial discrimination. So don't go get stupid and such. I'm saying that lots of people make such generalizations without knowing anything except what someone told them.

Several years ago, when I was stationed at Ft. Belvoir for training, I went to Washington with some other soldiers to sight-see and such. One of the places we went to was the National Museum of American History (commonly called the American History Museum). At the time, there was a display about Black life in the early 20th century, including those that moved up North from the conditions in the South.

The exhibit had items from everyday life in the typical Southern Black family from that time period. There were, of course, little cards that told about the items on display. But I told the other soldiers that were with me about such items as the number 3 wash tubs, the wash boards, the wood-burning stoves, and such.

At first, they thought I had studied the Black Experience. But I haven't.

Instead, as a child, I saw my mother wash my (and my sisters') clothes in a wash tub on a wash board. And I had eaten many meals cooked on a wood-burning stove.

So, based on the Smithsonian exihibit, I had apparently lived part of the Black Experience. Not bad for a White boy, huh?

My point is that being poor isn't something that's limited to Blacks in the South. There are poor Blacks and poor Whites. And whether Black or White, we must make the best of what we have at the time, striving always to improve our situation. Sometimes, we succeed. Sometimes we don't. But waiting on someone to do it for me just makes it worse.

My problem with this weeks question is the premise:

  • Poverty is caused by racial discrimination. In fact, while it contributes, it doesn't cause.

  • Only seeing it for the last three weeks. Where have you been for the last 300 years?

  • "We" need to eliminate it. That usually means those not in poverty need to do something about it, relieving those in poverty from responsibility to do anything about it. And that's wrong. And won't work.

We can't eliminate poverty, whatever the cause. But we can help. And by "we" I'm referring to all of us: those in poverty and those who are better off.

We need to take responsibility for ourselves and our situation. And we need to help others in their situation as we are able and as they are willing to work on their situation.

Together, we can do anything.


  1. My Mama bathed me in a kitchen sink when I was a baby. She made my clothes when I was growin' up. We ate rice and beans for dinner. I mowed lawns for extra money when I was 9.

    Shoveled snow too.

    The best way to make people get out of the habit of being without money is to give them none.

    Katrina has wrought some serious damage on a bunch of folks. Rich and poor alike.

    The best way they can recover is to wake up every damned day and fix something. Something.


    But FIX IT.

    Everybody else will help.

  2. Basil - very well said. And while I don't believe I ever lived any part of "the black experience" (both because I am white, and because that is an offensive phrase :P), my parents and I certainly were not well off ... by the time my sister came around (she's 8 years younger than I am), things were better (funny how my father's hard work had that result) ... but still not "easy".



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