“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
--John Bradford (1510-1555), 16th Century English Protestant clergyman
who said this while a prisoner in the Tower of London
and later was burned at the stake for heresy
If you have a good social connection, if you get a decent and fair "shake," if you have a good job, it you have funds and resources to get a good education, and if you have the good graces of those who occupy the higher classes of Southern Ohio society, you probably lack the perspective to see the plight of the downtrodden common people. In fact, you may blame them for many of your ills, and, in some respects, rightly so.
But let me try to express how those without favor, luck, and opportunity feel.
I understand why so many feel there is no excuse for misbehavior while living a life in which poverty creates misery that leads to bad choices; however, I know so many people who share a common story of failure and who, because of their lack or resources and knowledge and just plain common respect, remain "outsiders" for the remainder of their lives. These people are no strangers to stereotyping: they are known as "druggies," "scuds," "welfare people," "bums," and "losers." They are the unwanted.
Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post reports on stereotyping the poor ...
"The content of stereotypes is only partially organic, only partially based upon a measured consideration of the totality of our experiences. Stereotypes grow, as well, from how we’re socialized They are the result of what we are taught to think about poor people, for instance, even if we are poor, through celebrations of “meritocracy” or by watching a parent lock the car doors when driving through certain parts of town. They grow, as well, from a desire to find self-meaning by distinguishing between social and cultural in groups with which we do and do not identify That’s the heady science of it...."
(Valerie Strauss. "Five stereotypes about poor families and education.
The Washington Post. October 28, 2013)
Stereotypes about poor people simply ruin their opportunities. You have heard them:
Poor people are lazy.
They don’t care about education.
They’re alcoholics and drug abusers.
They don’t want to work; instead, they are addicted to the welfare system.
They don't even take care of their children.
Most people in America believe that poor people are poor because of their own deficiencies rather than inequitable access to services and opportunities. This is simply not true.
Do You Know the Poor?
Do you know wealthy people have a greater propensity for alcohol abuse than do the poor?
Alcohol use and alcohol addiction are less prevalent overall among low-income people than among their wealthier counterparts.
Do you know wealthy people use more marijuana than the poor?
(Galea et al. "Neighborhood Income and Income Distribution..." Am J Prev Med. 2007)
Do you know that drug use in the U.S. is distributed fairly evenly across income levels, regardless of age and other factors?
People in poverty who are struggling with substance abuse generally do not have at their disposal the sorts of recovery opportunities available to wealthier families. People in poverty who are struggling with substance abuse generally do not have at their disposal the sorts of recovery opportunities available to wealthier families. Nor do they have access to preventative medical attention that might catch and treat growing dependencies before they become full-fledged addictions.
(Degenhardt et al, 2008; Saxe, et al., 2001)
Do you know low-income parents and guardians engage in home-based involvement strategies, such as encouraging children to read and limiting television watching, more frequently than their wealthier counterparts?
It is true that these parents are less likely to participate in in-school involvement -- the kind of involvement that requires parents and guardians to visit their children’s schools or classrooms. You may want to consider the reason for less in-school involvement.
(Lee & Bowen, 2006)
Do you know the weight of low-income parents’ and guardians’ own school experiences, which often were hostile and unwelcoming, may keep them from engaging in in-school experiences?
Still, poor people value education just as much as wealthy people.
(Compton-Lilly, 2003; Grenfell & James, 1998)
Do you know poor people work just as hard as, and perhaps harder than, people from higher socioeconomic brackets?
In fact, poor working adults work, on average, 2,500 hours per year, the rough equivalent of 1.2 full time, often patching together several part-time jobs in order to support their families. People living in poverty who are working part-time are more likely than people from other socioeconomic conditions to be doing so involuntarily, despite seeking full-time work. And, you should understand that more than one out of five jobs in the U.S. pays at a rate that is below the poverty threshold
(Reamer, Waldron, Hatcher, & Hayes, 2008)
Do you know low-income youth have considerably less access to a whole range of after school and extracurricular activities, as well as to recreational facilities, than their wealthier peers?
(Macleod et al., 2008; Shann, 2001).
Do you know working class and poor parents are no less deeply committed to the well being of their children than are middle class parents?
(Annette Lareau. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. 2000)
(Annette Laueau and Elliot Weininger. "Time, Work, and Family Life."
Sociological Forum. 2008)
Listen to what people say when they explain the difficulties they encounter because they are poor. And, especially consider the fact that these people are so often stereotyped for bad things they do not do. Granted, some have lost so much hope for better conditions that they engage in harmful criminal activities instead of making the best of their insufficient conditions. I am not making excuses for bad decisions; instead, I am trying to make you see why living in a depressed area under extremely oppressive conditions can lead to desperate acts. They feel they receive unequal justice.
I believe we need to do everything in our power to help the poor -- especially after they graduate and leave school. Surviving primary grades and high school can be extremely difficult for those who occupy classes with other privileged children. They are taught equality and justice, but soon after school -- in the real world -- they realize the cold, hard facts of reality on their own.
What has become the status of their American Dream for the poor? They too want to marry, start a family, own a home, and find peace and tranquility. But, what chance do they really have of achieving their objectives unless they find a generous, helping hand? And, what slim, minuscule opportunity will they have to climb the ladder of success if they are the common scapegoats for everything wrong in their communities.
A large part of whom we become depends upon how others treat us. If you are treated like a loser, a failure, or a pariah, you develop strong negative feelings about others who are more fortunate than you and who consider you inherently "bad." We should take some blame for caring too little about our unfortunate fellow man.
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry,
naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted,
unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.
We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."