“It is just a fact…most poor people are poor because they are lazy.”
Perhaps one positive outcome of Hurricane Katrina is the sparked dialogue surrounding poverty in America, which demands analyzing race relations, as well. While my acquaintance did, in fact, mutter the outrageous quote above during a heated debate last Friday (whilst imbibing alcohol, praise tha lawd), my dismay stems from the realization that most white Americans agree with her. And in case you’re not paying attention, when upper-middle class white people speak this way, they are careful to not say black people when they say poor people, but it is precisely what they mean.
Let us re-examine the O.J. Trial, which was the last nationwide topic that sparked dialogue on race to this extent. The response to the trial of the decade was sharply divided along race lines. Not because black people in this country necessarily thought OJ was innocent, but because they, like me, were eager to see the system work in their collective favor. A black man gets away with murder and his brilliant black attorney uses the justice system to get his rich client off, just as white men have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. But when the tables are turned, whitey no likee. There existed an overwhelming need of white America to hang O.J. Forget that he was the model of a “good black man” and played golf at our white country clubs. He killed our blonde-headed white sister, and no matter the case, we must take him down.
Not since the O.J. trial has the race issue been so out in the open. We all harbor racist thoughts. Whether we agree with the voices that tell us, from years of white conditioning, that poor people are mostly black and those black folk don’t work (cuz they’re lazy, remember?), our collective consciousness impacts non-whites in a truly negative and oppressive manner. In fact, blacks make up only 1/4 of America’s poor and nearly half of the poor, of working age, DO work. Introducing the idea of the effects of slavery upon a people, which officially ended 140 years ago, was far beyond the grasp of my acquaintance the other night. Let me remind some of my white brethren…we made black people eat, drink, shit, and live everywhere that we did not want to. Let them eat cake, and not anywhere we have to look at them. This was law, less than 50 years ago. 50 years, people. Remove your collective blinders, please, as they are not becoming on you.
My background is a privileged one. I have parents who have always encouraged me and believed in me to an extent that is daunting. They instilled in me a quest for knowledge and self-education that will live with me always. And, as luck would have it, our society expects that I will excel because I am a middle-class whitey.
Ponder, for a moment, how poverty begets poverty. Then, place your natural born poor self into a society which reinforces the idea that you will be and become nothing. Add a generous amount of slavery into the hearts and minds of all inhabitants of this society, and tell me, how does this equation pan-out?