I recently wrote about how we have made moral assertions about the rich and poor in this country: namely that the rich are virtuous and the poor are lazy. The rich MUST have worked hard for what they have and the poor MUST have been lazy to become poor.
I get how someone can think this way. You can look at the differences between behavior of the rich and poor and think that it explains how they got to where they are. I grew up thinking this way. I had no idea how much damage that actually did to me. I might still not grasp how deeply that way of thinking affects me.
Because through that lens, black culture is “poor people culture”. It is the culture of the lazy. Through that lens, CEO’s of corporations that destroy drinking water, ocean habitats, civil liberties, and political processes all while using their wealth to avoid the justice system are “successful”.
However possibly mischaracterizing I just made that, the moralization of rich and poor has dire consequences. Many people I know and love think that poor people deserve to be poor. Therefore, giving them public services is wrong. This completely ignores the causes of poverty and what perpetuates poverty.
Does being born into a family with no father and a mother working 80 hours a week just to provide for you seem conducive to “success”? They might be born into a neighborhood with bad schools, bad infrastructure, and lack of jobs or business. Poverty is a place where a parking ticket could cost you your job. It is a place where working hard means barely scraping by instead of “being successful”.
How come nobody ever blames Africa or Mexico for having so many poor people? Why don’t they just go get jobs?
We know intuitively that those places are messed up and the opportunity to prosper isn’t always there.
So this might come as news to some people, but: in the U.S. the opportunity to prosper isn’t always there. The U.S. is a little messed up too.
Less than 100 years ago, the time-honored conservative American tradition of hanging black people from trees for “looking at you wrong” was still going on. Do you think that black communities aren’t affected by that? Their grandparents were born into an era where being black could get you killed.
Medical care (without insurance) costs astronomical amounts of money. More than any middle or upper middle class earner could afford to pay. People making minimum wage often don’t get health insurance. Their employers are cutting benefits by making you work 38 hours a week instead of 40 so they don’t have to give benefits. Due to the higher likelihood of becoming ill when you are poor, medical needs are increased.
If you are homeless, you probably can’t get a job because no one will hire you.
Add to that the cost of having to buy and frequently replace the cheapest available goods.
There are lots of poor people working very hard who cannot afford basic needs.
People who have never had to live like that criticize them for asking for help. People who think that their hard work is what sets them above the poor are criticizing people who want to help the poor.
Then to say that poor people are greedy because they want help with their extremely difficult situations from which the vast majority never escape?
Societies are judged based on how they treat their people. The bible has very specific things to say about how we treat the poor. Don’t tell me they deserve to be poor and that you are above them because you “worked harder”.