I have struggled with the belief for most of my life that the reason for poverty is slack behavior, a lack of work ethic, a lack of self-control, and a willingness to sacrifice. In other words, at times I had been blaming the poor for being poor. This lack of ambition and highlighted criminality reflected badly on all of us that share a similar culture. This struggle is over based on some reading and introspection that I hope to share here.
I was recently forced to re-examine my beliefs and the under-lying myths that materialized into these ideas. I will use sports metaphors in this explanation of where I stand, as this is the way I have internalized my assessment.
For me two myths came to a clash.
My learned Equality myth: “We are all equal therefore in the race for success I have an equal chance to get to be a multi-millionaire as the next person.”
My learned Respectability myth: “As a minority one has to show up big time and always be a respectable representative of my culture so that we all can look good.”
The Equality Myth
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Imagine a prisoner shackled at the ankles for years. The person is at some point set free because of a false conviction.
Equality to me means that immediately on release the ex-prisoner is required to be in the finals of a 100-meter race. How would that person compete against peers that have been training without shackles.
The prisoner with shackles (e.g. over policing - movement by the guards, food deserts – malnourishment at the prison cafeteria, political disenfranchisement – lack of opportunity and lack of education).
The finals of a 100m race (the rest of the person’s life)
This American dream - capitalist equality lie assumes that each person has an equal opportunity for success in this race. There is no recognition in this of the athlete’s hamstrings, the inability to do anything but shuffle in this race.
I am now open instead to entertain developing an equity basis for seeing things. Equity for me now is that we assess the athlete’s condition (based on history) and give that athlete (Oscar Pistorius type carbon fiber) blades that will equate the effort and stride. In other words the only difference in the race to get to a common goal is the persons effort and ability not their advantages coming into the race.
The Respectability Myth
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Personally, I disliked Olympic gymnastics or figure skating as it was so subjective. Not to take anything away from the many people who understand and are able to be expert at noting the technical brilliance of these athletes, but for me a timed event like the 100 meters swimming or in track are my best loved spectator events. Life with this respectability myth is always like a gymnast that is dependent on an outside party to validate if a person is respectable enough while that person doing the judging can change the score based on something that is qualitative (e.g. consider the athletic prowess of Surya Bonaly in ice skating and the judgement she received in the 1994 Olympics). This dependence on an outside person (that is not always trustworthy) rather than looking at the clock is the first blow against this myth.
I have recently truly recognized the value and the import of the DNA sequencing that was complete in 2006 (which makes race not biological). When contrasting this against the significance on race and culture in our American lives leaves me to further distrust the other person’s judgement but also distrust the sport.
The dependence on an untrustworthy judge makes respectability a myth that is trapped by preconceived ideas that are culturally specific. It puts to ignominy
- any glory from meeting a mark that is not ones own
- the ill judgement of glory or failure that one may have of others accomplishments,
I am not at all fixed on my own neo crystals of underlying beliefs (it is a bit unnerving). But I am sure that these myths are no longer true for me. I invite each poor American and American in the middle class to ditch these limiting myths. Imagine how foolish a person would look if they were to actually try to lift themself by their own bootstraps.