The Poverty Problem: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems? Try No Money, Mo’ Problems

This column appears in the October 26, 2017 version of Urban Pro Weekly.

I had a lively conversation with a gentleman in his mid-40s just a few weeks ago. We talked about concerns facing Black people.

I explained to him that the problems among Black people derive from a lack of wealth and resources. His contention was that Black people needed to do for self and needed to have “more discipline.”

Be honest — it’s a commentary that you, the reader, often hear in the media, in the streets, or even in the pulpit.

Wherever you hear it, I am here to tell you, respectfully, of course, that such a commentary is WRONG.

We will start with a comparative analysis of poverty rates in Augusta, as well as two nearby cities — Aiken and Augusta.

In Augusta, there is a majority Black population — over 105,000, according to census numbers. Of that majority, 31.3 percent of Black folks are living below the poverty line, compared to 17.1 percent of whites.

In neighboring North Augusta, Black folks make up close to 20 percent of the population — and 22.8 of us are living below the poverty line. Whites in North Augusta, who make up a significant majority, have a 7.9 percentage of folks living beneath the poverty line.

In the city of Aiken, the numbers are most distressing. Black folks make up just under 30 percent of the population in Aiken — and just under 40 percent of the population lives underneath the poverty line.

Whether we have a Black majority or minority in term of demographics, the problem remains the same — poverty.

Now, some folks will tell you that this poverty is character-based — that the reason why Black folks are so poor is that we’re “lazy.” That we’re shiftless.

Imagine that — the Black folks who built this country during slavery were “lazy.” 

The Black folks who banded together to strengthen their political and financial influence during Reconstruction were “lazy.”

The Black folks who worked during the Civil Rights Movement and those who participated in a boycott where they WALKED TO WORK instead of taking the bus were “lazy.”

Today, there are Black folks who work 50 to 60 hours for minimum wage, barely able to support their families, and they are called “lazy.”

There are more than enough statistics to describe why and how poverty is the problem. What’s sad is that a significant number of you all reading this don’t care about the stats and the facts. You only care about what makes you feel good. You only care about what makes you feel important — feel elitist.

That’s how people can say things like, “If only young men pulled up their pants!” That’s how people can say things like, “If only little girls would stop having babies out of wedlock.” And all the while, never realizing that these are the symptoms of poverty.

Here’s the irony of it all: as much as Black folks hate Trump and his cronies, when you repeat the talking points of respectability politics and Republican strategists, you might as well put on a comb-over with, you little Trumpster!

Fiscal conservatives and neoliberal put policies in place to ensure that rich folks get the big piece of the pie while the rest of us get the crumbs. And all the while, the “powers-that-be” fool us into thinking the poor and impoverished are the ones taking advantage of the system. It’s sick!

The poverty problem is made up of a lot of issues that most derive from wealth disparities. At some point, though, we as Black people have to acknowledge how we aggravate those problems with preconceived notions about the poor.

“It is time for the Negro middle class to rise up from its stool of indifference, to retreat from its flight into unreality and to bring its full resources — its heart, its mind and its checkbook — to the aid of the less fortunate brother.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos Or Community?” (1968)

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