Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Honest Discussion

Making the interweb rounds this fine morn brought me to "We live in the Bronx, but..."

There is a new post up by the anonymous blogger linking to an article about the renewed emphasis on the "Culture of Poverty" thesis. This linked article comes in response to a Times article from a week and a half ago about the return of the treatment and evaluation of poverty as having cultural origins.

In any case, WLITBB decries the lack of a comment section on the blog's Tumblr format. Well, we're hurting over here at the ol' BD for posts, so we figured that we'd lend our comment section to the task of having what WLITBB calls an "honest discussion about poverty."

I think the over and under is four comments before an anonymous poster calls another anonymous poster lazy or a racist (or before a poster gets angry about an anonymous poster posting anonymously). Just a little prediction from past experience. But let's try to keep it civil, people.



Anonymous said...

You're a racist for even re-posting this. The whole culture of poverty idea is a crock. Why don't we talk about a culture of poverty when it's white people in rural America? Why does it only apply to blacks and Latinos in urban America.

People are poor for structural reasons. It's not their fault. Society has left these impoverished people no other options? Do you think that anyone wants to be poor? Is it really that easy using food stamps (I think they call it SNAP now), paying rent at a sub-place place that accepts section 8, feeding your babies through WIC, or getting your healthcare through a Medicaid clinic? Do we really think that people embrace this "culture?"

These people are stuck. It's the least that we can do to provide them with some guarantees that they will eat, have housing, and minimal health care.

Anonymous said...

A nice lady named Margret told me about your blog this morning. I decided to stop by.

Poverty. This isn't an easy subject for anyone. Its all around us. I grew up in a working class section of the Bronx, poverty lived right next door.

My own family was what many would consider impoverished. On my Dads side there were 13 children, on my Moms 8 children. Both grew up in railroad tenements in the West Village long before it became one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

I agree with anonymous. No one wants to be poor. Most poor folks are born into poverty. One of the best ways out of that vicious cycle is education. Our nation has been dealing with a serious problem in regards to our Education System. We can all do better at improving the Education System. Turning off the television is the best way to start, if you have kids.

I don't believe the owners of the blog can be pegged as racists because they are posting a controversial subject in an effort to re-open dialogue to perhaps find solutions that may help break the cycle of poverty for every person.

Does anyone remember that Oprah show when Bill Gates took Oprah on a tour of Washington, D.C. schools that were literally falling apart? He pretty much summed up the priorities of our nation when kids were sitting in classrooms that had holes in the ceiling and rats running through the halls. While a good education doesn't guarantee you will escape poverty all together, it is a step in the right direction.

I have more to say, but I think I might have exceeded the max...

Guywithacause said...

It's silly to say that anyone would be "racist" for posting this article, as silly as it would be for me calling you "racist" for even commenting on it!

I read the NYTimes article and am unclear as to why the article focuses on a racial culture of poverty (black and brown) instead of the culture of poverty which affects every race. Black and Brown people are not the only ones suffering from a culture of poverty, yet the article would make you think so. There is poverty everywhere, yet there is a consistent message it is a Black/Brown urban problem...hmm.

The causes of poverty are so varied there are no simple answers/solutions. In the end, however, we have historically created our society for the benefit of a very few at the expense of the rest, and this is unchanged. This system works best for those at the top (those making the rules) by making sure as many people stay at the bottom, either poor or working towards the carrot they will never have, and were never meant to have.

By maintaining a poor population, you create a simple minded, weak, easily manipulated population who are too busy fighting for survival and each other rather than "waking up" and understanding the system that maintains them in this state (and then changing the system to make it more equitable much to the detriment of those few at the top).

It's easy to say work = not poor, but we all know working hard has little to do with poverty today. Some of the poorest people around are the hardest working..Mexicans being the first example in my mind.

I am surrounded by the culture of poverty, and have been for decades, and until our fundamental system changes, and our priorities are focused on the people (all people), the culture of poverty will grow.

Of course there are those that will have you believe poverty is a choice, and you can get yourself out of poverty by working hard, or by being a good Christian, or by following the rule of law. And anecdotal information will support those (false) claims, but when you step back and see the reality of our system in its totality, one understands poverty is a tool to control the masses, not a choice.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

ok, that deleted comment was a mistake, I meant to edit it.

in the deleted comment I said, "oh, for the record, I do not read the New York Times" but I also wanted to add that I met Margret last night not this morning

Guy With a Cause made excellent points. I agree.

Anonymous said...

Talk about a euphemism. Poverty is a culture? That sure is a crock. Poverty is a condition, and no two people are poor for the same reasons. People are not poor because they belong to one race or another. People are poor because of circumstances beyond their control, or in some instances, because of circumstances that they created. Either way, blaming them or anyone else is pointless. It will benefit them and the rest of us to alleviate their poverty before it spreads - and it will.
All who sit in judgment on the poor would do well to read Thomas Carlyle's "The Irish Widow," a very short story about a
woman living in Scotland, who was refused aid because she was a foreigner, contracted typhoid fever, infected her neighbors, and in death (hers and theirs) proved their common humanity.
A good story to share with those who oppose universal healthcare.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first anon post, I didn't get that perception of "Culture of Poverty" that you did from the article, so it is hard to understand your point. I think the following paragraph from the times article sums up the narrative best:

“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?

The "culture" reference isn't racial at all. As you stated, it is structural influences that "shape" local societal norms. Having been born and raised in the the city in the 70's & 80's, I know that some of us made it out of the ghetto, and some of us did not. I know no one grows up wanting to be poor, but too many people make the wrong choices for short trem pleasures without considering the consequences. It is easy to blame a structure, but the structure is only a limitation on available choices, not the determining factors of them. We as individuals are the ultimate shapers of our destiny, and blaming the structure is mostly a cop out.

So whether you are in the hood or in the sticks, irregardless of class, sex, or race, if you decide to embrace a "culture of poverty", there will eventually be consequences for you to pay.

I'll leave you with this thought. A hundred years ago, people said the Irish or the Italian could never amount to anything either. People also thought the Jews were a burden and held them in contempt. And what did each of these people do? They (not the government) found a way out. I believe the worst thing we as a city can do is to enable others to the point where they are no longer able to take care of themselves.

F. Badillo

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:15pm,

Your story for justifying universal healthcare is a bit skewed. Your "typhoid Mary" example is a justification for strengthening and maintaining a strong public health system that can react efficiently to health threats, not a convoluted healthcare system that no one can decipher.

F. Badillo

Anonymous said...

One of the comments of Alyssa Battistoni's piece defines her counterpoint to the Times article best:

Among serious sociologists, none of this is considered radical. Almost any serious academic would agree that the culture you're raised in will profoundly affect your values toward work, family, education and community. And, again, those values will carry consequences.

Left-wingers don't like the notion of the "Culture of Poverty" despite its obvious existence because they like to see every poor person as purely a victim of external economic forces. The idea that a person's own choices could impact their financial status runs counter to their world view."

The A.D.E.

Anonymous said...

I can't say I wholly support universal healthcare...or at least Obama's version. I take advantage of my employers flexible spending program and as of January 1, 2011 I will not be able to submit reimbursement claims for over the counter remedies like tylenol, sudafed, excedrin etc unless I visit the Doctor first and get a prescription for an over the counter remedy. So, I'll have to pay for the Doctors visit just to get a prescription for an over the counter remedy...that doesn't make any sense. Further, my healthcare costs have gone up 300% in the past year and I now have to meet a $500 deductible for EACH member of my family before my insurance will cover any visit. I have three kids so I do my best to keep them as healthy as possible to avoid going to the Doctor.

What makes the most sense in combating poverty and promoting health is fixing our school systems at an elementary level where the breakdown occurs and then making sure everyone has access to healthy food.

EMPLOYMENT: I was sad to see that we couldnt work something out for the armory. So many young people are unemployed in our area, they really could have used those jobs. Instead, many are getting into trouble and joining gangs. Unions could have hired a few apprentice carpenters, electricians, bricklayers etc (no matter the age or gender) for the construction of the shopping center/recreation center. That would have been a fantastic opportunity to not only employ folks but TRAIN them for better employment opportunities down the line. I understand the need for a living wage. I remember making $9.00 an hour when my first born was a year old and I worked full time for an ad agency. I had to pay for rent, childcare, con ed, groceries and transportation with my paltry salary. My apartment was not subsidized nor did I qualify for food stamps. We made it through. I worked really hard to get to where we are now.

Nutrition: SNAP cards should BLOCK the purchase of anything containing high levels of sugar or fat and high fructose corn syrup (surely the bar codes can be reconfigured to contain that information?). Nevermind fat taxes and penalties, just block those purchases all together. Add MORE funding to SNAP cards to help families in difficult finanicial positions live healthy lives despite being "impoverished".

HOUSING: The fact that the DHC and shelter programs pay landlords $2700 per month per apartment to house homeless families is really a disgrace. Build or manage more affordable housing and make sure the landlords and Management Agents stick to housing codes so that people aren't living in third world conditions. I've witnessed such conditions in my Coop and we're supervised by the State, just not supervised aggressively enough.

While examining the problem and articles mentioned in this post are a great way to start the discussion we have to be careful not to put too much time into focusing on the problem and work together to come up with solutions.

Access to healthy food, quality education, affordable housing and job training programs would make a world of difference to people less fortunate than those of us who have the priviledge of stopping by blogs on our laptops and home computers.

Anonymous said...

When my students stop thinking that their financial aid checks are meant to buy them "outfits on Fordham Rd." rather than books at the college bookstore, then I will believe that this "culture of poverty" is a crock. People (black, white, asian, etc.) make choices on a daily basis that either hurt them or help them.

When a culture tolerates the use of the "n-word" along with a whole slew of hateful speech and violent acts as well as encourages people to destroy their neighborhoods/communities so quality of life does not increase (hence rent increasing) then, yes, that is a "culture of poverty".

Guywithacause said...

F.Badillo just a few comments:

1-Irregardless is not a word. You mean regardless.

2-Your sentence "It is easy to blame a structure, but the structure is only a limitation on available choices, not the determining factors of them." makes no sense. So what you are trying to convince us is that the system that kept black as slaves, and did not even count them as people/human beings, was just limiting their choices, and not a determining factor for them? Ultimately they made the choice to be slaves and therefore it is their fault? HUH? And today the system merely adapted from physical slavery to economic/financial.

The biggest farce around is that "you are the ultimate shaper of your own destiny." While I agree you can shape your own destiny to SOME extent, ultimately unless the system changes, YOU may change your destiny, but 99% of people can't. The reality is we all work under the same system that is meant for us to succeed only in so much as those few at the top succeed 1,000 times more. Is that success? Yes, but not for you.

3-Your comment about a hundred years ago Irish/Italians/Jews would not succeed is hogwash. There are plenty that haven't succeeded, but they have mostly moved OUT of NYC. Take a stroll through the rest of America and tell me about all the "success stories" that are the Irish, for example. Do you even realize that 20% of Jews in NYC live below the poverty line? Our existing system cannot function if everyone succeeds, and if you believe it can, you are not playing with a full deck.

Anonymous said...

@ Guy with a cause,

Slavery no longer exists as a structure in the US because people made a conscious effort to eliminate it, even if force had to be used. The same way people are trying to make a conscious effort to eliminate racism and discrimination even today. It is the effort by people to change the circumstances around them that has led to changes that were not conceivable a century or two ago.

You are not a slave and neither were your parents. To harp on slavery as an excuse for the present conditions of blacks in this country is to deny the effort of countless numbers of Blacks who have become successful. It is nothing more than a crutch for those who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. That is a facet in the "culture of poverty" that continues to bring down too many young Black men and women today.

Likewise, I never stated that the Irish/Italian/Jews would not succeed. I stated that it was the perception of people living a hundred years ago that those groups could not amount to anything or were considered as a burden. What has happened is that people are not as narrow minded as they used to be and as each of those immigrant groups moved on, the classism/racism against them has dropped to the point that it is almost not perceivable. Yes, many of them have not succeded, but unless you know everyone's specific story, how do you know who has succeded or what success even means to them?

You are too caught up in making generalizations about people and structures, and that also is a facet in the "culture of poverty". You are a prisoner to your own misperceptions, especially when you actually believe your own statement that "99% of people can't shape their own destiny".

Until you can let go of your blaming everyone else "and the powers that be" for your own missteps in life, you and everyone else who embraces victimization and negative 'group-think' can never grow to your full potential. Stop complaining about what others have and you do not and do something to lift yourself up as much as you can. Stop embracing a spirit of covetousness as a justification for wanting to tear down others in order to "level the playingfield", because we are never guaranteed equality of condition, but equality of opportunity.

The more people we can educate to making a difference in their own lives, the more we can break the cycle of those trapped in a "culture of poverty" and subsequently, breakdown those structures that flourish on the misery of others.

F. Badillo

Anonymous said...

Please call it "cycle of poverty" or just "poverty." There is something so oxymoronic about "culture of poverty." I know what it's supposed to mean, but it's just jargon.
There are so many reasons why poverty will not go away, just as there are so many reasons why schools will not get better. Everybody has an opinion. But very few do more than beat their gums.
"Twas ever thus.

Anonymous said...

No feedback from BD? Usually you would jump in at this point...

Anonymous said...

At anonymous 9:04PM-

Ignoring it or calling it another name doesn't change the fact that people accept and/or believe it. We can't keep burying our heads in the sand just because the conversation gets heated and it is a sensative topic. Otherwise, we end up reinforcing the cycle* of poverty.

*As a consideration to you...

Anonymous said...

It should be called what it is, not sugar coated by calling it "culture." As Gertrude Stein would have said, "Poverty is poverty is poverty." She would not have said, "Poverty is a culture."

Guywithacause said...

F. Badillo, here are my comments:

1-Using the example of slavery was simply to disprove your point...and nowhere did I indicate it is an excuse today. We do know, however, that the same system that used blacks as slaves for the benefit of the wealthy few, is the same system today that is using economic/financial slavery for the benefit of a few (predominantly white). Same system, just updated for 2010. And the same way slaves had no choice, many today have no choice either..same game.

2-We know the concept of "Operation Bootstrap" ..i.e. lift yourself out of poverty/circumstances does not work, for if it did we would no longer have poverty today. They never changed the system, they just said "you can do it!" What a farce...and here you are repeating it like we don't know what the outcome was/is/will be.

3-I do believe individuals can change their plight in life, but holding up the few Bill Cosby's as an example of the success of "you can do it" while ignoring the millions that can't escape the system is just BS. If an acceptable ratio of success of "you can do it!" is 1 out of every 10,000, you better hope you are that 1! Because the way our society functions, it can't sustain any more than 1 out of the 10,000 being successful, otherwise we become to heavy at the top and there just isn't enough money to go around (mostly cuz nobody wants to share).

The more people at the top, the more you need exponentially at the bottom, and that's exactly what's happening today. The top is growing, albeit modestly, while the bottom is growing substantially. But hey..."you can do it!"

Anonymous said...


I think you and I can agree on the problem and its deep and far reaching roots.
I've read little about your solutions, though (unless I missed something)
What do you propose? How do we change the dynamic? How do we break the cycle one family at a time? Is it possible or are you saying the system is set up so that there will always be impoverished faces everywhere we go, save for the exclusive communities, and we are powerless to try to change the way it is?

I am inclined to believe that I, personally, can do my part to change the circumstances for an entire family one family at a time. Are you up to that challenge? I find it hard to believe you feel powerless : )

It can be done. Find a family, look for ways to help. Each member of that family can go on to help another family and so on and so forth. We are not powerless.

Solutions need more energy than the energy we expend focusing on the problem and bickering with each other.

Guywithacause said...


Unfortunately America has always been this one and it is nothing new. We have a President that is trying to make the system more equitable, and you see what the results have been. There are powerful segments of the population, corporate/political/individual that will never allow the system to change.

Those ignoramouses claiming Obama is a socialist are just repeating the garbage fed to them by the same entities/groups keeping them poor. Unless we as a society wake up and understand that to be a wealthy, growing, and prosperous nation WE DO NOT NEED A PERMANENT AND GROWING UNDERCLASS. And we have many examples of successful top tier nations that have virtually eliminated poverty, Singapore being the first to come to mind.

The American people are convinced that freedom means we will have poor people, and it makes no sense, at least not the generational/cyclical poverty that has become the norm here. The only solution is to change the mentality of "you can do it!" and freedom = freedom to be poor too, and have Americans understand it is wiser, economically and socially, for our population to have between $10 -$1(or thereabouts), than a few to have $100, and everyone else having .25 cents. But for some reason..they just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

i've run a social service center here in the Bronx for the last 17 years, and perhaps the only thing that I can say with any honesty is that - everything you've ever heard about people living in poverty is true-- whether good or bad -- every antidote or stereotype has a grain of truth -- There are people who are lazy, and there are folks working their tails off.

Each family I meet has there own story -- isn't it time we stopped looking at theories and start looking at individual needs -

Anonymous said...

theories can be turned over again and again and again until the end of time. we need to come up with solutions.

families need to be mentored as a unit and then individually. sometimes "lazy" has more to do with poor nutrition, which affects mood and brain function as well as the body.

where not talking about statistics and numbers and percentages. we're talking about human beings. the former just makes it easier for people to digest. the devastation of poverty is an uncomfortable thing for people to behold - and it should be. none of us should ever be comfortable with human suffering. we should all feel inclined to pull each other out of precarious circumstances no matter how inconvenient those circumstances may be to those of us who have fortunate lives.

Anonymous said...

sorry, "where" should be "we're"

it's been a long day : )