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Even though I'll be spending my days in sessions here at Boule, I'm still keeping up with the news. I read the text of Barack's speech (over at It was what it should have been. He addressed policy off the top, and then hit on personal responsibility. Of course, the media will latch onto Barack scolding or admonishing blacks, because that's the narrative they adore.

The thing I struggle with is as a middle-class black woman, I'm somewhat familiar with both sides of the story. My parents grew up poor - one in Kingston, one in a small city in Virginia. Some members of our family have done very well for themselves, and can be considered quite wealthy. Some are still struggling, living check-to-check, day-to-day. We're between these two markers. My folks came out of poverty to create a pretty comfortable life, and I know it's not because they're superhuman. They both were just kept their noses to the grindstone. They didn't have a network of people encouraging them to succeed, either. Because of them, I believe that for most things, you get out what you put in.

But policy and a history of oppression (or possibly what I've heard called 'Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome') make their mark.

The question is, why do some poor people make it into the middle class, and why don't others (most, I guess)? I really struggle with this, due to personal experience, when I'm trying to unpack the complexities of poverty and race. I'd love to hear from you guys on this subject.

It can't be all government policy, or all shiftlessness, can it?

7 new thought(s):

X Factor said...

I don't think there's a hard and fast answer to this one. Sadly, for some it is shiftlessness. The whole "I shouldn't have to work hard because I am owed such and such because my great great grandfather built this country" syndrome **blink**
For others, it is mitigating circumstances. A really, really old criminal record secondary to a poor choice made as a young adult. A momentary lapse of judgement that led to a lifetime of correcting that mistake.
And for even others it is simply a matter of being Black in America. it scares me to subscribe to that philosophy... it just seems so... defeatist. But to be honest with myself would be to say that sometimes no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you achieve, no matter how high you rise, there will always be someone there to stop the ascension because of the color of your skin.
So many different circumstances for so many different people. But the truly successful- and the ones who then reach back to help others to the same peak- are those who achieved in spite of.

CNEL said...

I agree with X.

Also I think that it's a question not of motivation, because people are often motivated to achieve albeit not always for the most admirable of reasons. A lot of people are still inspired to gain for material gain and not to accumulate generational wealth and or assets. I think of it everytime I see a Lexus parked outside of an apartment.

Another thing I think of often is how people are educated. A significant number of African Americans are educated to become teachers, doctors, and lawyers. They aren't at the same time educated on how to make fiscally sound decisions. The lack of fiscal judgement I believe leads people to mortgage their feature and some people never pay off that mortgage.

CNEL said...

* future not feature

La said...

There is no specific way to define it, I don't believe. There are some people who truly are a victim of their circumstance; their odds were just too stacked up against them for them to surmount.

There are also those who exist with a chip on their shoulders, as though they are owed something, and while, in theory this may be true, the practice is never gonna come to pass (40 acres anyone?). Those are the people that are generally shiftless and don't put nearly as much work into changing their circumstances as they do about complaining about them.

The Breaking Point said...

I think innate drive plays a role, a large role, in separating poor folks who make it from poor folks who don't.

Most people were not to the manor born, which, I think, impales the access to opportunity argument that apologists for the poor and downtrodden offer reliably.

Does opportunity jump in everyone's lap? No, but it most often can be found by those who dedicate themselves to making it happen. There are too many examples of people who came from less than meager backgrounds who came up the old fashioned way for this to be dismissed as a platitude. Dr. Ben Carson, Dr. Mae Jemison, Melody Hobson are just a few examples.

I think aside from innate motivation, having the temperment and maturity to appreciate cause and effect goes a long way toward separating winners from non-winners. I've heard and read it said that people who believe they don't have much to live for see no reason to avoid making the same choices that you or I would, but that's a study in post-modern nihilism ... and a cop out.

Yellow Rebel said...

ah Shani-O...

You've opened such a loaded Pandora's box with this query.

The easy answer is: It's's Always Racism...

The detailed answer lies in a late night Gmail chat convo that would probably still leave a lot of questions open for another blog post...

btw. What is your take on Post-traumatic slavery syndrome?

Manchild said...

Hello Shani-o,

Time and chance happen to us all. Think about it.

Yes, I'm a first time visitor.

As a sign of respect, I tip my hat to you for publishing this intriguing, thought-provoking blog.