Hi Meltingpot Readers,
So, the other day my older son made a comment along the lines of, ‘Well, all the poor neighborhoods are Black neighborhoods.” I can’t even recall the context in which he said this, because my heart stopped for a moment and I had a painful flashback to my own childhood.
Growing up in extremely segregated Milwaukee, we always lived in “White neighborhoods” and the “inner city” was code for Black neighborhoods. That dichotomy was the source of much of my alienation and shame of being Black as a child. It just seemed that the “Black community” as I understood it, began and ended in the broke down, impoverished neighborhoods on the North side of the city. And the last thing I wanted people to do was associate me with the ills of the inner city. Thankfully, once I left Milwaukee and learned a thing or two, my identity issues dissipated. But now I hear my son making the same connections I did as a child and I freaked out. If he thinks only Black people live in poverty, then will he also surmise that the Black part of him is somehow less than? I couldn’t let that happen.
Of course, I went into overdrive explaining to my son that poor people came in every color of the rainbow and that crappy neighborhoods, like the one we happened to be driving through in North Philly when he made this declaration, weren’t only populated by Black folks. I regaled him with stories of poor neighborhoods where Mexicans lived, and poor White people and poor Asian people. And then I felt really twisted for trying to point out just how depraved and poor people can be all over the city. But still, I could tell he wanted to believe me, but he needed proof. So, dear readers, can you believe that I am planning a tour of poor non-Black neighborhoods so my son can see that poor isn’t a color. Is that twisted and wrong? Or would that help him understand poverty?
The more I think about it though, the more I realize that my son — and even me when I was a child — are simply victims of a false American story and media distortion that likes to portray poverty as a Black problem, which in my opinion is why it never really gets addressed. Poor White people are truly the invisible minority — even though their real numbers are higher than any other impoverished group. The last time I saw a story about poor White people on the news was Diane Sawyer’s 2009 special on the people of Appalachia and their poverty was portrayed as noble instead of the result of personal choices or laziness like it is with people of color.
So, maybe this weekend as the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, me and my son will be taking our own poverty tour. Not for nothing, my son isn’t the only one would do well to come on this tour with me. In case you hadn’t heard about the ridiculously racist article in this month’s Philadelphia magazine where the author surmised that all of Philly’s social ills were the fault of Black people. I responded here. My work is never done.