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  • Writer's pictureTonya Lampley, Author

What Black Folks deserve: my response on race, poverty and the American Dream

Recently I saw a post on a facebook page that references black folks' seeming entitlement, welfare mentality and 'self-induced' poverty. The implication was that they get what they deserve. This was my response. I wanted to post it here in case someone who held a similar mindset to this particular gentleman happened across this page. The issue is more complicated than people think. These are my views. His comments are not included and my comments have been edited slightly for ease of understanding.

I had a job that required occasional visits to the Appalachian community, and poverty is not characteristic of one particular race. Whites in Appalachia suffer the same plight as African Americans for the same reasons...they've been marginalized. And while I agree with you, society favors those who are 'productive.' I don't agree with you that it's an easy problem to fix. The plight of the Black community is not just a result of themselves or them not taking action etc. It's a complex system of racism, politics, lack of access to equal resources etc. Once society sees a group as inferior, a system is created that makes it difficult for them to reach equality. And some people want it that way. In fact, and I don't know your heart so only you can answer, but people who come on these boards and spout evil things toward minorities are the ones who don't see blacks etc as equal and some of the people in power hold that same mindset. Do you see the danger here? If you don't see black people as, or fear black people becoming equal, you deny them opportunities and impede their path. And it's been that way for generations. I hope you see the point. It's much more complicated than we can discuss here but before long a system is created that says, I will deny you equal opportunity because you are inferior and because you are inferior I will create a system to 'help' that is wholly based on my belief that you are inferior. Additionally, because I don't believe that you are my equal, I will leave areas in which you live and refuse to let my children be educated with you, thus creating a breakdown in the pipeline through which minorities could better themselves, ie access to decent housing, gainful employment and quality schools. And you can insert poor whites in the same equation and have the same outcome as we see in Appalachia. And even women to a lesser degree. These are the residuals of a Patriarchal society.

There's a generational gap here that should also be a part of the conversation. While whites were creating businesses and grooming their sons to one day take them over, black people were picking cotton. While whites were buying real estate that would set future generations on the path to success or entering Ivy League schools, blacks were prohibited from buying property and denied access to those same Ivy League schools. The few brave souls that had had enough and wanted a better future for themselves and their families had to petition the court to go the their local community college. And if my knowledge of history serves me, many of them were still denied. Odds are if your grandfather went to Harvard you wouldn't find yourself in poverty. Education creates a path to wealth that others who didn't have the same opportunity would be hard pressed to create.

Fast forward to now. Opportunities exist for minorities to improve their situation but we still can't deny the complexity. We still can't deny that it's easier for the children of white people whose father owned a business to create a better life for themselves while the black father was denied a loan at the bank. We still can't deny that because of racism, the inner city school has no heat and a leaking roof and young children can't focus on being educated while the caucasian suburban child sits in comfort and has the latest technology to facilitate his growth and development. And socially speaking, we can't deny the fact that the achievement of the American Dream is up close and visible to many caucasian children via parents, aunts and uncles and even television, while examples are not so visible for the inner city kid. How can you emulate what you've never seen?

The question is what now? How do we inspire more children to reach? How do we shift the mindset of those who look down on minorities and blame them for their situation without considering all the factors? How do we get people who hold bigoted or closed minded views to open their doors and get to know their neighbors instead of allowing stereotypes to fill them with fear, forcing them to move out of communities when minorities move in? We do it by challenging our own beliefs about one another. We do it by esteeming our brother as ourselves, by wanting the best for all human beings. We do that by inspiring people to believe in themselves, instead of condemning. We do that by giving opportunities where others would deny? And we do that by understanding one another and extending grace and compassion. I, myself grew up in poverty, and agreed, hard work is a valuable tool in creating a better future, but poverty is a vortex that is misunderstood by many and until we all take responsibility and formulate a systematic approach and stop blaming one another for it's existence, it will never be solved. Not for Black, White, Latino or anybody else.

And I will add that in some areas of the black community and Appalachia there isn't even a grocery store that sells fresh produce. Children who don't have the proper nutrients don't have proper brain development which can affect learning abilities. People with lower cognitive abilities have lower income levels. As I said, it's much bigger and way more complex than just pointing a finger at one race.

I understand the anger and frustration...but losing hope is not the answer. The answer lies in doing what we can to help, each to the other. It's the narrative that hurts us. Most people buy into the narrative about the other without question..."they're devils" or "they're lazy," and keep repeating it over and over-- at the dinner table, at the water cooler, at the pub on the weekend and perhaps the most sinister because of virility...on social media.

Each of us has the power and responsibility to think for ourselves. To not let a politician or a neighbor or anyone else decide what we choose to believe. We have the power to understand that the system is broken for a myriad of reasons and no single person, black or white has full responsibility for it and with that understanding we can rise above hate. Hate and animosity toward one another is definitely not going to solve anything. Grace, love and community is our only hope. And while an individual may not be able to change the system single handedly, we have the power to change mindsets. And that is the basis of any real change. And while some benefit more than others, we are all victims of the system that has been created. It either forces us to hate out of stereotypes and ignorance, denies us opportunity, forces people to become scapegoats, fills us with fear of the other, robs us of hope for our future...something. We are all touched by it in some way. It behooves us to come together to work to change it.

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