Is America Burning - a Forum To Discuss Issues

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

AMERICA'S POOR; BLAME GAME

THEIR OWN FAULT? WHO'S TO BLAME?

I had intended to write a post on the current Bush hullaballoo but a comment from a reader turned my thoughts elsewhere, back to the poor.

Reader Julian Blue left a comment that included a quote from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain't no disgrace to be poor, but it may as well be.' It is in fact a crime to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told about the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on the wall asking this cruel question: 'If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?'There will also be an American flag no larger than a child's hand - glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue...Their most destructive untruth is that it very easy for any American to make money.They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publically and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleon.
(end of quote)

We, as a people, have been reared, generation after generation, to believe that America is the land of opportunity, and by inference, anyone can be rich or at least quite successful. Success is usually defined as financial gain and positions of power. Abraham Lincoln has been held up to us as a model of that success - a log splitter, reared in a log cabin studying by firelight, yet became President of the United States.

So those who have not been successful financially blame themselves. Some may complain of bad luck or set backs that are to blame, but underneath it they blame themselves. They feel guilty, ashamed of their poverty and station in life and feel inferior to those who maintain a higher socio-economic level than they do.

Now we have a President and his Administration, those who occupy the highest levels in the land, fostering a belief that poverty is the fault of the poor, that they possess a character defect. And further espouse the belief that only the rich have wisdom and virtue, ergo: the poor have none.

I was reared poor but I didn't know we were poor. My maternal grandfather was descended from an Italian noble family but like many descendents of entrepreneurs who came to the colonies found that the family wealth had disappeared through the generations. My grandmother was of Native American and European ancestry but had been reared a lady by her step-father. They were just farmers but maintained the breeding and culture passed down to them and lived in what was called in the day "genteel poverty". Later my grandfather opened a Cities Service gas station and ran it until he retired.

We were taught that the measure of a man was not the size of his bankroll but the strength and virtue of his character, and that is how we judged people. We were associated with well to do people, some rich, and we observed that some were of good character and some were scoundrels. My father's people were all very well off, excepting one of his sisters who married a poor man. But they, too, ascribed to the belief that character was the measure of a man.

We not only were unaware that we were poor, we failed to blame ourselves and certainly never felt inferior to anyone. We were proud of our heritage and in our proper upbringing and teachings of moral character and Christian values. If we encountered someone from a higher socio-economic station who dared to look down on us, we certainly never cringed or felt inferior; we were insulted and outraged.
A few times I have met people who mistook our strong sense of self esteem and value of self as arrogance or conceit, and have been accused of being "uppity". Excuse me? Uppity from what viewpoint?

I once had what I mistook for a friend who was always a trifle fawning towards me. In our social circle was a woman who divorced her husband and as a consequence was reduced to living on a menial wage. Before long, I noted that my friend had begun to treat this woman very disrespectfully, treating her as if she was a servant, ordering her about and cruelly chastising her if she displeased my friend in any way.

Later, when my fortunes met a downturn as described in a previous post, my friend's attitude towards me changed and she attempted to treat me in a similar manner. Wrong! I informed her in no uncertain terms I was still the person I had always been, money or no money, and I was not to be treated in such a manner. I broke off the friendship. Later when times were better for me, my husband was once again earning well, she tried to re-establish our old relationship. Wrong again. I refused to be judged by our income or bank account.

And now that my fortunes have once again met a downturn, I do not feel to blame because I am poor. I do not feel I have a character flaw, nor do I feel inferior. I am still myself. As far as I am concerned, our President can go chase a bug around a bush with his autocratic ideas. He might think that I am "uppity" if he knew of my opinions, but I believe my character is much better than his own.

I realize that there are some individuls who could do better for themselves but they, by choice, refuse to maximize their potential. Some are lazy and shiftless, and these are no doubt character flaws. I have heard several persons make the statement, "I make it better on welfare than working for minimum wage, so why work?"

But I do not believe that all the poor of this nation nor the extremely poverty stricken should be judged by these few. It is wrong to lump an entire class of citizens together because of a few wrongdoers.

2 Comments:

  • At Wednesday, January 04, 2006 2:24:00 PM , Blogger JBlue said...

    Now you've reminded me of Little Women and the idea of "genteel poverty." I remember my father talking about HIS mother (they were sharecroppers, very poor) who had high standards of behavior for them. To this day, my father is a stickler for such things as table manners, etc., all things he learned from his mother. I'm not sure where that thought is going....

    This struck me as funny because I thought immediately of the Bush twins: "I realize that there are some individuls who could do better for themselves but they, by choice, refuse to maximize their potential. Some are lazy and shiftless, and these are no doubt character flaws." Guess there are slackers in every "class."

     
  • At Wednesday, January 04, 2006 3:09:00 PM , Blogger Granny said...

    Re Bush twins - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree although I bet their mom is heartsick.

     

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