Poverty has become hereditary in the biological sense in addition to the socio-economic sense for many people born into desparate communities. Equity is the way out of this ingrained condition, which is perpetuated by U.S. institutions within our social and economic systems. Equity in terms of applying it to the poor means changing the system, as opposed to equality which implies everyone gets the same resources (even though this is a myth). Equity is more than getting what the wealthy all take for granted; for those who suffer from their circumstances, they need at least an intellectual empathy from the priviledged classes before they can hope to evolve in ways that lift them up from the desparate circumstances they met at birth.
However, judging by the social climate in the United States today, society as a whole has become impatient and intolerate with its poor, especially with their behavior and their confoundingly self-destructive lifestyles. Tolerance was a virtue when I was growing up. My family instilled this and other values in me that all amount to loving others despite their faults. The poor will buy Michael Jordan’s shoes before putting food on their table, because this is what the poor do. They cannot help themselves when it comes to making decisions that seem like a no-brainer to a middle class family. The white student studies hard at school to ensure he or she will maintain the lifestyle they have become accoustomed to but the poor student will argue with the teacher, fight other students, disrupt the class or generally clash with people and the institutions trying to help them. This is what the poor do. This is why empathy for their plight, which even includes their self-destructive behaviors is so important even when it goes against every fiber that makes up the middle and wealthy classes. Sure there are consequences, but in white families the ability for its children to make multiple mistakes in life before finding their way toward a self-sustaining lifestyle is one of the benefits that the poor do not have. One mistake can mean going hungry, or even worse an arrest or an incarceration.
Like most of my friends, I am oblivious to the privileges I had growing up as a white American. In fact in the wealthiest country in the world, it seems impossible that others are living within a system that institutionalizes poverty while I enjoy regular vacations and visits to theme parks, and I can never recall a day in my entire life when I went hungry. In fact, most affluent whites never see communities affected by poverty nor do they have contact with anyone in poor communities due to the way the American system has operated in recent decades. Along Orlando’s Interstate 4 corridor, there are communities, including some along the routes to Florida’s world class attractions, where people are indigent. I have driven along their streets and seen that they have few options for eating healthy meals, and limited transportation and housing options, and they very often must rely on the churches, charities and the government for food, shelter and healthcare. I can only reason that this is happening over many generations because of America’s past history of indentured servants, the slave trade and the slaughter of Native Americans by the wealthy European settlers in the New World. Not only could they trace poverty to these origins, their behavior demonstrates its effects are now part of who they are.
This generational poverty and its effects on the behaviors comes with a price tag that most American’s resent having to pay. No American’s want to pay higher taxes, nor allow politicians to expand entitlement programs for the poor. Yet real empathy, the kind that is necessary, requires some attention be paid to the desparate and needy. I understand poverty intellectually but cannot imagine living in it since I was born into a better set of circumstances than most people across the globe. My struggle is to find empathy, which is more of a struggle the more one listens to the messages of the wealthy and powerful in the media of the wealthiest nation that ever existed.