Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Studying Poverty

Poverty conjures up many images. I call to mind faces of despondent men, women, and children; blighted neighborhoods; children with inadequate clothing and resources; tired and hungry senior citizens. Poverty includes but is not limited to a combination of circumstances including financial insecurity, food/nutrition insecurity, having few material assests (though not necessarily, I'll address this paradox later), poor health, high stress, and overall low quality of life. Plus, there is crime, homelessness, sometimes gang activity, abandoned lots with heaps of trash, disabled vehicles, the lack of businesses and services.

Two weeks ago, I was picking up my charge who had recently moved to a new home. I am sure the mother of my charge moved to so as to find a better neighborhood. But if that was her goal, I wouldn't judge her move as succesful. The new neighborhood and old neighborhod seemed the same. Most of the the homes were boarded up. There were abandoned cars and overgrown empty lots between buildings. There was a burned down house in each neighborhood. Finally, there were lots of school age children hanging out on porches and in front yards. Well, there was one difference. The kids were wearing different colored shirts and bandanas. My guess, a different gang ruled supreme in this new neighborhood. My thought as I was leaving the neighborhood, "This place is as shitty as the last place. My God, being poor sucks." Where were these types of neighborhoods her only option?

I still don't know the exact answer(s). But studying poverty as a state and as a process of urbanization (studied from an urban geography point-of-view) helped. According to Knox and McCarthy (2005), poverty is perhaps the most compelling problem in and of cities. Poverty bequeths social, psychological, financial and physiological pressures to its recepients. Poor people are more likely to be less educated, have inadequate access to education, health care, employment. Poor people are captive. They often must 'make do' or 'deal with' the circumstances put before them. So what if the grocery stores don't offer quality foods. So what if the landlord, shopkeepers, or municipal workers are rude to you. You just deal with it. What other options do you (think you) have? Poverty is gregarious, often taking a hold of entire neighborhoods. And it is heritable. And that's the shame. How can one escape it? What's the use? That's the psychologically damaging aspect of poverty. It can yield a load of obstacles that most people don't care to admit are real and must be surmounted.

I commend all those who work to overthrow systems that promote or maintain poverty. It commend those who work to help those who are impoverished. I commend those who try to help poor people and improve neighborhoods in private ways, even if those efforts are ineffective and/or enabling. I give this last group of people, organizations, etc., a hard time. It's not because I don't have passion for the work they do or I think the people aren't worth it. But, I encourage those who do social service and work with the poor to take the time to study the literature. Work with social scientists, economists and others who study poverty and related systems so that the efforts put into your work can be more effective and empowering. Knowing more about the beast, helps you know how to defeat it -- once and for all.

For additional study I recommend: Urbanization, 2nd edition. 2005. Paul L. Knox & Linda McCarthy. Pearson Prentice Hall Press, New Jersey.


Jen said...

This isn't related to your post, but I wanted to comment anyway. I love your blog, and think that it is a needed voice in the Afrospear.

However, I wanted to bring up some points that you fail to address in your blog. I am a college Senior, and will be applying to doctoral programs in the History of Medical Science this year. Therefore, these issues are of importance to me.

African Americans and science go way back to Colonial times. Biomedical research on African Americans and the resulting mistrust of the health and science community, play a significant role in why science is not popular in our community. Using my own family as an example, my mother told me, once she found out that I had signed to be an organ donor, that she was afraid to do that because she felt they(health officials/gov't/anybody with power) would try to intentionally kill me for my organs. Furthermore, my grandmother was defiant towards the end of her life in making clear that she did not want to be experimented on. She wanted to die naturally without "doctors" trying to keep her alive. As you can imagine, science has always been viewed in my family as something that will hurt us, rather than help us.

Another point I wanted to bring up is environmental activism by African Americans. Now, I happen to be a "green" person since I actively try to reduce my carbon print. I love Majora Carter and her initiative to "Green the Ghetto" by creating a sustainable South Bronx. You can look her video speech up on Youtube, which she delivered at the TED conference. There is also African American Environmentalist Association located at I think there is a movement underway to connect environmental issues to larger social and economic issues. Furthermore, I will be exploring these issues in my doctoral program.

Thank you,

The Urban Scientist said...

Thanks Jennifer.

I concur. I am the first to call attention to the bad PR science and research has in the African-American community. I had the same types of conversations with my relatives and friends. But people like you & I can really make difference by educating others. In my opinion, most people are simply unaware of the nature of science - how it works, the fact that it is self-correcting, always evoloving, involved in activism, etc.

Your comments are important and worth exploring further. I'll include a few blogs about this very topic. Perhaps we can get a conversation going w/in the African-American community and enlighten some people.