Have you ever heard of ‘culture of poverty’? If not, let me give you a brief description of the term; culture of poverty is a social theory which explains the cycle of poverty. Based on this theory the poor have a ‘unique’ value system that ‘keeps’ poor people poor; it is suggested that this is due to their adaptations to the burdens of poverty.
What makes this an interesting topic is the controversy that it brings. Many believe that there is no such thing as culture of poverty, and simply believe that people who are poor choose to be poor. Now, that being said, let’s take this a bit further; what was once considered ‘culture of poverty’ is now being called ‘black poverty’. Why, you ask? From my professional experience, poverty strikes
people of all races and all cultural backgrounds; this being a known fact I ask the same question as you…why has this term been altered and made to label the African American communities? This is such an important issue because there are millions of children living in poverty today. No race or culture should be exempt from acknowledgement when addressing, advocating for, and trying to make change with regard to this issue. How are we going to be able to begin addressing the issue of poverty when we can’t even get a fair number of those suffering from it?
Just to give a little history on the matter, the term ‘cultural poverty’ was introduced in the 1960s when Oscar Lewis stated that, “sustained poverty generates a set of cultural attitudes, beliefs, values, and practices that he called 'culture of poverty”; and that, “the culture grows over time and does not change regardless of the structural conditions.” Mr. Lewis believed that poverty transformed the lives of poor people and imposed burdens on those living in it; he further suggested that children adapt to behaviors and attitudes that make it difficult for them to escape their surroundings. There are however, scholars from this generation who do not agree; they believe that there is no such thing as a poverty culture and that values do not determine whether one is poor or not. So does the new generation of scholars believe that people are poor by choice???
I refuse to believe that anyone in their right mind would ‘choose’ to be poor! Based on my experience over the past decade, in working with children and their families I would go as far as to say that I do believe in culture of poverty. I would also like to add that there is no race attached to culture of poverty; there are families of all races, religions, and cultures that are affected by the social ills that overtake the communities in which poor families reside! The schools are lacking the tools necessary to provide an equal opportunity education for the children residing in these communities; there are no jobs for the parents that will enable them to provide the basic needs for their children; there are not enough resources that guide and support the families that are in need; the list of how we fail these communities go on and on!
There is a man by the name of William Julius Wilson, who has advocated for and written many books in hopes to break down the walls of poverty; if not in his time, at some time. Mr. Wilson stated that children adapt to their surroundings and learn that 'this is all there is', thus causing them to repeat the generational 'curse' of poverty. How truthful is this??? It pains me to say, but it is more truthful than many of us are willing to admit, or to acknowledge. Cultural poverty is a real thing; it is alive and well within the communities here in the United States, and many countries abroad. Children are growing up and repeating a vicious cycle, how do we stop this madness? One suggestion, we must begin to work hard on improving the 'ideas' and 'beliefs' within the communities; the children must be taught that what they see is not 'all there is'. They must be provided with avenues toward great opportunities, happiness; and good health physically, mentally, and emotionally.
God, I beg you....please help us help them!
Mrs. Tomaro M. Pilgrim, MS