Fighting Poverty with Passion
This month/week I’ve been thinking a lot about luck, privilege, power, wealth, social mobility, and the myth of the American dream for several different reasons.
I just finished this mini-podcast series on poverty in the US by the folks from On the Media – highly recommend, both for the stories examine common myths about poor people and poverty in this country, and ways that the media has contributed to manufacturing those myths. Here’s the link: http://www.wnyc.org/series/busted-americas-poverty-myths
While listening to the series during an insomnia bout last night, I really fixated on the role luck plays in our lives, in who are the haves, and who are the have-nots. When we (or the news or the television or advertisements) tell ourselves our own origin stories, we usually neglect the role luck plays in our lives. Growing up, my dad constantly would tell me and my siblings how lucky we were – to have our mom in our lives, to have enough money to not worry about emergencies, to buy whatever we wanted at the grocery store or out to eat at restaurants.
My parents, and my grandparents had a much different childhood than my own. My dad’s mom grew up in the Great Depression. When she was a teenager, her father died suddenly, and, being the eldest sibling, she quit high school (forgoing her dream of going to college) and went to work to take care of her mom and her little brother.
It’s Saturday, February 11th, four days after a tornado touched down in New Orleans East. We’re outside Ms. Johnson’s house, what once looked like a pretty suburban bungalow, brick with a big lawn outside and lots of windows, now boarded up or covered in blue tarp. The garage is looks like a giant toddler had a tantrum in it – the roof’s boards are stacked against one another like pick up sticks, the fluorescent lights dangle from twisted wires, and the washer is flipped completely on its side. Tufts of fiberglass insulation dot the yard, like a cross between cotton candy clouds and tumbleweed.
Across the street, a house with solar panels looks like it’s in an alternate universe from Ms. Johnson’s, with not even it’s rose bushes touched by the storm.
There’s something incredibly humbling and sacred about packing up the belongings of strangers you’ve only just met moments before. Whole lives, scattered across the block. A single sandal. Hundreds of yellowing, dog-eared romance novels. Three sets of identical pink t-shirts with the words “Stay Sassy” scrawled in red across the chest. I wonder if I would be able to trust a strange white girl to come into my home and box up all of my possessions, all of my secret objects.
4 years ago, I was in the middle of another disaster no one saw coming, trying to squeeze the lives of two of my friends into twenty cardboard boxes. My best friend’s boyfriend (who was also my friend) unexpectedly died over winter break, and we, the friends who remained in Oberlin, packed up his and her home.
I think about the destruction of a physical disaster vs. an emotional one, what remnants of chaos we’re able to see, and what remains invisible.