Picking American Poverty Apart by Race

Jimmy Dorrell is longtime executive director of Mission Waco/Mission World, which battles poverty and homelessness at home and abroad. Also pastor of The Church Under the Bridge, he serves on the faculty of Baylor University.
Jimmy Dorrell is longtime executive director of Mission Waco/Mission World, which battles poverty and homelessness at home and abroad. Also pastor of The Church Under the Bridge, he serves on the faculty of Baylor University.

Race matters. While many cultures worldwide develop stories that perpetuate long-held prejudices, America has struggled with racial disparity from its very beginnings to the present. From the savagery of slavery to oppressive Jim Crow laws, skin color and ethnicity have elicited hatred, divisions and myths like few other issues.

Inevitably, these influence our perceptions of poverty.

Growing up in the 1960s, I was seduced by my dominant white culture to believe many of the myths that were underpinnings of discrimination and segregation. In my small Texas community, we had two water fountains at the ice cream store, two Little Leagues, a divided movie theater and separate schools. I laughed at racial jokes that stereotyped blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic groups. I really believed they were not as smart, deserved lower pay and would hurt us white folks in a dark alley. Even my church defended the fallacies of “separate but equal,” using twisted interpretations of Scripture to validate our white superiority.

It never occurred to me that minorities could be rich, live in suburbs, have college degrees or be president of the United States. Somehow in my small-mindedness, Caucasians were destined to be the wealthy. And people of color would always be poor.

Little did I imagine that more white Americans actually live in poverty than any other group. Long perceived as mostly a minority problem, the truth is some 42 percent of those struggling financially in America are white while 35 percent are black and 31 percent are Hispanic. Though it is true people of color are more likely to be poor than white counterparts, more than 31 million whites also live below the federal poverty line.

“Blacks are not the primary recipients of assistance through federal benefit programs, including SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid, two of the largest public benefit programs,” Brennan Center for Justice policy associate Sophia Kerby once wrote.

In truth, welfare recipient rates among whites and blacks are similar.

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Source: Waco Tribune

Jimmy Dorrell is longtime executive director of Mission Waco/Mission World, which battles poverty and homelessness at home and abroad. Also pastor of The Church Under the Bridge, he serves on the faculty of Baylor University.

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