The Lifestyle of Poverty among Black People

hebrews Urie Bronfenbrenner, an ecological theorist proposed that human development is best known in terms of the interaction between individuals and the environments in which they live. He proposed what he calls the “Ecological Theory,” and in this construct is what he termed,  Microsystem,  Mesosystem, Exosystem, and Macrosystem and  says these entities consist of one’s “daily environment, family, school, religion and group affiliations”, and further adds that these can range from poor to excellent. Conversely, all the connections of  the theory have an effect or impact for the individual whether child or adult (Witt & Mossler, 2010). What do all of these have in common? The commonality is that all have played a magnificent part on the black mind which either keep people in poverty or releases them from it. The Bronfenbrenner theory sheds light on most human beings where environment along with other relationships are crucial to development. In this case, poverty and the underlying issues which are indicators of how a person may view the world around them. According to a report from Black Demographics, there are an estimated 44,456,009 million black people living in America which amounts to 14.1 percent of the population as a whole. Conversely, in proportion to these numbers, statistics show that 28.1 black families in America live at the poverty level. (Black Demographics, 2012, Paraphrased). Sadly, there is a stigma attached to African American people which says that all black people are lazy, some do not want to work, or they are criminals.  It is the case that, though these conditions may be warranted in some cases they do not apply for the group as a whole. Consequently, there is difficulty for some when speaking of this lifestyle of poverty from the inside out. Therefore, let this essay serve as a voice for those who cannot speak that the lifestyle of poverty supports everything people do from how a person might view themselves; including, their spiritual self, interaction  in relationships, and especially how one views problems, and/ or the inability to resolve them.  Poverty is multifaceted in American society and it affects more than just shelter but consumes ones entire existence, and to combat it each individual would need to examine and eliminate certain factors or barriers to their impoverished self; hence, mental health is a factor, unemployment, education, relationships, spirituality and other areas of life.

In order to see the entire picture of how the black population has ended up in an impoverished state one would have to go back to the past venue of slavery, because these venues convey truth of how traumatic an event slavery actually was, and as a result create an impoverished lifestyle today.  No one wants to talk about the mental and physical cruelty which was subjected on a people all those years ago, and even today people shout ‘get over’ it as if the hurt, pain and shame can be so easily put away from ones soul.  Inherited grief, the ridicule the scorn, the brute force of a hatred which is seemingly so deep rooted that one cannot dare believe that someone can be so evil against another, and most harrowing of all is that some used Christianity to make their way seem right. It is prejudice and discrimination which still lives on today in the white race and that which keeps black people down. In the article, “What are slavery’s Lingering effects?, the author wrote,  “The enslaved immediately found themselves dependent on their captors for food clothing and shelter, which has subject their descendants to the inequalities of colonization for decades.” (NCR, 2014, Para. 2).  Consequently,  a dependent mind tends to stay that way unless there is light to shed insight that the way out of poverty is to learn to think for oneself; hence, it is the premise that acceptance of a life given is generally passed down to one’s young whether they are rich or poor. It is the case, if one has been viewed as a social outcast for centuries then this would serve as a premise for lifelong habits formed, and what happens next is the acceptance of a poor lifestyle without necessary tools to change their environment. Bronfenbrenner definitely has a great point. Hence, his theory will be used to back up other sources throughout  this article.

Society tends to shun the impoverished adult rather than the children in most instances. Hence, one has a tendency to feel sorry for the children while being most critical of the adults’ inability to come from this lifestyle of defeat. Of course, one would see the reasoning behind this thinking, because no one wants to see a grown man sitting on the lap of a woman, or even worse the lap of the government. However, one should also note that these men and women were children once raised in poverty themselves.  Byron A. Brown, director of Educational Research Solutions consultancy in Botswana writes, “For many years, poverty has dominated international headlines as a global condition. Poverty is pervasive, and it is a chronic socio-economic problem affecting all population groups; adults, adolescents and children in many societies. The impact of poverty on adults can be far-reaching as adults are household heads. In household structures, adult poverty often has a ripple effect downwards, debilitating even the youngest family members. As part of a strategy to alleviate poverty, many societies are encouraging their adults, particularly young adults living in poverty, to participate in programs geared towards poverty reduction. But poor adults are not like mainstream well-to-do adults; poor adults often have complex learning and psychological problems that must be understood before they can participate in any programs. In most cases, these issues are locked in the identity which they developed by virtue of their sustained poverty conditions.” (Brown, 2005, p. 393, Para. 2). I agree wholeheartedly with Browns’ perception of the lifestyle. In the text he deals promptly with the initial impact of generational poverty across the board then narrows that concept down to the black households. However, even though this is enlightening news that someone else sees the clear picture of poverty among the black race does not to ease public conscience of the plight. He adds further, “The common assumption is that adult identity develops as individuals work through conflicts, stigma and stresses that are related to their poverty conditions. Resolving feelings of rejection, the direct physical consequences of deprivation, the consequences of severe stress on social relationships and the stigma attached to being poor, adults gradually consolidate an affirmative sense of self that enables them to accept their position and class in the community/society.” (Brown, 2005, p. 393, Para. 2). The information, in a sense might seem disparaging; however, the acknowledgment that there is a situation stemming from poverty passed down from one’s ancestry does not present biased information. Conversely, when speaking of Bronfenbrenner’s theory of people’s contact with their environment then the premise becomes that one’s choice is limited to their environment; especially in childhood. Hence, people living in poverty have no sense of seeking help outside of their environment. Furthermore, if social programs are available these might lend to help entertain an image of life without poverty, but do nothing to change the mind to free itself from poverty which is inbred thinking wherever that impoverished lifestyle happens to be in the world.

The Exosystem denotes Bronfenbrenner’s theory on social programs. Therefore,  in consideration of fundamentals that slavery has wrought a mind of dependency is one that society has yet to accept and the reproach of such sentiment is seen further in the venue of governmental welfare programs of the United States.  In the broadcast, “’The War on Poverty’Splitting up Black Families Podcast (2005),” guest speaker , Cherylyn Harley LeBon, co-chairman of Project 21, a leadership network of black conservatives suggests that the breakdown of black families as a moral and social construct;  along with,  or even more than slavery began with the entrance of welfare programs. The war on poverty introduced by President Lyndon B Johnson in 1960 set the premise for the downfall of the American black family in that these programs set in place under the pretense of help, actually, tore down the unity of the black family system even further when a mother has to choose whether to have shelter and food for the children; or keep the father in the home when there is not a legal marriage involved. Further notes presented, in statistical data show that in 1964 poverty was about 19 percent and since has dropped to only a 15 percent decrease total for blacks families which is a 4 percent decrease in 50 years. Therefore, however surprising this information might be for some people , it is the case, that one cannot hang on to untruths that an impoverished mind can be freed without provoking thought so the person can see they need the help first. Essentially, a mind which accepts poverty as a way of life has accepted their enslavement and will stay this way until a life changing thought provokes it to seek outside of the environment to which the mindset was bred. Moreover, one must see the United States Government as the slave owner, and see themselves free to walk away. There is no bias in the broadcast, no deceit, because further information was brought forth from the Reparations site (2014), where a study concluded that all states within the Cotton Belt are living in poverty, and shows that in parts of Texas alone there are 81to 100 percent families who live in poverty. Hence, the lingering effects of slavery are overwhelming. Similarly, the reality that black families were split up because of murder or being sold away as is seen in slavery where without the father to protect the wives and children became dependent solely on the slave owner; instead of the man. Hence, this is the same exact scenario just another time frame of life.

Reference to absent fathers is manifest in the article, “Wired for Success,” which speaks to the public in general concerning fathers not living with their children. However, the plight of the black man has been this way for centuries and is a further add to the premise of the impoverished lifestyle. Here we note that society has tagged these men dead beat dads, and granted this is what some are if they do not support their offspring. Here also is a barrier, because for those who work for low or no pay equals no money for the children who live elsewhere. Moreover, not all are dead beats who fall behind in their payments. There are many reasons why some men cannot pay. Consequently, many black men view child support as a modern day ‘lynching’ and do not want to be caught in the noose so they run. The article also links some common factors concerning poverty and the absent parent in general, saying, “Approximately 30% of all American children are born into single-parent homes, and for the black community, that figure is 68%, and also shares more insight which says “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics. Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents; Child abuse is significantly more likely to occur in single parent homes than in intact families In single-mother families in the U.S. about 66% of young children live in poverty ”. (Williams, 2011, Para 4). Ray Williams, author of the article brings good data to the table  statically as like that provided above but that is where ‘good’ stop here, because he goes on to group black people and American values in a lump. This information is not all inclusive when the majority of citizens where slave minds frequent are black and poor. He adds this saying, “The Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined more than 70 points in the past two decades; children in single-parent families tend to score lower on standardized tests and to receive lower grades in school according to a Congressional Research Service Report.” (Williams, 2011, Para 4). I add, to this in defense of the so called ‘fatherless’ children and say that it is biologically impossible for any child on earth to be produced without the aid of a man. Hence, the term ‘fatherless’ needs to be dispelled from the equation. This statement brings me to my next point while we remember that education has not come easy for black people in America.

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory  pointed to how one’s environment would influence poverty through the ‘Microsystem.  The Mesosystem is of value as well. In the book “Adult Development and Life Assessment” the authors write, ‘The Mesosystem refers to the connection of all the microsystems influencing a child. Changes in one microsystem can impact others. For example, fighting parents create distress in the home, which can influence how well children perform in school.” (Witt & Mossler, 2010, Para. 3). Education in black communities can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, because in black impoverished neighborhoods there are not only poorly funded schools, but as a result of poor funding there are not adequate resources for learning. This is a personal experience I had with my own children being that we live and have lived all our lives in impoverished neighborhoods, and having experienced single parenthood for the most part I can say that the children suffer for lack of funding because not only do they not have textbooks to take home but they do not learn well. In these schools state testing is given and the children are lowest in the state in the areas of history, reading and math. Furthermore, along with being low-income schools some were pressured with the added threat of passing the test or having their schools close. To date, several high school students who did not pass the TAKS test have not graduated.  Consequently, the tendency for low income school districts to hire  less than adequate teachers or low paid teachers who might have made only C scores in college themselves are not equipped to prepare a child for A grade work; not to mention the ones there for a paycheck only and fall into the category with others which says‘under the pretense of help.” Additionally, parents who are uneducated, or who have to work outside the home cannot help their children. In essence, an uneducated parent, a working parent in some cases are in the same category of an absent parent being that they are not there; or rather cannot be supportive of their children by helping with homework. Conversely, if one or both of the parents cannot read then there is no help there as well. Therefore, what academically can they help with?  Hence, Bronfenbrenner’s theory, although correct, means more than just arguing parents or abusive parents. It is the case that a parent in absentia of an education can affect a child’s performance as well. Society will say here there are opportunities available, however, if the choice of a meal on the table means work, rather than learning to read then the choice is made to work. On the contrary, not every black person sits at home to live off the state. It is the case, that generations of people have inherited their parent’s educational values. Perhaps if there had been rights given to read in slavery then all black people would have literacy would they not? As mentioned earlier, the premise now is that it takes a thought provoking light to reveal the need to look outside of ones environment to seek help to stand up

Of course, poverty is not isolated to the United States because across the globe there are people struggling to break free from the lifestyle. In this we note, that many other countries are adopting social programs as like those in the United States with great success. How can this be when the United States is known for its success in business and otherwise, and still their own citizens; black people are still the poorest of the land? Greg Corombos, author of ‘War on Poverty’ writes, “In some communities, public assistance programs have become a subtle destroyer of the spirit because when you’re looking at multi-generations of families who have been on public assistance, where is the incentive for individuals to want to start businesses and become entrepreneurs? It’s just not there,” (Corombos, 2014, Para. 8). Corombos is exactly right, because an impoverished mind has not a mind for business, except to put food on the table and in many instances it might seem better to allow the government to feed, clothe and shelter as generations before were conditioned to. Slave mentally breeds poverty, and the mind which says why work when I can get all this for nothing. In other words, Massa takes good care of the slaves or so they believe.

A study was presented by Byron Brown (2005) with five adults who had lived their entire lives in poverty, the focus being on individual poverty and households. Results concluded that lifestyle of poverty presented the following: “(a) the participants acknowledged being poor and believed ‘poverty’ is a label that others used to identify them (some reject the poverty label); (b) all held a strong belief that there were important purposes and meaning to their lives, even though they were poor; (c) for many poverty meant, ‘unbelief in self, that they hardly travel  out of the village—frustrated, just locked indoors’; (d) they felt rejection and a sense that other people see them as ‘nobodies’ because of their poverty conditions; and (e) many talked of discomfort, emotional pains from poverty stigmas, deprivation, inadequacies and feelings of hopelessness.” (Brown, 2005. p. 398,  Para. 2). History, education, religion, identity and spirituality have a connection with all of the above. The study is an accurate view into the minds of those who live the lifestyle of poverty. In this view, one can gather that until there is a mind changed then people literally see themselves as having no choice, no hope of a better life and sometimes unknowingly pass that same mind down to their children. This thinking is why society sees entire generations living on the welfare system. Hence, grandmother lived on welfare, daughter lives on welfare, granddaughter, father left his wife, son left his wife, and grandson left his wife and so on.

Spirituality is a great motivator, contributing  to how one gains a meaning into what happens in life. However, for blacks the belief in God far outweighs that of the white people. One may ask how is it that a group of people who have been kidnapped, beaten up, murdered, raped, enslaved, and rejected can still believe there is a God who loves them. Christianity has presented a God who is all about prosperity, and also presents a question that if the God of Christianity is all about prosperity then what happened to the black people? Why are all other people prosperous and this prosperity seen everywhere except with people of color? Since Brenfrenbrenner’s analysis speaks of church as an influence, let us talk about church; or rather religion as it pertains to poverty among blacks and the downfall of the blacks race in America and otherwise. According to a Pew Research study, black people are the most spiritual people in the United States. In the article, “African Americans top U.S. religious measures-Pew”, Stoddard (2009) writes, “Nearly eight in 10 blacks (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among all U.S. adults.  Blacks attend religious services and pray more frequently than the general population. While 39 percent of all Americans report attending religious services at least once a week, 53 percent of blacks report the same. Similarly, while 58 percent of all Americans report praying at least once a day, 76 percent of blacks report praying daily. The vast majority of blacks are Protestant (78 percent), compared with 51 percent of the U.S. adult population as a whole.” (Para. 1-3). There is much to be said concerning this because religion, identity and lack of education has much to do with these findings, because although blacks pray to the so called God of prosperity in the Christian sect they are still poor. The Scriptures can explain, “Hear the word of יהוה, you children of Yisra’ĕl, for יהוה has a case against the inhabitants of the land: “For there is no truth or kindness or knowledge of Elohim in the land.  “Swearing, and lying, and murdering, and stealing, and committing adultery have increased. And bloodshed follows bloodshed. “Therefore the land mourns, and everyone living there languishes, with the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens. And the fish of the sea are taken away. “However, let no one strive or reprove another, for your people are like those striving with a priest. And you shall stumble in the day, and the prophet shall also stumble with you in the night. And I shall make your mother perish.” (Hosea 4:1-5). History recounts that the slaves were stripped of their names, forbidden from reading, or speaking their native language of Hebrew and worst took away our God. How do we know this? One knows because of some of the lyrics of so called slave songs such as Kum Ba Yah (Come by here Yah) in the Hebrew tongue. The book of Deuteronomy Chapter 28, also conveys truths of this matter, saying that the children of Yisra’el would be taken to another land by ship and that the occurrence would not been seen again, there to be sold as bondsmen and women and no man would redeem us. Redeem in this instance would be as in Kinsman Redeemer, however, if all one’s people are sold and scattered to the four corners of the earth then there is no man (kinsman or otherwise) to save us. Hence, poverty is a part of the curses; verse 31-33 says,  “Your ox is slaughtered before your eyes, but you do not eat of it. Your donkey is violently taken from before you, and it is not given back to you. Your sheep are given to your enemies, with no one to save them.  “Your sons and your daughters are given to another people, and your eyes look and fail for them all day long, and your hand powerless.  “A people whom you have not known eat the fruit of your land and all your labours. And you shall be only oppressed and crushed all the days.” (Deuteronomy 28, The Scriptures). It is the case that black people were stripped of their God and forced to worship the god of Christianity. Hence, poverty is the result of idol worship which is a breach of Covenant to the Most High. Hosea conveys truth: “My people have perished for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being priest for Me. Since you have forgotten the Torah of your Elohim, I also forget your children.  “As they were increased, so they sinned against Me. My esteem they have changed into shame.” (Hosea 4:6-7). The study is correct, black people do pray but to the wrong god. It is the case that one cannot argue with statistics.

In closing, I leave a quote from William E.B. Du Bouis, PH.D, from the article, “The Individual and Social Conscience, “It is impossible for the individual to reach the larger social conscience by sheer expansion, by a benevolent endeavor to be interested in all men. This leads inevitably to a tenuous filmy consciousness, a loss of grip on the realities of human beings—on the concrete man. It becomes easily a theoretical rather than a practical humanitarianism, and has often been illustrated in the world’s history by the wavering and doubting of the philanthropic mind. We can only be interested in men by knowing them—knowing them directly, thoroughly, intimately; and this knowing leads ever to the greatest of human discoveries,—the recognition of one’s self in the image of one’s neighbor; the sudden, startling revelation, “This is another Me, that thinks as I think, feels as I feel, suffers even as I suffer.” This is the beginning, and the only true beginning, of the social conscience.” (Excerpt from: The Sacred Unity in All the Diversity”: the Text and a Thematic Analysis of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Individual and Social Conscience” (1905)). This is a powerful statement. One that surmises the condition of those who live in an impoverished lifestyle because many cannot understand why years after rights of equality were given do people still have hatred in their hearts, and worst why do people still live in poverty. The Messiah said, that poor would always be among us. Our children want to know why they cannot live in a good house, go to the same schools as their white peers, and seemingly the margins and divides are unconquerable when we see disparages even against the children who can go to college but are not prepared for college when they get there. Hence, education for a black mind is a farce. What about religion? Even the preachers are dumbed down, and are educated fools who do not know truth, and in actuality are helping the lynch mobs to kill our people. Therefore, Religion is a farce. The welfare system is system designed to break up homes and families under the pretense of help, therefore government assistance is a farce. It is the case that the only thing real thing in all this to the black person is their poverty. Hence, each day a person gets up to start another day walking through their impoverished mind, unable to solve problems, unable to find answers because like their mothers and fathers before them their ability to think is limited to the life passed down. Therefore, each individual would need to examine and eliminate certain factors or barriers to their impoverished self.  It is therefore the case that mental health is a factor, unemployment, education, relationships, spirituality and other areas of life. A great writer once wrote, “A theorist, said that family, church, school, and state programs help shape a child’s mind and the world around them. It is my opinion these have failed the black child. Family has failed the black child, religion has failed the black mind, school has not provoked thought, except to brainwash our children when there is no identity to gain of who they are other than how society sees them.” (Spears, 2014). It is written.

Watch: Poverty In America

 Bibliography

Black Demographics, (2012). 12 Black Population: 44.5 million, 14.2% of USA. 

Brown, B., (2005). The incorporation of poverty into adult identity over time: implications for adult education.  INT. J. OF LIFELONG EDUCATION, VOL. 24, NO. 5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2005), 393–404. Retrieved (19 March 2014) from: http://library.ashford.edu/databases_a_z.aspx#J

Gillam & Griffith (2010). Prayer and Spiritual Practices for Health Reasons among American Adults: The Role of Race and Ethnicity Author. Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 49, No. 3 (September 2010), pp. 283-295. Published by: Springer. 

Grohol, J., (2014) The Vicious Cycle of Poverty and Mental Health. 

North American Reparations Task Force (2014). What Are Slavery’s Lingering Effects? Sponsored by: National Commission for Reparations. 

Stoddard, E., (2009). Reuters, African Americans top U.S. religious measures-Pew.

The Scriptures (1998). Translated, Published and distributed by: Institute of Scripture Research. North Riding, South Africa. The Scriptures Publication History, First Edition 1993, Second Edition 1998. IBSN—13-978-0-9585045-4-6

Williams, R., (2011). Wired for Success The decline of fatherhood and the male identity crisis. Psychology Today (2014).  

Williams, R. (2012). “The Sacred Unity in All the Diversity”: the Text and a Thematic Analysis of W.E.B. Du Bois’. “The Individual and Social Conscience” (1905). J Afr Am. (2012) 16:456–497  DOI 10.1007/s12111-011-9171-4. Published online: 23 March 2011. Political Science, Bennett College, 900 East Washington St., Greensboro, NC 27401, USA. # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, 201.

Witt & Mossler (2010). Adult Development and Life Assessment. Ashford Discovery Series. ISBN 10: 0-9841823-3-0, ISBN 13: 978-0-9841823-3-6, Published by Bridgepoint Education, Inc., 13500 Evening Creek Drive North, Suite 600, San Diego, CA 92128. Copyright © 2010.

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