I’m not really sure of exactly when I became aware of how cold the world can be, but wow. It’s rough out there! I attended a Continuing Education Event at The Family Tree about the dynamics of poverty. Seeing the statistics about poverty in Louisiana really opened my eyes! Check out The National Center for Children in Poverty and The Talk Poverty Louisiana 2017 report for some startling statistics. There is no arguing that there are clear racial and educational implications to the picture of poverty in Louisiana and I’m assuming everywhere.
Louisiana, in particular, has a large section of the population that suffers from life-long poverty. This is the kind of poverty that you just can’t “pick yourself up by the boot-straps” from. A large amount of these people in poverty are children.
These children hungry, homeless and forgotten. They are suffering and struggling and will likely continue to struggle due to societal injustices, racial disparities, and economic roadblocks.
To really understand the idea of poverty, we must also talk about privilege and acknowledge our own privilege.
Am I privileged?
I went to very nice schools and lived in a very comfortable home that always had electricity and cable. We never had to question where our next meal would come from. My parents are still married. I may not have gotten everything that I wanted, but I always had all that I needed.
I am married, straight, employed, educated, middle class, thin, and white.
So yes. I am very privileged.
Try this: Bring up the idea of privilege on Facebook. I promise that you will get a large amount of responses that “Well, I’m not privileged because (fill in the blank here).” The idea of privilege can often bring up anger and defensiveness.
Why are a large majority of us so scared of recognizing our privilege? Recognition of this only allows us to speak and act from a more honest place. What if we could drop the defensiveness?
I have no illusions. I am raising a privileged white male. When we recognize that he and we are privileged, we are taking one step towards being an ally and an advocate to those who are disadvantaged.
So, what am I teaching my child about poverty and privilege?
You see, we may not always be able to teach our children how to be successful CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. But we can teach compassion. We can teach to give to those who need without judgment. We can teach to listen to others who are different than us with radical curiosity.
And, we can lead by example.
I will never tell my child, “Don’t give that guy a dollar! He’ll just spend it on alcohol.” (I’m sure you’ve all heard that one!) I will never tell him “Well that’s just how those people are.” I don’t make jokes about sexual orientation or identity. I choose to demonstrate radical curiosity when I notice that my privilege is shading my vision. And I remain open to feedback that my privilege is showing.
I will seek out and initiate conversations with my child about poverty, privilege and compassion. Children often speak honestly from their soul. Their candor can really show us where the world has hardened our hearts. Helping my son to identify his privilege does not downgrade his own achievements. But it will help him be the type of man that lifts other people up. My dream for him is that he and his house will choose compassion. Just maybe, he may help to change the cycle of poverty that so many become trapped in.
I will not be a willing participant in showing my son how to be hard to others. I will not be a willing participant in showing my son how to further marginalize those whom society has already dealt a very difficult hand.
In this house, we choose compassion. We teach empathy and show kindness. My husband and I may not be perfect, but we do our best to be aware. In this house, as Maya Angelou says, when we know better, we do better. We will start changing the world right here at home.
Just for funsies, here is a little YouTube video by Franchesca Ramsey that illustrates the idea of privilege and compassion using a cute snail and caterpillar on their way to a party. Enjoy!