On Poverty and Privilege: Are the Poor Simply Lazy?
Poverty is not a choice. Poverty is not a result of laziness. Hard work does not always result in success.
Today, I had to hire contractual employees who would have to work long hours on a shifting schedule from Monday to Saturday, but would only be paid minimum wage. Almost every one of them, when asked, "Okay lang ba sayo na x month/s ka lang?" They'd enthusiastically answer, "Opo, ma'am!" I saw the eagerness, the desperation just to find any source of income. They were mostly college graduates, too.
In fact, earlier this evening, I got a message from a fresh graduate who couldn't go to her job interview because she didn't have enough money for transportation. She genuinely pleaded for a temporary job—and she knew that it meant working like a dog, because she had a friend working the same job. Unfortunately, I had already filled the vacancies. Her lack of privilege cost her a job that would not even afford her a decent living.
They'd do anything just to provide for their families and put food on their tables. But they couldn't afford to go to a better school.
They're not lazy. On the contrary, they'd do anything just to provide for their families and put food on their tables. But they couldn't afford to go to a better school—others can't even afford to go to school, period. They probably were mostly hungry and couldn't push themselves to do better in class. And yes, sure, you can name a few people who soldiered on and went from rags to riches, but remember that they're outliers. If it really were that simple, then more people could do it.
This is a simple illustration of privilege, and there are countless of ways we can see and experience it every day. An even simpler picture I stumbled upon was an exercise done by a high school teacher who asked his students to crumple a piece of paper and throw it in a trash bin in front of the room. They were told that they represent members of society, and getting the ball of paper in would signify them being successful or wealthy. The catch was, they had to do it from wherever they were seated. Naturally, the ones in front were at an advantage, and the ones at the back yelled that the game was unfair. True enough, almost all papers from the front made it inside the bin, while most of those from the back missed. Their proximity pretty much dictated their chances of making it. And that is privilege.
Privilege is something we don’t always earn: we were just lucky enough to have been born on the right side of the fence.
Privilege is something we don’t always earn: we were just lucky enough to have been born on the right side of the fence. Access to choices and better opportunities and even success were handed out to us by our parents who could provide our basic needs, our teachers who were not overworked, our schools that were not underfunded, and even our friends who eventually served as our professional network. It is a social advantage that we did not work hard for.
I can go on and on, but all I really want to say is this: it is us with more privilege who have the power to change the situation of the masses, the poor. It starts with us (who have more time, energy, and resources) identifying the systemic problem and working together to eradicate it. There is more to privilege than just a sum of idiosyncrasies and individual experiences creating our social reality. Again, it has a system, a pattern, a rule. It only takes a few clicks coupled with challenging our long-held beliefs, despite the discomfort, and shifting our perspective, in discovering the objective facts. Band-aid solutions can never treat the hideous disease of our society. Part of this disease is the petit-bourgeois culture of blaming the poor for their situation, and the first step towards change is simply changing the way we think.
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