Sunday, December 17, 2006

Animosity toward "the poor"

Let's not kid ourselves.

Let's just face the facts.

Let's decide to be honest with one another.

Lots of people (read "millions" just here) in this nation harbor extremely negative feelings when it comes to "the poor" among us.

Over the past week I've been in several situations where I was reminded of this hard fact of life in America, and particularly here in Dallas.

Reaction to an idea we suggested about another secure, safe and quality housing development for some of the poorest of our fellow citizens hit the news largely due to community opposition to the proposed location. We have not been awarded the development site by the city, but just the thought of having low-income persons, even U. S. Veterans nearby was too much for most people who expressed an opinion.

Participants in a meeting of high level decision makers in Dallas that I attended talked all around the ever-present issues of racism and bias toward the poor. The purpose was to discuss how to energize the Southern Sector of Dallas via new housing development and economic opportunities.

The conversation ranged widely and included analysis of market forces, the profit potential of this neglected section of the city, what public partners could do to incentivize development and a number of other issues.

What no one seemed to want to admit is really very simple and terribly depressing. Namely, the fact that our city regards real progress in the lowest income neighborhoods of Dallas as a very low priority. How do I know this is true? Follow the money! Watch the city's funding priorities and policy decisions. Take a look at where the development occurs in this community.

An attempt to dismiss Ann Lott, the President and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, was turned back thanks to last minute community organizing that resulted in a groundswell of support for her contract renewal. The support came from the low-income community here in Dallas.

Her failure? She refused to go along with steps that would have hurt the very poor here in Dallas. And, the battle to save the position for this truly exemplary leader is not over.

Many people who enjoy financial security don't understand the poor.

They often fear the poor.

They espouse policies that continue to segregate the poor and that concentrate poverty in far away corners of our city. You know, out of sight, out of mind. Never mind the extremely negative impact of such public policy and "urban planning/engineering" on children, families, economic progress and human hope.

Bias against the poor that often turns to hatred is just beneath the surface of the most "churched up" city in the United States.

It is far past time to face this ugly fact.

Maybe if we get honest, we can summon the moral strength and the necessary courage to speak the truth so that we can begin to do better by the weakest among us.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is true. The fear I believe is that we ourselves could be next... like that whisper of the Father of lies that says after we leave a graveyard..."You may be next". Leprosy of lack. Poverty of spirit unaddressed. God help us! This would have been unthinkable even 30 years ago, and that on a humanistic basis. Eisenhower would be shocked at the situation in our country today. The predictions of Merton have come about. People are frozen between Charity and fear of non-participation in the demolition of Christendom. Fly your flag like a good luck charm. "O, Judah, you have as many gods as you have towns". We have good reason to fear the poor. They are more righteous than we are.

Anonymous said...

You would love our congregation---millionaires and ex-offenders all worshipping God together. Many guys who get out of prison are members of our congregation through our prison ministery.

Phil said...

You are an inspiring figure, and an amazing voice. I am glad to have found you, particularly so, since I also live in Dallas.

Thaddeus said...

The rich will always have the power in a capitalist system.

The poor will never benefit from that power until the rich realize that it is in their best interest to help the poor.

The challenge:

Convincing the rich that is the case.

Ideas???

Frank Bellizzi said...

Larry, I have been there and have done that. Likely still do. But I don't want to. Two things have helped me a lot recently: (1) Your blog, mostly (2) Wondering to myself what it would look like if we didn't harvest the corners of our fields; if, whatever my field was, I left the corners for whoever wanted to glean it. Is that a change can? Is that a bank account that rounds all of my charges up to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference in a savings account? If we were ancient Israel, wouldn't God tell us to have things like that and open them up to the poor?

Larry James said...

Frank, thanks for the post. I think you are onto something here. In fact, the federal government have set up programs just like this that get at the challenge of abundance and its equitable redistribution. Ask farmers if they like the Food Stamp program. I can tell you they do! And, the poor are assisted as they continue to work hard.

We resist public policy solutions because they take away our control. Of course, this is also exactly why the ancient Israelites disobeyed the Law of Moses when it came to the poor.

Michael Davis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Davis said...

Larry,

One day the citizens of Dallas, as a whole, will grow up.

my response

Mike Davis
Dallas Progress

dmowen said...

Frank,

I think that's a very interesting idea worth pursuing- I have heard ads about these accounts that round up your debit card purchases to whole dollar amounts and deposit the difference into a savings account. Devoting that account to the poor as a modern analogue to not harvesting the corners of your fields is an interesting, challenging, and exciting idea. As far as I am aware bank of america is the only bank that currently offers this service, but my checking account is with a different institution. I think I will contact my bank and see if they will add this service. If others contact their banks and this becomes a commonly available service, it would be quite practical to encourage Christians who feel led in this way to adopt this practice.

IBreakCellPhones said...

dmowen,

BoA patented the concept, so no other banks can do it. However, that doesn't stop anyone from doing it themselves.

dmowen said...

Hi ibreakcellphones,

Do you have a reference or patent number? I tried to look it up on Google Patents and couldn't find any info. It seems like a patent on what is essentially a balance transfer between your checking and savings accounts would not be enforceable. I called WellsFargo and left a message with someone in their PR department about requesting a similar "keep the change" service and it would be nice to know more details about these legal issues if she calls back.

belinda said...

I completely agree with you! Too often I hear things like "they could do better if they wanted to." That burns to the core of my soul.

Larry James said...

Thanks to all of you who have engaged in such a creative conversation! Please keep me posted on what develops!

Chris said...

For a brighter outlook, google "Understanding Poverty in America" by Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson,Ph.D. It may surprise you.

Larry James said...

Chris, thanks for your post.

I am aware of the work of Rector and Johnson for the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. Their report is interesting and I am sure contains a great deal of truth when it comes to Bell-curve averages on conditions among "the poor."

What is missing is a description of the impact of the social reality on the poor who live in neighborhoods like the ones where we work in Dallas. While not all communiites are as extremely poor as others, one of our target areas "enjoys" an average income among residents of under $10,000 annually. Of course, work is the solution if jobs were available that fit the underskilled nature of the population.

It is true that in Wal-Mart America almost everyone can own a color TV and other items that were considered luxuries in the not too distant past. That says nothing however about quality of life issues that face low-income parents and children.

Come with me on a tour here in Dallas. You'll see what I mean and what these fine social scientists miss.