Posted by: johnhourihan | May 15, 2015

Poverty, Pride and BaltimoreB

The problem with poverty, as it is with racism, is pride.
No matter who we are, on some level as we get older, we become increasingly proud of it. By the time we are adults we are proud of who we are, and that is why it is so difficult to change the mind of a racist. He is proud of his racism and doesn’t want to give it up. It is why some police treat Americans of color so poorly. They are proud of their racism and shouldn’t be police. They can’t be changed. They can’t be educated. They are too proud, and we should get them off our police forces.
It is also why adults living in poverty do no better when they are taken from the inner cities and put in a better neighborhood. By that time they are too proud of their poverty to change. I don’t mean poor people want to stay poor. I mean they want to be out of poverty but without changing who they are.
I think of the working man who brings his family to a restaurant and proceeds to be loud, messy, demanding and then as he walks out very obviously picks his teeth with his thumbnail while staring defiantly at anyone who notices. It isn’t how he acts at home, but he is proud that he is not part of the social strata who frequents restaurants and he is determined to show that pride to the point of violence.
When you have a choice of admitting you are an underling or being proud of who you are which would you choose?
I remember the mantra of my own poor family, “I’m poor, but I’m proud.”
I don’t see this as a good thing. In order to walk like everyone else you first have to throw away the crutches that hold you back.
In the 1990’s there was an anti-poverty experiment called Moving to Opportunity. It helped people move from inner city poverty into homes in the suburbs. It was found that the people did no better financially in the new situations.
As sad as that was, new studies show now that there is hope for finding our way out of poverty. The new studies show that children who are moved from poverty situations early on in life, nine or 10 years old, have a much better chance of moving up the social ladder. Teenage siblings however, as well as adults in the family don’t fare as well as the younger children.
The study doesn’t say.
Let me say it for them.
Children at nine or 10 years old have not yet been taught to be proud of their poverty, proud of their underling status. They are more susceptible to change, meaning the pride of being poor and an underling has not taken hold yet, and they are not resistant to moving up in status. They do not adhere to the “us versus them” mantra of their older siblings and parents.
Baltimore as a city , after its riots, said, “We a re a great city. The people are wonderful people. We will police ourselves. We have come together.”
I say, “No you are not a great city. Your teenage children were in the streets throwing rocks at cops and burning people’s cars , property and buildings. You are poor and angry people who complain when the police are too forceful and complain when the police are not forceful enough. And you are proud of who you are.
“ You have not come together, there is not a more divided place on earth right now.
“ What you are is proud. You say you want justice, but what you really want is for a conviction of some cops, any cops – pay back for how you have been treated for years by some cops. You want people to be convicted without a trial or you say you will burn the city.”
How proud.
What Baltimore is missing is what the studies show are conducive to allowing young poor children to get out of poverty and live a less hassled and more productive life. There are a number of things that the studies say are needed: two-parent families, religious or community influence, multi-levels of people in your neighborhoods – rich , middle class and poor people, better education, and less pride in being poor, angry and unproductive.
Baltimore, and other inner cities, need to demand that those fathers who have been taken from the city for minor drug offenses be rehabbed and be brought back to help their children grow up. These cities need to partner with the police to make the neighborhoods safe from gangs and other criminals so those who can afford to buy houses will buy them in the cities. Religion needs to become more of a force than gangs. And parents need to teach their children it isn’t a good thing to be proud of being an angry underling.



  1. Pride goes before the fall– unless pride causes the fall.

    • That’s why it is one of the seven cardinal sins I guess.

  2. Whoever this Neil is, he has given a good reply.
    I enjoy your reading about your take on life. So please keep writing.

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