When commenting on the state of the economy, someone close to me had this to say: People stay poor because they don't save their money or use it wisely. And penalizing the people who are responsible for their money, making them carry the burden [for the poor] is classism, bordering on socialism.
I was stunned. It was the second time in recent weeks I became painfully aware of the importance of history. Specifically this nugget of truth: when African Americans don't know their history, they leave themselves open to repeat it. That means their foundation in the present is shaky at best.
Most European Americans know a thing or two about English history. Before the film's opening credits they probably knew the Other Boylen Girl by name or could tell you that, while Elizabeth would soon be Queen, her beloved Dudley would never be King of England. After school many Jewish American children attend cultural studies to learn about their rich history.
But outside of Black History Month, Harriett Tubman and WEB Dubois, how many African Americans know the history behind why a disproportionate percentage of people of color remain in poverty?
For me, that statement about the poor may as well have indicted my father and his legacy. It was a slap in the face to everything he worked for all his life.
My dad was one of the wisest people I know. He was a military veteran, serving in World War II and the Korean war. He worked hard and saved virtually every nickel and dime he earned. He took pride in his home he invested in it for his family. He saved all his life and when I was old enough, he walked me and my piggy bank filled with weekly allowance straight to the nearest bank to open up a savings account.
But he couldn't save his way out of poverty. And no matter how comfortable our lives were, and how middle class we strived to be, the fact is that house he worked hard to make a home is smack in the middle of what is now a crime infested ghetto. The wealth he saved for all of his life barely makes a decent down payment in today's economy.
Poverty has little to do with who saves what. It has everything to do with who is denied opportunity and who isn't.
My dad didn't deserve to be refused housing in certain neighborhoods or to have the value of his home artificially kept low. He didn't deserve to be redlined out of his wealth.
But how to you explain this to someone who hasn't lived it firsthand? I was grateful to stumble across Tuesday's segment of the Rachel Maddow show, hosted by Melisssa Harris-Perry, which outlines why the new conservative talking point, that people are poor because they are careless with their money is not only not true, but also ignores the underlying issue of racism that is at the core of economic disparity in this country.
Use the link below if the video box doesn't appear.
The Rachel Maddow Show: US wealth gap reflects racism's legacy
Dr. Thomas Shapiro, the Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy at Brandeis University, talks with TRMS guest host Melissa Harris-Perry about a new report showing a wider than ever wealth gap between whites and people of color.