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Why it’s Important to Fight the Stigma Attached to Poverty: Part I

It seems like Americans are more polarized than ever before. It is very easy to dismiss and distance ourselves from people whose beliefs, education, background, or values are different from ours. This seems particularly true in the political rhetoric these days, especially when it comes to government services and public assistance. Essentially, we have created and reinforced an “us” vs. “them” mentality that is harmful to American society and impairs our ability to work together and make positive changes that can benefit us all.

This polarization and dichotomy is definitely true in the way that people experiencing poverty are viewed. It is very easy to treat “them” as if they are somehow lesser than “us.” Often we either look at someone who is experiencing poverty as lazy or incompetent, or we act as if we have all of the solutions to fix their life, but both of these perspectives are harmful to someone’s self-sufficiency. We need to actively combat this judgmental attitude because it is not productive and it is harmful towards other people. Not only that, but these negative stereotypes are simply not true. The poem below by Julia Dinsmore articulates why we should not blame people for their situations, but instead support, encourage, affirm, respect, and realize that their situations are often the result of circumstantial or systemic barriers.

I first came across this poem when Julia Dinsmore came to speak with me and other students who were part of an education program in Minneapolis. It made me think deeply about the widespread stigma against people experiencing poverty and the distance this stigma creates between people of different class backgrounds. The poem resonated with me then, but now is even more meaningful to me because of my experience with Daily Work. At Daily Work, people have shared their inspirational stories with me and together we have developed mutually meaningful relationships. I have seen first-hand how incredibly hard people are working to better their lives and how truly difficult it can be to get a job because of barriers to affordable housing and child care and efficient public transportation. Like me, I hope this poem will make you think more deeply about the strengths of, and challenges faced by, people experiencing poverty.

 My Name Is Not “Those People”

By Julia Dinsmore

My name is not “Those People.”

I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.

My name is not “Inadequate.”

I did not make my husband leave – he chose to,

and chooses not to pay child support.

Truth is though, there isn’t a job base for all

fathers to support their families.

While society turns its head, my children pay the price.

My name is not “Problem and Case to Be Managed.”

I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client.

The social service system can never replace the compassion

and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers,

Cousins, Community – all the bonded people who need to be

but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.

My name is not “Lazy, Dependent Welfare Mother.”

If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross National Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sisters whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified – and they don’t get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not “Ignorant, Dumb or Uneducated.”

I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps.

Rent is $585. that leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius at surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs.

Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social and economic support to a family.

Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator.

Forget about putting money into schools – just build more prisons.

My name is not “Lay Down and Die Quietly.”

My love is powerful and my urge to keep my children alive will never stop. All children need homes and people who love them. They need safety and the chance to be the people they were born to be.

The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic.

Before you give in to the urge to blame me,

the blames that lets us go blind and unknowing into

the isolation that disconnects us, take another look.

Don’t go away.

For I am not the problem, but the solution.

And…My name is not “Those People.”

Ms. Dinsmore’s poem, My Name Is Not “Those People,” is included in her book, My Name Is Child of God … Not “Those People”: A First-Person Look at Poverty (Augsburg Fortress Publishers).

By Maya Lehmann, Case Management Intern

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