How can you love and serve the poor if you don’t know the poor?
Eugene Cho writes:
During this election season, there were many conversations going on. They’re all important. … But what has been very troubling for me is the lack of focus and substantive dialogue around domestic poverty.
Why are poor Americans invisible? And if and when it’s discussed, mere numbers and statistics are thrown out…and then on to the next question.
When you break down the numbers, this is the reality: 15% of Americans are living at or near the poverty line. … 1 out of 5 American children face food security issues.
Simple and real talk translation: They are hungry.
For African-Americans and Hispanics, the statistics double. [Let that sink in...]
… What does 1 out of 5 mean? It means approximately 16.7 million American children under the age of 18 live in this situation. 16.7 million children. This, fellow Americans, is not acceptable.
This isn’t to suggest that global issues and children and citizens of the larger world aren’t important or that I’m suggesting that American children are greater than global children. Let’s not go there. … What I’m suggesting is that if we simply open our eyes – these are our kids. They are in our neighborhoods; They are our neighbors; They are in our schools; They are in our churches; They are our friends; They are right here.
How can we seek to love the larger world and ignore our very own neighbors?
When we do speak of the poor, there’s an awkward but at times, subtle judgment about the poor. While we cheer thunderously any time the “military” is mentioned in political speeches and debates, the audience turns quiet when the mention of the “poor” comes up? Whether it is articulated or not, there are judgments made in the larger mainstream discourse and perhaps we’ve allowed ourselves to believe it.
The poor are poor because they deserve it? The poor got what they deserved because they are lazy? “They are a bunch of folks taking advantage of the welfare system. They are stealing and cheating from this country. We shouldn’t help those who won’t help themselves.”
While there are clearly real stories of real people abusing the welfare system, we are making an egregious mistake when we allow one story or the stories of some to filter all the stories of real people.
Eventually, we start dehumanizing the poor.
And when you start dehumanizing the poor, you have no desire to build relationships with them. You have no interest in their stories. You have no interest in relationships. You believe stereotypes that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.
Listen: When we’re not interested in building genuine mutual relationships, you rob people of their dignity and they become projects and not people. They become statistics and not reflections of our selves.
Listen: How can you love and serve the poor if you don’t even know the poor?
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