Thursday, February 21, 2008

Perceptions of Poverty

As a part of my unit on the connections of hip hop to other kinds of poetry and to peace and social justice movements around the world, I show my students several video clips (god bless YouTube) on the hip hop movement in Uganda, a country of course torn by a terrible civil war. The hip hop artists there call for peace, and work to educate orphans, raise AIDS awareness and empower Uganda's poorest citizens. Here at home, local groups like Peaceaholics and others strengthen community peace building and raise awareness about homelessness.

As I'd hoped, this lead to come revealing discussions on homelessness and povetry, and who is responsible for it. Especially in the Uganda clip, my kids (many of whom are by no means rich) were shocked by the sight of kids so malnourished that their stomachs were distended, or kids who had one pair of shoes, and those were broken plastic flip flops! Interestingly, a lot of the kids (reflecting what most Americans believe, I fear) felt that homeless people were homeless by choice, and could just get a job if they wanted. This was obviously a teachable moment; I pointed out that not all educations are created equal (as they know) and that mental illness is a major factor in prevented a lot of homeless people from being able to hold a job down. Yet despite our continuing lack of a living wage, we blame the poor for their poverty. We also romanticise overwork, such as when President Bush beamed proudly and spoke so highly of the woman who was working three jobs to support her family. Like many others, he seemed to have completely missed the reality that it shouldn't be necessary to hold down three jobs! I hold more the view of Sen. Obama, who recently said, "If you work in America, you shouldn't be poor in America!"

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