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African American Heritage Week: Why is Poverty Part of the Story?

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  • Tip Bones

I've been writing about influential African American figures all week, and I received a question in an email about my work. It reads thus:

"Why did so many of the people you wrote about grow up poor? Not every black person is poor!"

This is actually an excellent question. Why do so many influential black figures begin life in poverty? I'd like to say that this is a historical footnote that can be chalked up to pre-Civil Rights era racism that has since diminished, but I'm afraid it isn't so.

You're right, reader, when you say that not every black person living in America grows up poor. But the reality is that, even today, African Americans live in rates of poverty twice as high as white Americans. In some states, the rate is even 3 times as high, even nearly reaching a 40% poverty rate. Clearly, there's at least one cause for this income inequality, but I think that it's a tangled web of reasons that are based in the backward thinking that the Civil Rights Movement fought against. Income inequality for the same positions, redlining housing districts, and unequal access to healthcare all contribute to the modern form of poverty, and these issues hit people of color the hardest.

Poverty is part of the stories of the people I wrote about this week, because poverty amd inequality are a vital part of African American history. It's impossible to prevent anyone's upbringing from affecting the experience of the rest of their lives, and poverty is no different.

Photo: Pixabay