When I first moved to Kingston, there was often one recurring conversion, as the persons from Montego Bay were always bragging about how beautiful Mobay was and it was more deserving to be Jamaica’s capital. Since I was from neither of those places, I kept quiet. It was shortly after that I got a chance to visit this second city and it was really beautiful!
I must say, I was shocked as there were usually news about the negative happenings in this side of town. I would say that I toured the city and all I saw was wealth until it was time for my workshop. We drove past the beauty and entered what was obviously a poor community. The zincs and dogs and many dirty children told the story. It was during this workshop that we decided to feed our students and the remaining portions be fed to people on the outside. This was done and in the midst of my presentation a little girl showed up. She was dirty, hair chemically treated and had a Blackberry phone in hand. Though not very clean, the faded Gucci prints were evident on her blouse. Then she said, “Miss, me mother say you must send another food. She want curry dis time and send a Pepsi!”
I don’t know why I was so shocked, as it seems that this is always the case. Little shaky wooden house with AC on top and flat screen televisions and pricey electronics on the inside often accompany the irony of poverty. Popular media often leads us to believe that this only happen in Black and Latino Cultures, which is far from the truth. This phenomenon is not a recent one and has been on the mind of popular social scientists such as Ocar Lewis since the 1930s. He said the reason for this behaviour is because these values are shared, taught and are being passed to down through generations, thus, creating a sub culture- The Culture of Poverty.
Lewis said that the following are the some characteristics of The Culture of poverty and he seeks to view each trait from a individual, family and community level. Lewis listed the traits as:
1. Strong Feeling of Marginality- People are usually on the television with signs demanding justice for what they deem as unfair treatment but refuse to be to be strong advocates for themselves as they believe that their views do not matter or that they are too insignificant to offer solutions.
2. Helplessness- Because they feel like they are not regarded as important, a feeling of helplessness is propagated and simple decisions like closing ones legs or using birth control becomes a mammoth task. This if often displayed through statements which include what the government should do for poor people.
3. Inferiority- Inferiority is the feeling that one has less worth than others because of a low socioeconomic status. This belief often leads to ritualism and retreatism, where people no longer fight to achieve high goals but settle for less and bounces wherever life tosses them.” We throw the garbage in the gully because the government nuh care cause we a ghetto people!” The government will not be getting sick from leptospirosis and everything else that comes with that. It is not accepting inferiority which breaks the Culture of Poverty and allows one to climb the social ladder.
4. Present Time Orientation- A friend of mine was telling me that he recently visited a community and someone came in the shop and ordered a sardine and 2 slices of bread. He was surprised that two slices of bread was even sold but when the shop keeper opened the tin of sardines and took out a sardine and put in a tiny clear bag, he was even more surprised. This is due to the present time orientation mentality; little or no thought is made of the future which results in short term planning and hasty decisions.
5. Little Ability to Defer Gratification– Because they are usually denied certain amenities and privileges the ability to defer gratification is non existent as it allows them to feel a sense of pride and autonomy. It is also a way to escape the challenges faced on a daily basis. So anywhere the bashment is… they are there
6. Fatalism- This is the belief that all events in life are predetermined and we are mere puppets on strings. This submissive attitude breeds the feeling that we have no control over our behaviors and what will happen so we should just accept life for what is is and do not strive for change. This continues to foster the Culture of Poverty as persons believe there is nothing they can do to help themselves.
7. Men Dislike Commitment- Whilst the larger number of “baby mothers” seem to be a huge accomplishment, these babies and their mothers usually get little or no support from these “baby fathers”. It perpetuates poverty, as the mother will now have to find a new spouse to take care of her and the children and this spouse gives her another, the relationship ends and the cycle continues. These children will not be given as much opportunity as other children which already puts them at a disadvantage. Boys grow up with no real male role model which usually results in the emulating the wrong people. This is usually blamed on Colonialism, but that ended years ago, so pull it together.
8. Lack of Participation- The money is kept under the bed because the banks are unfair, the child will not be apart of the youth club because they don’t want them getting in any “mix-up” and no extra curricular activities because there are dishes at home to wash. They vote because their parents were die hard green shirt or red shirt party. Still, the lack of participation is all too obvious and these areas usually open up any doors of opportunity. Still, it is the banks and youth clubs which they refuse to partake of that they think should help to do just about everything. However, when these entities do help, I don’t believe it is as appreciated as it should.
In my eyes, the culture of poverty is continued because of lack of exposure. I was raised poor but my mother taught me to appreciate things. In rural Jamaica where not many entities present opportunities, we have to make our own. If there is no electricity, the sad iron and a heat source are your friends and children are raised to believe this does not have to be your reality for the rest of your life, so they strive to be better. In urban centers most entities offer help so some persons think it’s their duty, hence it is not appreciated enough. Poverty is everywhere, but it is the attitude that we have towards it that will allow us to elevate ourselves or remain in it. Sometimes we just need to pick up ourselves and move on. This will affect whether poverty becomes a culture or a thing of the past.
You may not be poor, but think about it, if you possess the aforementioned traits, you may just be heading down the wrong road and if you are poor, knock on doors of opportunity, think long term, make opportunities and if we all think a little more like this, vision 2030 may become a reality.