I was minding my own business on Twiraa early this morning when this image floated down my time line. Ah. What was this poverty I was seeing? And why had it been retweeted so many thousands of times? Oh. My. GAWD. What were these sanctimonious responses to the image?
“Don’t ever complain about the cost of water! Just be happy you can afford to pay it!”
“The poor, poor African kids. Makes me appreciate what I have more.”
Saa? You needed images of African children drinking from a river of slurry mud to make you grateful for what you have? Don’t you live in the United States of America? Do you know how many people living in third world conditions right in your own back yard? You pass them every day! One of them may have even served you coffee or flipped your burger this afternoon. They are America’s working poor, my friend, and there are 10.4 million of them.
Well, just who are the working poor? Here’s a quick snapshot:
- 7% of the total work force
- 14% of Blacks; 14% of Hispanics; 6% of Whites; 5% of Asians
- 8% of women; 6% of men
- 21% of the labor force with less than a high school diploma; 9% of high school graduates with no college education; 5% for those with an associate’s degree and 2% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Most likely young: rates were highest for 16 to 19 year olds (13%) and 20 to 24 year olds (14%) and lowest for those over 65 (2%)
- 16% of part-time workers; 4% for those employed full-time
Now, that’s a LOT of people and chances are, you and I encounter these folks regularly and don’t even know it. After all, the working poor do work, which means they interface with the public at large. My question is: Why is American poverty so much easier to hide than African poverty? I’ll tell you why. It’s because African poverty is sexy…and just like all things sexy, it’s out on display for everyone to see. Like GG breasts – just hanging out there BOLD for anyone to get an eyeful of. American poverty employs a lot less temerity. It is shy, and tries to remain hidden. Or perhaps it is America itself that tries to keep it from the view of the rest of the world. But if you know where to look for it, you’ll find it; and its reality will shock and awe you just as much as African poverty will.
That’s not true. American poverty will render you more awestruck because it’s AMERICAN, and therefore bigger and better.
Sometimes when I go home to Ghana, I encounter a cabal of foreigners who approach children playing by the roadside and briskly begin snapping pictures of them. These kids are often muddy and barefoot because it’s easier to play ampe or football without your flip flops on. 3 times out of 10, one of these kids will end up on a Feed the Children poster in the UK. You want to know why those kids in those posters are smiling “despite the fact that they are poor”? Because the photographer caught them in the midst of play! Poverty doesn’t look like that. Really, really poor people don’t have rosy cheeks and a shine in their eye. Really, really poor people look like those rascals in Detroit.
They are mean muggin’, tobacco chewing, liquor drinking, hopeless souls muttering to themselves and praying for Spring to come. Honestly, I don’t know why so many Americans travel to Africa to see how the poor survive and to “do some good for the less fortunate” when they could save time and money and just do to Detroit.
Did you know that there is a water crisis in Detroit? The city has shut of access to water to hundreds of its citizens. Yet the face of every water program I’ve EVER seen is an 8 year old African boy, just a-cheesin’ at the sight of gushing water coming out of a pipe.
Did you know that the unemployment rate in Detroit is 23%? Twenty-three percent! This rivals any African nation. At least we have a burgeoning informal sector. We will sell tomatoes and dog chains. Detroit just has 23% of its population that is unable to access work that they are qualified for…period.
Let’s not even discuss housing in Detroit. Okay, yes…let’s discuss it. Here’s a picture.
What kind of person do you think lives in a house like this? The kind of person you’d like to take a picture of, eh? The kind of person you’d expect to encounter whilst on safari in Africa, right? Just wild and brooding and speaking unintelligibly. If you’re nice, he/she might even let you snap a photo of them with your kids.
So folks, this summer when you’re thinking about where to spend your dollars on some expedition or adventure, think about Detroit. There’s plenty of gunfire. There are people warming themselves with open flames in barrels. The infrastructure is crumbling ALL around you. You don’t have to go all the way to Africa to do your well-meaning liberal work! You can just go to Detroit.
The husband doesn’t know it yet, but that’s where we’re going for our 10 year anniversary. He said Zanzibar or Ibiza, but who needs blue ocean water and sandy beaches? That’s so played out. I’ve been wanting to do something exciting and out of the ordinary. What can be more thrilling than running for your life in a decomposing city? Shhhh….don’t tell him. It’s a surprise!