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Why Poverty Is the Worst Form of Oppression . . . and Why We Should Start Giving a $hit

By August 6, 2015No Comments

RhiannaTaniguchiHeadshotBy Rhianna Taniguchi

Money is power — at least that’s what they say. In America, it is clear that race, money and power have a strong connection. So, why don’t we talk about it more? Asian Americans are commonly viewed as well-assimilated, educated and highly competent. However, 12.7 percent of Asian Americans are estimated to live in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 report. Unfortunately, this is one of the least-addressed issues within the model minority myth.

Mahatma Gandhi said that “Poverty is the worst form of violence,” and quite frankly, I agree.

Poverty is society’s way of perpetually dehumanizing people and subjecting them to unlivable conditions while calling it “just.” Those within society believe (or pretend to believe) that the system creating poverty is equitable and therefore fair. It is hard to deny the strong correlation between wealth and race, but ironically, that’s exactly what we do.

The effects of poverty include mental and physical illness, inadequate nutrition, food insecurity, adverse effects on academic outcomes . . . the list goes on. The effects of poverty are most felt by women. This topic is never discussed with the urgency it deserves, and how can it? Where in the world do we start?

Let’s first define poverty in the United States. The 2014 poverty thresholds by size of family and number of related children would define a two-adult household with one child in poverty if their total income was less than $16,317. That means living off of less than $15 per day per person. It doesn’t sound too bad, until you factor in rent, utilities, transportation to and from work, education, medicine, health care and food.

So, why is race tied to poverty? Well, there are many speculations. The American Psychological Assn. has found that “while non-Hispanic whites still constitute the largest single group of Americans living in poverty, ethnic minority groups are overrepresented. These disparities are associated with the historical marginalization of ethnic minority groups and entrenched barriers to good education and jobs.”

According to the APA, there are a few barriers. First and foremost is marginalization, which is assigning and confining a group to inferior conditions. As a result of marginalization, access to good education and jobs are limited. What are we doing as individuals, as a society, and as a country to battle the inequities? Whatever efforts we’re making, they’re not working — at least not fast enough.

Financial education and social reconfiguration are the missing components of the equation to equity. On an individual level, we need to get smart about money in order to increase our income, increase our savings and increase our investments. I highly recommend LearnVest for affordable financial planning. We also need to change the way our society thinks — no person is inferior based on race, gender, sexual orientation or ability. Lastly, we need to provide access, education and tools to those who are most vulnerable in our community. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau actively listens to our community’s needs and concerns, but we must be vigilant and continuously seek progress. The JACL Credit Union is another resource that provides a higher interest rate than most banks with high standards of privacy, security and service.

In a nutshell, you should care about poverty because it is one more way that society is using racial prejudice to violate your right to the pursuit of happiness. It is one more way that people of color are being targeted, and it is working. Here are eight ways you can make some change:

Eight Ways to Show That You Give a $hit:


  1. Educate Yourself

A nationwide lack of affordable housing, sad state of public education, lack of public transportation systems linking commercial and residential neighborhoods, racial injustice, domestic violence and policies restricting contraception all contribute to an endless cycle of poverty that pervades every state in this country. By reading and educating yourself, you can strengthen your understanding of anti-poverty aspects of workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, reproductive justice, environmental justice and economic human rights movements.

  1. Take Legislative Action

Citizen-driven resources like support national and local nonprofits such as the National Low-Income Housing Coalition in their efforts to develop and drive anti-poverty legislation in areas such as affordable housing and education, living wages, food security, universal health care, child care, Gulf Coast recovery, adult literacy, early childhood education, prisoner re-entry and sanctuary for undocumented workers.

  1. Donate

You can donate food, money, clothing, toiletry items, old furniture, toys and magazines.

  1. Volunteer

You can volunteer with kids, families, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, women and the mentally ill; in shelters, soup kitchens, community centers, afterschool programs and employment centers. You can teach literacy, résumé development, job-training courses, ESL, computer class, coach sports, serve food and provide counseling.

  1. Join a Campaign

There are a number of different local and national campaigns that you can join to help combat poverty. Even better, you can ask your local synagogue, church, youth group, community center, workplace or school to do the same. Locally, you can get involved with Focus and Fight Poverty and Real Change News. Nationally, you can get involved with Fighting Poverty With Faith; CARE: Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty; the ONE Campaign; and End Poverty 2015.

  1. Write or Start a Petition

Petitions are fantastic ways to create change in your local government or neighborhood. You can choose to fight a bad policy or create a good one. You can write your own petition or help to propagate one already in existence.

  1. Write an Article

An article to your local newspaper about homelessness in your community is a great way to spread the word and personalize the matter with statistics and facts that hit close to home. And not only will you educate others, but you will also learn a lot in the process.

  1. Donate Leftovers

Ever notice how much leftover food is thrown away in your school or workplace cafeteria every day? Try speaking to your school or office administration to find a way to donate all of that leftover food to a local shelter or food bank. There is no need to waste so much when so many people are hungry. Check out find a food bank that will take leftover food donations.

Rhianna Taniguchi is an account executive at the Denver Post. She was the 2014 JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow.