On Saturday we published a story on the observance of the holy month of Ramadan by area Muslims, knowing full well that this story would likely incite some nasty online comments as stories that highlight minority groups tend to do.
Though our nation has made a lot of progress in the past few decades since the time we were having race riots in Charlotte, the anonymity provided by the Internet has given us a window into the social prejudices that remain prevalent. It is unfortunate in a community as diverse as Robeson County, particularly given the fact that so many of Robeson County’s own residents have been on the receiving end of bigotry themselves.
Not only have many of Robeson County’s residents suffered racial stereotyping due to its large percentage of American Indians, but there is a more uniting prejudice that impacts an even larger group in the county: A prejudice against the poor.
In Robeson County poverty does not have an ethnic heritage or religious background. More than 30 percent of the population falls below the poverty line compared to just 16 percent statewide. These numbers should make us uncomfortable, but many times in our country when we see those who have it harder than we do, our instinct has often been to rationalize, thinking the lives of the poor are that way because they somehow deserve it.
The idea of poverty being a choice — the poor are poor because they are lazy and not as a result of public policy or corporate greed — has been more prevalent in recent years.
In the same way some depraved people blame a victim of sexual assault for failing to “cover up,” or “being too trusting,” there are people who want so badly to disassociate themselves from the problem of poverty that they will bend over backwards to convince themselves that poverty is “mostly the fault of the poor.”
It is true there are those who lack ambition, who make self destructive decisions or who are unwilling to sacrifice time with their family or a personal passion in the name of being more financially secure. But to behave as if poverty is a choice is, for the most part, a convenient lie people tell themselves so they aren’t burdened with empathy for the plight of communities like Robeson County.
We don’t recall hearing anyone asking Robeson County residents to sign off on the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which devastated the community’s textile industry, costing the community thousands of jobs.
We also don’t have any memory of Robeson County residents having any involvement in bringing about the 2008 economic collapse.
The fact is, in order to blame the economic woes faced by those under the heel of poverty on the residents of Robeson County, one would also have to believe that this was a decision made by thousands of Robeson County locals, simultaneously and coincidentally at the same time as poverty rates began to rise in rural areas all over the country.
It is just so easy to write people and communities off, to throw your arms in the air and say that the problems that exist are inherent and cannot be helped. It is easier to create a prejudice than to create understanding.
The fact is, there is nothing inherently lazy about the people of Robeson County. To find examples of inherent laziness, one need not look further than the kind of people who choose convenient rationalizations over thoughtfulness and compassion.