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It’s not about Race or Age or Gender or Religion…it’s about Poverty

Written By: - Date published: 11:16 am, January 19th, 2012 - 16 comments
Categories: poverty - Tags:

An insightful piece by Pat Brittenden. How can we fix our problems if we won’t acknowledge (and National wants to stop the media talking about) their cause?:

For a long time I have had a bit of an untested theory. I’ve come to a place where I don’t think the negative statistics in New Zealand are about race, age, gender or religion.  I think they’re about poverty and the by products of poverty.

Let me back up a little and give you an example of a common ‘talkback’ conversation.

The headline reads something like, “Another baby dies at the hands of its caregivers.” This is what happens on talkback; ‘Owen’ from Nelson phones in as this is his pet topic. Within 60 seconds ‘Owen’ has already told New Zealand to “wait and see…they’ll be native…their whanau will support them…you just wait.” Now sadly ‘Owen’ is right far too often, but is his underlying racist bias accurate? Is being Maori a significant factor in killing your kids? That’s where I think the conversation becomes interesting……

Continued here


16 comments on “It’s not about Race or Age or Gender or Religion…it’s about Poverty”

  1. Poverty is a huge part of the problem- racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination are much easier to deal with when they don’t intersect with poverty.

    But it’s actually scientifically confirmed (using tests that measure stress) that lifting people out of poverty doesn’t always relieve the stress they feel from discrimination. For example, if you take a white woman and a black woman in the USA, and they both climb out of poverty, the white woman will feel a relief of the stress that she felt from being poor, but the black woman won’t- which is likely to be due to people engaging in what’s called “high-stakes coping”, where they try and power through the problem by just being that much better than everyone else.

    I’m not very elegant at explaining why poverty doesn’t explain away racism yet, but you can hear excellent talks on that subject at http://www.timwise.org/ – he’s a great anti-racism advocate.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support fighting poverty, (and prioritising that fight) but what we’re likely to find even if we largely eliminate poverty is that discrimination still happens, but it might be a bit easier to deal with, and many of the related statistical problems will likely shrink significantly.

  2. deemac 2

    of course you won’t end racism, sexism or any other discrimination just by ending poverty, but you certainly can’t tackle it at all without dealing with poverty and economic disadvantage.
    I don’t have the links to hand but an interesting UK study a few years ago observed that while there was concern about black boys failing in schools, what was actually happening was that working class boys were failing.
    This was masked by the fact that there are plenty of white boys who do succeed ie middle class ones, while the small size of the black middle class meant there were few black comparators.
    So it is probably only partly a race issue, much more a class issue.
    Analysis is of course difficult due to the many other factors eg cultural background. Asian boys do better than black boys, Indian boys do better than Bangladeshi ones, black girls do better than black boys – it seems it’s not enough to say the problem is simply racism.

  3. Bill 3

    Yup, it’s about poverty. But race and gender are determining factors in poverty, ie the attitudes and actions of a society that is a white patriarchy tend to favour those who are white and male and discriminate against those who are not.

  4. ropata 4

    There’s an old thread here where someone also pointed out that social indicators in Britain correlate with poverty not race.

    I think part of the reason NZ used to be a much more equal society is that after two world wars, there were loads of young guys with guns that had nothing to do. Magically, there was a lot of work for able bodied young men with minimal skills.

  5. Olwyn 5

    If you translate the problem of poverty into racism, sexism, etc, you can be seen to be doing something about it while leaving the status quo largely intact, and by pointing to a few particular success stories – Barack Obama being president of the US, for instance. But to face up to poverty is to face up to making real changes to the status quo. In fact the particular success stories help to reinforce the myth that poverty is the fault of the poor, whatever the races of which the poor is made up.

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    Good comment from the Archdruid today. His full post isn’t about poverty per sè but it does have this paragraph in it which pertains:

    To understand the consequences of that awkward fact, it’s important to get past the rhetoric of victimization that fills so much space in discussions of social hierarchy these days. Of course the people at or near the upper end of the pyramid get a much larger share of the proceeds of the system than anybody else, and those at or near the bottom get crumbs; that’s not in question. The point that needs making is that a great many people in between those two extremes also benefit handsomely from the system. When those people criticize the system, their criticisms by and large focus on the barriers that keep them from having as large a share as the rich—not the ones that keep them from having as small a share as the poor, or to phrase things a little differently, that keep their privileged share from being distributed more fairly across the population as a whole.

    And that is, of course, why all the political parties including the Greens who should know better keep saying that they want to make us richer. As I’ve said before, we can’t afford the rich and it’s entirely possible that that “rich” includes the middle class.

    • lefty 6.1

      And that is, of course, why all the political parties including the Greens who should know better keep saying that they want to make us richer. As I’ve said before, we can’t afford the rich and it’s entirely possible that that “rich” includes the middle class.

      Its also why concentrating on the 1% without paying attention to the middle class who prop them up and enable them is a mistake.

      Of course many liberals have a lot of difficulty coming to terms with this because they like to believe that their own success is due solely to their own efforts and that the lives they lead do no harm.

      Thats why you hear the ‘richer NZ’ from the Greens or the ‘growing the pie’ from Labour. They are exercises in self deception.

      Even those of us who have modest success need to understand that to be able to do this in a capitalist system somebody else must pay the price by going without.

      • Colonial Viper 6.1.1

        Political and financial power lies with the top 0.1%. The rest of the top 10% are enablers obviously. The lieutenants and advisors.

        The next top 10% are useful overseers and experts. But basically also expendable.

        Every one else is chaff in this system. Completely replaceable and discardable.

    • handle 6.2

      The Greens are using “richer” more broadly than you are.


      “We want a New Zealand that is richer in the things that really matter – strong communities, a beautiful, well cared for environment and a clean, green economy that works for everybody,” said Dr Russel Norman, Green Party Co-leader.

      “A truly richer New Zealand will be powered by a clean, green economy that is based on green jobs and innovation,” said Dr Norman.

      Green Party Co-leader, Metiria Turei added, “In our vision for a richer New Zealand, every child has enough to eat, our rivers are clean enough to swim in and our jobs are good for the environment and the economy.”

      “Living in a richer New Zealand is about much more than economic growth – it is about living in a beautiful country where we look after the environment, it’s about living in strong communities where people feel connected to each other.

      “A truly rich country is one where everyone gets a fair go,” said Mrs Turei.

  7. Bryan 7

    Making a well constructed and reasoned argument highlighting the relationship between poverty & crime or unemployment poverty is beside the point for the right. Will Hutton was onto it in his reason piece on why enlightenment values (esp. reason) are being rolled back/ignored/discredited by the right They don’t fit with narrative because:

    “Reason, runs this argument, too often identifies problems that require collective rather than individual responses, amplifying the dread power of the state, and democracy means respecting opponents who have views you consider noxious.”


  8. Fisiani 8

    I hope you will all therefore applaud the new benefit smart card changes being brought about by National so that beneficiaries will no longer be able to freely spend on alcohol and tobacco. Thank goodness we have a government that is doing something about addressing the causes of poverty rather than perpetuating the policy of abandonment put forth by Labour.

    [You consistently fail the ‘skin crawling sycophant’ test. This is your last free one; future attempts in this vein will be moderated…RL]

    • felix 8.1

      That’s not what “causes” means.

      • Fisiani 8.1.1

        Spending money on cigs and booze and not on food for kids does CAUSE so called poverty.

        • felix


          Otherwise you’d see well-off people doing it and becoming poor because of it.

    • Hateatea 8.2

      I wish I had seen this remark when it was first posted. For at least the last 15 years, to my personal knowledge, a beneficiary has been unable to purchase cigarettes, alcohol or lotto products using a WINZ food grant. The ‘smart card’ has changed nothing except enable the user to purchase food at the outlet of their choice rather than one or two ‘approved’ places

  9. randal 9

    and there is a poverty of spirit too.
    the media and especially the teevee is going twenty four hours a day promoting false dreams and false consciousness and fake infantilised desires as being the sine qua non of twent first century man.
    go to a small town and the doctors and lawyers all come from somewhere else during the week or if resident cant wait to get out of the joint in the weekends.
    nobody is satisfied with what they have and nobody wants to mix with their peers or social inferiors in case they get stood up and have to do something.
    the whole place is about evading reality with toys and stuff.
    the government aids and abets this psychological dysjunction by refusing to collect meaningfull statistics and refusing to use the professionals turned out by the universitys to do meaningful research into social problems in case it costs money.
    when I was aboy we used to play softball in the domain over the schoolholidays but today there is not a bat or ball to be seen.
    only metallica tee shirts and baseball caps with some American team or anothers logo on it.

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