Have Nots

I work in the hood at a hood school with hood parents. I’m from the hood, although I rarely participated in hood activities because my parents sheltered me and my brothers from a lot of the nonsense that went on in the apartment below us. Our Atari didn’t come from the pawn shop, our lights and gas were never shut off, and we ate Frosted Flakes and Smuckers strawberry preserves. We had a VCR, our clothes were always clean, and we believed in Santa Claus way too long. In essence, my brothers and I never knew our parents were poor. They made sure we had all the basic essentials. Our food came from Jewel and were purchased with cash, but my parents did without steak and lobster dinner dates with each other. Our clothes came from whatever store was having a big sale, but my mom and dad wore the same clothes for years. They sacrificed, a concept foreign to many hood parents. They don’t want to do without, but they have no clue what basic essentials actually are. Many choose to give their kids what they want instead of what they need and those of us who are Haves, judge them for Having Not. I used to be one of those people until I put myself in their shoes and tried to figure out why they keep doing perpetual hood shit.

All Them Damn Babies For the life of me, I could not figure out why folks keep having babies when they can barely afford the ones they have. They send their kids to school hungry, dirty, and unprepared to learn then they come to report card pick up pregnant, like What The FUCK!!!!???!!! You have two kids in special ed and you really want more?! I gave birth to the most charming, adorable, intelligent child I could have ever hoped for and I’ll be damned if I have another one of her smart mouth, bratty, spoiled rotten asses. I make over 400% of the poverty level for a family of two and I’m not ballin by any stretch of the imagination. Pregnancy was hell and labor was that place in hell reserved for the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolph Hitler, and Steve Harvey, whenever he bites the dust (y’all know I can’t stand Steve Harvey). Why oh why do the poorest families continue to have babies? I had no clue, until I held that little white baby a month ago. I remembered hugging and kissing my beautiful brand new baby. I remembered how much I loved being a new mommy, the way Cinda looked at me, how much she needed me. Babies are perfect, because the world hasn’t corrupted them yet. They don’t talk back, their teachers haven’t started complaining about their behavior and they don’t require much more than what you have to offer.

Some women in the hood are depressed and refuse to accept it. It’s not socially acceptable to admit weakness. Sometimes, the unconditional love of an infant is the only thing that makes them feel good, and when they aren’t babies anymore, Mommy starts looking for that love she got when Lil Man was still in diapers drinking powdered formula. Instead of healing themselves, they procreate because they don’t understand that something is wrong; they have no clue what ails them. Many are looking for love in all the wrong places never realizing that the first place they need to look is deep down inside and at the kids they already have.

Buy stuff their kids want instead of what they need I buy Jacinda’s shoes from Nordstrom. I buy mine from Target (ok, not ALL of them…but they aren’t all from Nordstrom, either). If I get to the register and find that I’ve spent more than I should, my stuff goes back before Jacinda’s ever does. But there’s tons of stuff that Jacinda wants that Jacinda won’t be getting. Every commercial is another opportunity for my kid to practice her art of persuasion. Please, Mommy can I have **insert whatever was being advertised including toilet paper being hawked by cartoon bears and car insurance promoted by a gecko**?!?! She wants an iPod, a computer, a blackberry, a Power Wheel that costs as much as my car note. She ain’t getting none of it!!! I will, however, buy her whatever book she asks for. But not every parent thinks like me.

I often have children tell me, “My mama said she ain’t got no money for no school supplies” then in the next breath, they will tell me about the time they went to Game Stop for a new game for their Wii. Kids come to school with no hats, scarves, or gloves and brand new GYM SHOES in the snow. When I give them a reading log, I get at least four kids to tell me “we ain’t got no books”….but they have cable! When we go on field trips, they are in awe of places like Lincoln Park Zoo, but could tell me everything I need to know about Chuck E. Cheese’s. Wanna know why? Have you ever been sent to the store to buy ingredients for a recipe you’ve never made before and realize you left the shopping list at home? Exactly. You have no clue what to purchase, and neither do most impoverished parents. There’s no shopping list that comes attached to their babies’ toes when they bring them home from the hospital. That list isn’t updated at every birthday party either. Even when teachers send home a list, parents fail to see why they should provide the school with supplies. They believe teachers get all this stuff from a magical warehouse filled with crayons and paint and glue. They don’t understand that most of us buy supplies out of pocket and all that extra stuff that helps their struggling students come from unreimbursed money from the teacher’s bank account. Schools give parents so much that they’ve come to expect that we do everything for their kids; we have become the biggest social agency in a family’s life. Our school serves breakfast and lunch, gives out free glasses, clothes, medical exams, etc. It’s not that parents don’t want to provide for their children’s needs, they just have no clue what those needs are because chances are, someone else takes care of many of them.

Devalue Education Not every parent in the hood devalues education, but there is a correlation between poverty and lack of education, both contribute to the other. Some kids in my class go for days without turning in homework. Others bring it to school faithfully. Some parents make sure they work on whatever it is I ask them to work on with their child, some parents I will never meet. Ever. Some parents still address notes to me with Dear Teacher, while others know my daughter’s name, what kind of car I drive and my favorite color. I know that education is a direct route out of poverty and you know that education is a direct route out of poverty, but do they know that education is a direct route out of poverty? (I will get some educated naysayer who will attempt contradict this, but I’m referring to generational poverty, not situational poverty – Google it! – and I don’t argue with fools). Education may be the conduit, but how long does it take for the results? Twelve years in grammar and high school, four of college, and additional years for some professions. A few million years paying off student loans and Voila! – Financial success!

The rewards to education are not immediate nor are they fully understood by some of those who lack an education beyond a mediocre high school diploma (all high school diplomas are NOT created equal). There is no immediate gratification from education, and many impoverished people live in the right here, right now. Our idea of future varies greatly from many of the parents at my school and similar schools across the country. They want their children to go to college, but remember that recipe you lost the shopping list for? Some never got the list at all. Instead, they were given a recipe with no ingredients and told: Make this. The lack of education in poor communities is being combatted with powerful schools, but at the end of the day, it’s not the outlook of students we only need to change. It’s the outlook of the entire community. The future is bleak without an education, so how do we get people to see past tomorrow?

It’s not easy being poor but it’s even more difficult to escape mental and emotional poverty. Many of us have a hard time understanding that a class system exists within the black community, making it even harder to understand why they don’t do the same things we do. We get all bent out of shape when other races stereotype us, yet we do the same thing to ourselves and judge others based on our values, just because we share the same ancestry. While race is a common thread, it can not be the only thing that binds us, because when it is we fail to understand that just because someone looks like us does mean they think like us…or that they are supposed to. I am guilty of this as well. I spent a great deal of time looking down on parents in my school because I couldn’t understand why they do the things that they do, but my ignorance (and theirs as well) was not their fault. As an educator, it is my job to make sure that whatever I’m teaching my students about life is something they apply outside of the classroom. They have to know that they can accomplish more than their parents…not be better, DO better.

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