Why I hate the “poor people are lazy narrative”.

I often get chain messages from motivational speakers, preachers etc. explaining why some people are poor. They are labelled lazy, unresourceful, irresponsible, stupid,  do not understand the value of time and their priorities are not in  order. I have stopped reading some of the messages because of how they put poor people in a box blaming them for their situation. We are quick to judge and often ignore the role of privilege in explaining why “we are better off”

On Sunday I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned for thirty minutes until I jumped out of my bed and walked to the window. I saw a truck deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables .Close by, were a few women with baskets ready to buy fruits and vegetables for resale. It was 3am and the sun was not yet up. I imagined what time they left their houses to be able to make it into town before dawn. I sat down trying to distract myself with the current affairs; updates on the just ended Masvingo Congress, Trumps controversial appointees, the war on Allepo. Then I decided to go for jog.  5 minutes from the CBD is a lovely formerly white only neighbourhood with streets lined by Jacarandas. The morning air was filled with the sweet fragrance from the Brunfelsia latifolia  (Yesterday, today and tomorrow). I then came across a middle aged woman who works for one of the local security companies.  She was walking briskly and appeared to have a lot on her mind. I wondered what time she left her house and for how long she has already walked and this was  dawn.  Then we have the audacity to call such people lazy? Do we ever think of the time some people spend away from their families and the sacrifices they make?  Most people work hard for long hours and they earn below a descent minimum wage.

We all believe our hard work earned us our current status and we look down upon those we perceive to be inferior. We do not realise if they had the same opportunities they would have achieved more. Whilst you were being driven to a well-resourced school with air conditioned classrooms, someone walked ten kilometres to share a text book with ten other children and you all sat for the same national exam. I have met adolescents pulled out of school to work as maids and gardeners because of their desperate situations at home. I remember accusing a relative of contributing to child labour by employing a 15 year old as a helper. The girl came to her employers defence in tears and I was ashamed of my ignorance and was put between a rock and a hard place as I do not condone child labour. We are quick to judge from afar and yet do not take time to hear the full story.

I have been involved in numerous conversations where out of lack of information and ignorance  I have labelled black South Africans lazy. These are stories we hear a lot from our country folk when they visit down South. On my last trip to Johannesburg I briefly stayed with a young black hard working South African and felt it was grossly unfair to put a label on him based on prejudice. We often forget about the unequal and structural exclusion of the black people during the apartheid era which brought the social divide between white and black people in South Africa. We decide to ignore the structural barriers the black South African is trying to dismantle for equity. We forget the privilege of the white South African then we juxtapose them to black South Africans and call the black South African lazy L .

Privilege does not only take the context of race. We often joke   about Zanu privilege with some friends. By virtue of being politically well connected some people have acquired farms, companies, scholarships and control of some resources.  Their children have started better off than the ordinary person. Some parents have worked hard for their children to have a better life and more privileges that they ever had. Reflecting on their hard work that gave us some advantages may influence the humility and integrity that makes one appreciate the need for social justice and equity.

Most developing countries are often labelled poor. Does it mean we are all lazy? Have you ever wondered why the so called developed countries are rich? Is it because their population is more hard-working?  Why is it in some developed countries the minority groups are the ones mostly affected by poverty? All these questions should make you realise that poverty cannot be explained by labelling all the affected people lazy. You are ignoring the structural injustices, exploitation and Capitalist environments that favour success of the elite at the expense of the poor. As I am typing this I hope I have not adopted a condescending tone.

We need to fight off the inferiorities and insecurities that we were systematically socialised to believe. We need to realise that we are hardworking people who can build our communities and countries. We should often reflect on our own privilege to fight for social justice, preferential options for the marginalised and above all not use the power that comes with privilege to exploit others


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