No matter how one defines poverty, it is a reality. Among its more serious results is the demoralization that so often accompanies its extreme forms. In an area where the writer lived the most palpable fact of everyday life is poverty—poverty of spirit, poverty of heart, poverty of intellect, poverty of property. Yet the disturbing fact is that the concomitant demoralization need not be. Among many elements of the poverty-stricken white population this demoralization exists only because it is tolerated; no real attempt is made to shake its victims loose from a kind of self-discrimination. If this self-discrimination is shown to them, they may “come to themselves” and seek the kind of help that will assist them to return to their Father’s house.
In his book, Night Comes to the Cumberland, Harry Caudill describes this pathetic feature of people ruined by the exploitative ravages of the coal and timber interests. The Cumberland people developed, so to speak, a rationale for their demoralized condition. They took great pride in not being proud. This loss of pride in self is an all but universal fact of disheartened living.
The “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about me” shows up in some grown men who will not mow the lawn or paint the house. They will not even care for their own children. They appear on the streets with hair uncombed and faces unshaved, their language full of profanity. Such a way of life is all too often practiced because family, friends, and neighbors “understand” and condone it.
Often it is said that passivity and apathy are outstanding attributes of the poor and discouraged. But only rarely have I found this to be true among poverty-stricken white ...1
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