My Beloved just sent me this post called “Where children sleep” from LENS, the photography blog of the NYT blog. Basically it is a slide show of photos taken by James Mollison picturing different children in their home country around the world and where they sleep.
The whole piece is supposed to serve as a commentary on class and poverty.
My husband emailed it to me with the qualitative adjective “fascinating”. It made me furious, because in my personal experience the connotation of that word is necessarily positive. And I see nothing positive about this, on the contrary. What a compilation of degrading stereotypes!
Do you really believe that all American kids are spoiled brats with out of touch parents, all japanese little boys are nerds, while all japanese little girls are geishas or subdued women to be, that all little african boys are fatherless future child soldiers (and that picture of little Lamine of Senegal truly pisses me off by the way!), and that the fate of all young girls in Brazil is teenage pregnancy? Unless you believe so, then this is nothing but an extraordinary reinforcement of stereotypes manipulating our deepest empathy instincts, especially when it comes to social injustice and little ones not having their basic needs for food and shelter covered.
I have no problem with the denouncing of poverty. But I do have a problem with three things when it comes to addressing poverty:
1/ When it reinforces negative stereotypes.
2/ When it crumbles people’s spirit and their “can do” attitude by only focusing on the negative. I am not sure for you, but I get tired of the same old stories and photos of poor people around the world. We can still address poverty and galvanize people to fight it, but I would find it a million times more uplifting and efficient if the good news of the progress we are already making was also displayed. However doom and gloom things may look right now, EVERYWHERE around the world, people are better of than EVER before! Is everything perfect? Of course not! Do we still have a long way to go? You bet! But if the progress of the past can tell us anything, it is that we collectively have what it takes to keep on making things better.
3/ When it puts people up against each other because we try to make it sound like it is a class problem, almost as if some people should be blamed and feel ashamed of themselves because they have more than others; while leaving some others to feel outrageously entitled. Leave the have-tos alone (especially if they worked hard for it), and let’s focus on making sure the have-nots have more. If anything, the American Dream should be the living proof that it is not a class problem. Pay attention to the countries of origin of all the little ones who seem poor to us, and start digging into how easy it would be for potential entrepreneurs to start companies there that would give their parents a job, with a salary that would allow them to provide for their children the way parents leaving in a rich country do.
We can change this, more radically than ever before! We just need to focus on the right culprits: the roadblocks to entrepreneurship everywhere, key to decent jobs with enabling salaries. It may not give you the same immediate satisfaction of feeling “hey, I am a hero because I donated for this child to eat today”, but I promise you that in the long run, you will have the wonderful reward of witnessing an ocean of happy children who can live normal lives because of your sustained effort on focusing on that too! I already chose my strategy :)