Oprah: Inside the Lives of America’s Poor

17 Aug

*I saw myself on Oprah yesterday. Well, I saw the self that I try to forget about, the part of me that I hide and pretend never existed even though I don’t think I can ever forget it did. I saw the part of me that few people even know about, the part of me that most people are somewhat shocked to hear about when I do actually tell them. It is the part of me that I am more likely to share with total strangers than with those people whom I consider friends or even acquaintances.

When I left home to go to college, I started over. I made a new life for myself, a life that most would consider “normal,” middle-class. But the fact of the matter is that I grew up poor, always on the brink of and most of the time below the national poverty line, below the Mississippi poverty line. There were times that I didn’t know it because my mom worked so hard to give her children a “normal” life, but there were also times when I knew the reality of it all too well. Times when I was afraid of what might happen to my family, when I worried about where we would live or how we would pay for things. I knew what it felt like to get free lunch at school and to have a classmate see my mom use food stamps in the grocery line, to wear clothes that did not originally belong to me, hand-me-downs from older peers, and to be pointed out as different, as not good enough, as a poor kid, to be called “white trash” by classmates.

I saw myself on Oprah yesterday, but I also saw other children who have worse lives than I ever did, even at the lowest point. I also saw my mom, a single mom who worked three or four jobs, who deprived herself to give to her children, who knew that there were others worse off and didn’t hesitate to help them. Some people looked down on her and judged her, but I know she did the best that she could with what she was given. My mom sacrificed herself to give her children what they needed to break the cycle and live a better life. I know I had it better than so many other kids, but I had it worse than almost all of the kids that I knew.

For many years, I have lived with both shame and guilt. Shame because at a young age I was taught that I wasn’t good enough, that other people were better than me. Shame because our society associates poverty with some sort of moral or mental decay, or just plain laziness. Shame because our society believes that people live like that because they want to or because they deserve it. I feel guilt because sometimes I buy into that erroneous belief. Guilt because I hide a part of myself that has shaped me into the person that I am now. Guilt because I sometimes pretend to be someone that I am not. I also feel guilt for wanting more and for having more for my life. Guilt for moving ahead while others are left behind. Guilt because I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve the life that I have now because I lived the life that I did then.

What makes me special? What makes me different from other children who are caught in the cycle and can’t get out of it? I know I’m not that different. I was blessed with an extended family that helped out when we needed it without seeing us as a “charity case.” I was blessed with school teachers and church leaders who helped give me the skills and the confidence and the hope that I needed in order to break the cycle. I was different, I am different, because I had hope, because I believed that I could rise above it even though everything in my life told me I couldn’t.

I don’t want to hide myself, or parts of myself, anymore. I don’t want to feel shame or guilt anymore. I just want to be. And I want to give others that same hope that is so desperately needed and so rarely seen inside the lives of America’s poor.

*This post was originally published on March 23, 2006 to my old Xanga blog. I am re-posting it here to continue the discussion over on Living Oprah.

** On another note, I would love to be able to import that blog to this one, but I have no idea how. Does anyone know how to do that?

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3 Responses to “Oprah: Inside the Lives of America’s Poor”

  1. Jason Hall Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    Laura, I looked around some but it appears that everyone that has had success exporting Xanga to WordPress are those who host their own WordPress blog instead of letting WordPress host it for them. Because of that, I do not think those methods would work well for you but just in case, you can check out a couple of them at:
    http://www.maclean-design.com/xanga_import.htm
    http://trac.wordpress.org/ticket/2665
    http://www.timwylie.com/xword.html

    That being said, there is one site that shows how to import directly into a WordPress.com hosted blog but like the others its fairly complex and involves purchasing the $4 Xanga upgrade for one month – so it might or might not help you any… http://smidg.in/2008/06/18/how-to-import-xanga-into-wordpresscom/ .

    I only spent a few minutes looking, so some more time researching it might show you some better options…

  2. laurajeanette Monday, August 18, 2008 at 6:44 pm #

    Thank you, my dear. You are the best. I’ll have to look into that.

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