Discrimination is a Four-Letter Word

Posted: June 15, 2009 in Justice, Lessons, Peace

Ashley came in to the public social services office this afternoon to apply for benefits. She is pretty, black, and homeless – an unfortunate combination. You can picture Ashley – picture Michelle Obama as an undergrad on a day when she didn’t feel like applying make-up. That’s Ashley.

Pretty people don’t look homeless, you see, and because of this they face discrimination. In fact, I have learned that not looking homeless is a major problem faced by what people are calling “the new poor.” A surprising statistic says that 23% of the present-day homeless have received some college education, and in our present economy, that number stands to grow more and more.

Black people face problems, too. I know, we have a black president now, but it bears saying out loud that this doesn’t mean that racial discrimination has suddenly ended. The numbers are telling: 50% of the homeless in L.A. county are black, compared to 9% of the population. The disparity is depressing to anyone who seriously thinks that racism is a thing of the past.

Ashley is pretty, black, and homeless, and the worker in the DPSS office lied to her face about what she was entitled to receive. Thankfully, Teresa was working with Public Counsel today, and discrimination did not win. Teresa is pretty, white, and an associate at a large law firm, and by the time the afternoon was over, Teresa and Ashley both had a brand new friend. And Ashley received the benefits she was entitled to receive.

And I nearly cried at the beauty of it all.

Lest you worry, the old, traditional discrimination is alive and well, too. William came in not long after Ashley, and there was no denying that he was homeless. If you look up homeless in a dictionary, you’ll see his picture. And he faced discrimination today, too, in the very same office.

William just wanted to get on Medicaid, even though he is entitled to both General Relief (cash) and Food Stamps, things he didn’t know he had the right to receive. And no one was going to tell him either until our man, Daniel, got involved. Further, William was told he wasn’t entitled to expedited service (getting him some food today) just because he was homeless, only the elderly and pregnant were entitled to that sort of thing. First of all, that was another lie – homeless people are most definitely entitled to expedited service. Second, William IS elderly! What was this worker smoking?

Daniel could’ve been William’s grandson, and he walked him through the entire process. He got him everything he was entitled to receive, including (most importantly) two weeks in a hotel. From the looks of William, who knows the last time he spent two weeks inside anywhere.

And I nearly cried again.

Discrimination against the poor goes on every single day, and I can only imagine what happens when no one is there to stand up and speak out against it. Thankfully, some people stand up and speak out against it. I’ve only been with Public Counsel a couple of weeks now as a temporary summer intern, but best I can tell, I saw more standing up for peace and justice in a couple of hours this afternoon than I have seen in a very long time combined – most assuredly very little coming from me.

God help the poor, because truth be told, most of us aren’t.


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