Thanks everyone for reading and sharing! Just wanted to write a super quick followup! The response has been incredible and overwhelming— you guys have emailed/FB messaged/LinkedIn messaged/tweeted/etc. kinder words than I deserve, along with some incredible stories. It’s a busy week at work, so I apologize for not getting to all the messages. I’d love to try to bring the conversation here to the responses section, especially since many of you who reached out have stories to share, work in public policy, education or social work, or have just thought about the topic a lot. There’s also a great discussion over on Hacker News.
As for me, I’m just getting started with learning how to think about the topic and how we can advance the conversation. I just listened to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” entitled “Dr. Leana Wen on why the opposite of poverty is health” yesterday. Dr. Leana Wen grew up in poverty and went onto to become a doctor and then later the Baltimore Public Health Commissioner, where she sees poverty as a danger to the public health. I just wanted to share this snippet with all of you from her, which very aptly describes some of the reasons why I hesitated to publish my post, and which explains why this stuff is so hard to talk about:
I find it difficult to talk about these experiences now, in part because my parents are such proud people. And I think that they would want for me and my sister to be judged based on the accomplishments that we’ve had and the things that we’re doing now, and not by the hardships that we may have faced before. Because I think, in Chinese culture, that’s just seen as something that you have to get through.
And I find it difficult also in Baltimore city, in my current role, to share these stories with the residents and my community. I don’t it to seem like it’s gratuitous. I’m not trying to say that I understand their experiences. I have no idea what it’s like to grow up as an African-American person in Baltimore. I really don’t know.
I have some idea of what it’s like to grow up in poverty. I have some idea of what it’s like to grow up in a totally uncertain place where you don’t know whether you’re going to live, where you don’t know whether you’re going to be hungry or have a roof over your head. But I feel hesitant to share that because I don’t want to it to seem like I’m trying to understand that I don’t really.
Part of it is that I think people just don’t understand what it’s like to not have a safety net. What it’s like to grow up in a place where there is no other backup.