While poverty is not a purely American concept, Americans certainly have a unique perspective on the idea. One such example is how most Americans seemed to share Mrs. Reel’s sentiment, regardless of their race:
“Her mother saw them ‘as millionaires temporarily embarrassed.’ But no matter how hard her mother tried to conceal the surrounding reality of Bed-Stuy from her daughters, the eventual outcome was a foregone conclusion.”
The term “millionaires temporarily embarrassed” is often misattributed to John Steinbeck. The quote is, “The poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
While socialism isn’t a one-fit-all solution for all our problems, it does have features we could greatly benefit from. However, because of this MTE (Millionaires Temporarily Embarrassed) phenomenon, we seem to hate the idea of change. It has even reached the point that we refuse to take features of a concept and adjust it to fit our unique needs.
Perhaps this is one of the instances why it’s hard for some to accept government assistance. The American dream cannot exist without a story of an underdog suffering before he gets his big break. Interestingly enough, the same ones who refuse to take assistance sneer at others who do. “Taking handouts” is an indirect admittance to their lack of independence. This problem can enable others to stop seeking help even when they need it the most. This extreme pride may be a defense mechanism, but it can also be a harmful one that can hinder progress.
Until we can adjust our perspective on poverty and stop attributing it to a moral failure, millions will continue to be stuck in its cycle. The truth is that poverty is not a moral failure but a situational and systemic issue.