Really, this mono thing bites.

Two articles managed to be side by side in my feed reader today, and I think they have some illumination to offer each other. The first was Shake’s Sis, writing about the expanding phenomenon on suburban poverty, where rising heating and transportation costs are being felt acutely. A sober reminder that American wealth disparity is on the frightening rise.

Paul Butler, writing at Black Prof, offers a story on a study of encouragement given to children as a function of parental education/income. While the study did not specifically look at race, he moves to those questions on account of income/education disparities.

The original article from the NYT reads

By age 3, the average child of a professional heard about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. For the welfare children, the situation was reversed: they heard, on average, about 75,000 encouragements and 200,000 discouragements. Hart and Risley found that as the number of words a child heard increased, the complexity of that language increased as well. As conversation moved beyond simple instructions, it blossomed into discussions of the past and future, of feelings, of abstractions, of the way one thing causes another — all of which stimulated intellectual development.

The quote that moves me to post the link is his answer to his co-blogger Spencer Overton, who earlier in the week discussed the capacity for self-criticism in Black communities to become toxic, asking where harm can be said to have begun. Butler responds sparingly.

“At age 3.”

That resonates with me, but I immediately want to throw up a caution, to move this very much away from mother-shaming or the like.* A while back, BFP wrote what may well be the definitive blog entry on raising a child in poverty and the hostile gaze of the state/society. My response at the time, is here…

Raising children outside of the system of stress, harassment, and economic pressure that bfp narrates is a privilege. This is not about an ontology of parenting in poverty, but a description of the after-effects of a domination system. If parents are telling their children that they aren’t good enough…the first place to look is what conditions and messages we have surrounded those families with in the first place.


*I specify here because the study in question explicitly addresses single motherhood.