Commentary: Let’s Not Compare African Poverty to Black American Poverty

Commentary: Let’s Not Compare African Poverty to Black American Poverty

A new awareness campaign by Bread for the World seeks to draw a connection between Africans struggling and African-Americans struggling, and it’s pretty flimsy.

Published August 23, 2012

A new awareness campaign attempting to present the difficulties many African-Americans face is getting a lot of press for its inventiveness and originality. But while the campaign may be turning heads, it’s also off base in a serious way.


Perhaps you’ve heard of faith-based group Bread for the World’s new project, “Shared History, Shared Experiences: Hunger and Poverty Among African-Americans and Africans." If you haven’t, it’s an attempt to draw attention to the fact that Blacks in both Africa and America are suffering from serious poverty issues. Wrote’s own Ryann Blackshere this week:


The report compares Virginia, Texas and Ohio to African countries Liberia, Tanzania and Malawi. The report says:


Liberia is about the same size as Virginia, but its poverty rate is nearly quadruple that of African-Americans in that state. Similarly, three times as many Tanzanians live in poverty as do African-Americans in Texas. At 40 percent, the poverty rate in Malawi is slightly higher than the African-American poverty rate in Ohio (31 percent), but the degree of poverty is substantially greater in Malawi, where more than 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1 (U.S.) per day.


Though it seems like Bread for the World’s heart is in the right place, the organization misses the mark when it attempts to compare African poverty with African-American poverty. As it notes in its own literature, citizens of places like Malawi are often forced to live on less than $365 per year. By contrast, the American poverty line for a single person is $11,170, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. While that’s certainly not a lot of money for someone trying to scrape together a life in the United States, it’s about 30 times what a poor person in Malawi makes.

Besides that, millions of poor Africans also deal with illnesses like Ebola and malaria as well as lack of potable water and civil war. Obviously the Black community in America has a host of issues to deal with, some of which are similar to those in Africa (violence, poor health care, etc.), but there’s simply no way to get around the fact that, if you’re poor in America, you’re probably more well off than a poor African.


This isn’t to say that Bread for the World isn’t doing a good thing with their campaign. Any attempt to bring more awareness to the plight of downtrodden people should be applauded. But the campaign isn’t as effective as it could be. Somehow, its apples-to-oranges comparison diminishes the struggles of both Black Americans and Black Africans, doing a disservice to both.



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(Photos from left: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson, REUTERS/Ismail Taxta)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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