In order to better understand poverty and the factors that contribute to it, it’s also important to understand racism and how the two are inextricably linked. Sociologist Robin D’Angelo writes that “social scientists understand racism as a multidimensional and highly adaptive system — a system that ensures an unequal distribution of resources between racial groups.”
Poverty does not result solely from an unequal distribution of resources, but also from discrimination against individuals and communities based on their ethnicity, race, religion, or other characteristics.
This discrimination encourages exclusion and impoverishes certain groups of people who suffer from unequal access to basic needs and resources.
According to the United Nations (UN), a history of discrimination has led to a great number of racial minorities disproportionately affected by poverty and trapped in conditions of “chronic deprivation of resources.” This disparity is multidimensional and is fueled by a lack of funding in education, adequate housing, and access to quality healthcare.
Many people who live in extreme poverty are often also victims of discrimination on grounds such as birth, property, national and social origin, race, color, and religion. Poverty is both a cause and a product of human rights violations. In 2001 the World Conference against Racism in Durban emphasized that poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization, social exclusion, and economic disparities are closely associated with racism, and contribute to the persistence of racist attitudes and practices which in turn generate more poverty.
The UN often refers to poverty as a “vicious circle”, made up of a wide range of factors that are interlinked and hard to overcome. Deprivation of resources, capability, and opportunities makes it impossible for anyone to satisfy the most basic human needs or to enjoy human rights.
According to the UN, “owing to their economic and social conditions, groups that are discriminated against are more exposed to health risks and diseases. They are more likely than others to live in polluted and environmentally degraded areas where the risk of exposure to substance abuse, violence, and infectious diseases is higher.”
In many societies, people are prevented from enjoying their rights not just because they cannot afford to do so, but simply because of who they are. Discrimination is often a barrier to essential services for certain groups of people, for example, migrants, ethnic and racial minorities, refugees and internally displaced persons, women, persons living with HIV/AIDS, stateless persons, and persons with disabilities. Discriminatory laws, policies, and practices may mean that these groups are also denied the right to work, the right to adequate housing, and the right to a high standard of health. Racial discrimination and other types of discrimination can have a multiplier effect, compounding social exclusion and, in the worst cases, fuelling violent conflict.
Link between poverty and racism. (2019, November 15). Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. https://www.aadmovement.org/link-between-poverty-and-racism/
Vulnerable people: people living in extreme poverty — Let’s Fight Racism! (2015). Un.org. https://www.un.org/en/letsfightracism/poor.shtml