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Opinion: Poverty numbers don't tell the whole story
Psychologist Susan Bodnar say poverty "numbers don’t tell the real story about people and their finances."
September 12th, 2012
12:41 PM ET

Opinion: Poverty numbers don't tell the whole story

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at The Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Almost every day brings an economic report with new statistics.

The numbers attempt to explain our society as a configuration of categories, boxes or slices on a pie chart.

In 2011, 46.2 million people fell below the poverty line. The top 1% has a household net worth of $16.4 million, while the median wealth is only $57,000. 

Median income falls, but so does poverty

These numbers don’t tell the real story about people and their finances.

History does.

Honestly, I don’t want to write this.

As a psychologist, I would like to hide how difficult it was to attain my education and my professional credentials, and how hard I still work! Once a person has achieved this thing called status it has become fashionable to act as if entitled to it, as though those who don’t yet have it are neither smart nor hardworking enough.

Yet I have an obligation to not deny the generations of hardship out of which I have constructed my success. FULL POST

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Filed under: Family • History • Poverty • What we think
May 23rd, 2012
09:05 PM ET

Opinion: What to take away from the death of Trayvon Martin

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at The Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When I learned of the news that a young black male, Trayvon Martin, had been shot and killed, it knocked the tears out of me.

Could this have happened to my child? One of his friends?

Martin was like many of our adolescent children – a little bit confused about his identity, and perhaps acted out as most teenagers do.

But we should stop viewing the release of recent evidence,  and news about George Zimmerman as a spectacle.

Instead let’s discuss how a white Hispanic man came to view an unarmed black teenager as dangerous, and explore racism’s lingering vestiges after the death of Trayvon Martin.

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Opinion: When being white doesn't help
Susan Bodnar writes, "Aren't we all ... part someone who longs to work with his or her hands?"
February 4th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Opinion: When being white doesn't help

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at The Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies.  She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

W.E.B. Dubois once said that even working white people benefited from the “the psychological wages” of membership in a dominant race. There is, however, more to the story of class in white America than dominance. The hardship and success of upward mobility has created a myth about white American class structure that obscures our truth.

TV shows like "Gossip Girl" make it seem as though most white Americans are simply privileged. Yet, according to U.S. Census data, almost 22 million white people live in poverty. An analysis of reported incomes suggests that people in that income bracket, as well as those with higher incomes, identify with being middle class. In a series of interviews about class status with white Americans, most are uncomfortable being seen as poor or wealthy.

Further, many don’t know what class status they inhabit. Despite the hard work that once ensured upward mobility, many white families have seen stagnant income growth. Others have accrued wealth without anything even resembling a work ethic. When members of different cultural groups marry, diverse traditions of class meet at the kitchen table. Siblings, parents and children can occupy different financial statuses. Some identify with class backgrounds from childhood more than their own.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Economy • Race • What we think
Opinion: Learning from Baba's grocery list
Susan Bodnar framed the part-English, part-Czech grocery list made by her great-grandmother, right, pictured with her husband.
December 30th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

Opinion: Learning from Baba's grocery list

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

Last night I went online, clicked into my bank, and began to pay bills from three separate piles: must be paid or else, can wait a bit, and we’ll pay these whenever. I never used to have to juggle, but this economy challenges even the most fastidious of savers. Everyone I know seems to hurt a little at the end of the month. During these stressful economic times, I remember stories about survival from my family’s immigrant generation.

We framed my great-grandmother’s shopping list to commemorate her attempt to write in English using foreign pronunciation; becoming American with the tools she could muster from her home country. Baba maintained an allegiance to Czechoslovakia, but her heart came of age in the new country. She spoke in that sing-song melodic cadence of her birth tongue, substituting the English words she had proudly learned. Even when I was a young adult, she summoned me using that potluck language of hers, “Přijďte to your baba and řekni me about škole.” Assimilation was simple for my Baba – embrace it all and make it work.

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Filed under: Economy • Ethnicity • History • What we think • Who we are
Opinion: Don't forget where you came from
Susan Bodnar's grandmother implored her to remember her roots in a Pennsylvania coal patch community.
November 24th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Opinion: Don't forget where you came from

Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who works with people from diverse backgrounds and teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.

See how readers reacted to Bodnar's piece.

By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When the director of diversity at my son’s new elite Manhattan private school recently asked a few parents in a diversity committee meeting to comment about the personal impact of stereotypes, I paused. As a white American with white children, I could have expressed my deep empathy for the racism experienced by people of color. Instead I knew I had to come out from behind the color of my skin and share how stereotypes affected me. White people, after all, are confronted by bias too.

“I sometimes feel insecure, “ I said, “being around so many wealthy people and I’m having trouble with my extended family who think I’m being uppity by sending the kids to a private school.”

I had just returned from my grandmother’s funeral in McAdoo, the small eastern Pennsylvania town that grew from a coal-mining patch community. For decades, coal was a thriving economic engine that had supported my immigrant family. When the coal ran dry sometime after World War II, the progress train left town, leaving behind slag heaps and blackened cavities in the earth. Some family members continued to work as wildcat miners. Others branched out into trucking, steel mills and manufacturing jobs. One grandfather became a chicken and potato farmer. A great-uncle opened a local grocery, Bodnar’s market. Despite the economic devastation brought on by the end of the region’s mining era, my family was trying to grow.

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Filed under: How we live • Race • What we think