"Poverty is a Person: Human Agency, Women and Caribbean Households"
Prof. Theresa Rajack-Talley (Pan-African Studies) is Associate Dean for International, Diversity, and Engagement Programs in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Meet Pan-African Studies Prof. Theresa Rajack-Talley
Prof. Theresa Rajack-Talley’s latest book, Poverty is a Person, focuses on poverty in the midst of paradise. In the Caribbean, economic hardship and social exclusion coexist with idyllic scenes of island life, and poor communities, with substandard living conditions and a lack of access to basic services, belie the story often sold in tourist brochures.
From the publisher:
In Poverty is a Person, Theresa Ann Rajack-Talley, in a participatory approach to development studies, raises the voices of those usually muted in poverty research. The people-centred approach forces a questioning of statistical data on poverty and how that data is used to craft responses and solutions to meeting the needs of the most marginalized persons in Caribbean societies. The book provides a synopsis of poverty from a “people perspective” and is supported by case studies of households and communities. – Ian Randle Publishers
Prof. Rajack-Talley is the Associate Dean for International Diversity and Engagement Programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, and an Associate Professor and former Chair of the Department of Pan African Studies. With over 25 years of research experience on social inequality, race, gender and poor households in the Caribbean, USA, West and East Africa, she has written widely on understanding poverty and poverty alleviation.
In this Q&A, we learn how the patriarchy has persisted, and what we can all do to help alleviate poverty.
Years at UofL: 15 years
What is the focus of your current research?
Economic development, world poverty and social inequality with a focus on race/ethnicity, social class, gender and geographical location.
What is the greatest challenge facing women today? Why?
Despite all the progress made by women, patriarchy persists and gender relations of power remain unequal. Moreover, women's progress is used to mask discrimination based on race and ethnicity, national identity, sexuality, religious beliefs, culture and social class.
It is an epistemic fallacy to think that women are no longer challenged by these forms of discrimination linked to Eurocentric and androcentric domination.
Prof. Rajack-Talley’s research focuses on poor communities, households, and women, and the impact of race, gender and social location, with a particular focus on the Caribbean.
How and why does your research on women and poverty in the global south impact the way you live your life?
It is difficult to separate the personal from the professional so I have made the personal and the professional goals one. I link what I teach to my research that focuses on social inequality and gender inequity in the African Diaspora. Further, I engage in both research on poverty and poverty assessments so that I can publish in refereed sources (a requirement of my job at UofL) as well as inform national policy and community programs.
In this process I use my stature as a university professor to advocate for the participatory approach to research and development. Lastly, I have given myself a global citizenship and visit impoverished communities wherever I travel for work, research, or personal time.
What can individual people - UofL students, faculty, and staff - do to make a difference in the lives of those affected by poverty?
First, acknowledge that poverty exists and the extent to which it is around us. Second, treat local, national and global poverty as a human rights issue, and not as a just statistic, an advertisement on the TV, or a charity.
Offer more courses, take more courses and volunteer in your community or abroad. And when you do, recognize that your own privileges and differences that do not make you better than those who have less. People affected by poverty are not 'unintelligent,’ they do not want sympathy or handouts, but rather the opportunity and resources so that they could enjoy freedom of choice.
Your book "Poverty is a Person" provides a view of poverty from a "people perspective." Tell a particular story you learned that impacted your views on poverty, and the difference between the way it is seen through statistics and the way it can be viewed when there is a face and a story attached.
Poverty studies that inform policies and implement programs are poverty assessments. They are not deigned to understand what it is to live in dire circumstances, what women, men, and youth feel, what they do to survive, and the impact of poverty not just on their material well-being but on their social, psychological, and spiritual well-being. You hear an elderly woman say, "poverty is a crime not a sin;” You hear a young boy talk about "having to throw his dreams away;" You watch a young girl get teased by her schoolmates because her mother does not have enough money to buy deodorant – yet she begs you to help her mother. A woman who works so hard that her feet are swollen, a woman who performs the role of a strong matriarch, but when asked if she cries breaks down and sobs. You see the disabled, who feel as if society has thrown them away.
Yet they all smile, rarely complain, they support their families and communities, rank their spiritual well-being as high and give ME hope. Statistics do not speak, feel, cry, or present a human face. When used by itself statistics takes the people out of poverty studies.
Finish this sentence:
I think, therefore I advocate.