Two weeks ago, when I first saw the video of Aasif Mandvi annihilating Fox Business commentator Todd Wilemon on "The Daily Show," I thought it was possibly the funniest thing I had ever seen.
In the segment, Mandvi discusses the possible outcomes of the Affordable Care Act with Wilemon, who insists the ACA will result in a third-world quality health care system in which the lines are longer and "people may have to bring their own sheets."
While he is laughable throughout the entire video, Wilemon places the cherry on top during the conclusion when he suggests that people who can't afford health care should "just stop being poor."
I found this so funny because, come on, who actually thinks that? Further, who says something that ignorant and callous on television? Surely, I thought, people don't actually believe those born in poverty can just stop being poor. My experiences the following week showed me otherwise.
For my Spring Break, I traveled to Chicago with 18 other UT students to do service in some of the worst neighborhoods in Illinois, if not the entire U.S. Within 10 minutes of reaching the neighborhood where we were supposed to stay, a Chicago police officer stopped us and said we did not need to be there.
Naturally, we were a little freaked out. As the week progressed, however, we became more comfortable and realized the nature of our housing for the week (a mission run by Franciscan sisters) largely kept us out of any danger.
The amount of growth I saw in the students throughout the week was tremendous; by our final reflection, people were expressing how much they learned about the nature of poverty and how their perspectives had changed.
Several of them reflected on how the trip had altered their stereotypes about people living in poverty from the typical "lazy and unmotivated" categories.
I realized that even these kind, genuine kids had their own preconceived notions about poverty because society has taught them poor people truly have the choice to "just stop being poor."
This sentiment is not simply the punchline of a joke on "The Daily Show" or an idea that is limited to "selfish" rich people. It is a pervasive, persistent prejudice that people have come to accept as being true for every single person living in poverty.
Just a few weeks ago in a radio interview, Paul Ryan described poverty as a "cultural problem" characterized by "men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work." Ryan also made sure to point out most of this "cultural problem" persists mainly in inner city areas.
Ryan is right in the sense there is a culture of people not working, but so wrong in the sense that the inner cities are the only place in which this is a problem. Poverty and subsequently welfare spending are also rampant in rural areas of Tennessee, and even more so in Appalachia.
Altering the culture of one of these groups or another is not going to change poverty.
Given the multi-faceted nature of poverty, there really is not one concise answer to solving it. In order to even begin we would have to alter patterns of gentrification, eliminate food deserts and develop better public education.
But before any of this can even happen, more people have to experience what our Spring Break team experienced last week: that poverty is not always a conscious choice, but an inescapable situation determined largely by where you are born and, especially, who you are born to.
It amazes and saddens me it took only a week for a group of college students to realize this, yet prominent people in our society have not (and will not) take the time to go live and learn that to "just stop being poor" is simply not an option.
Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.