Yeah, we’ve turned into a country where everyone has an equal opportunity for success. If you fail at life (poor job, turn to crime, become an unmarried mother) then it is your fault exclusively. The rest of society owes you nothing, and we are justified in looking down our noses at you, enabling us to ridicule you as useless eaters.
This is the mantra for millions of people in this country. We have an entire political party that believes in entitlement – for its members, since only its members are true Americans. Everyone else is a fraud, an unworthy person who really doesn’t deserve to share in the citizenship bestowed upon those who are truly exceptional.
Of course, one of the advantages (or curses, depending upon viewpoint) of living long enough is that I’ve seen how things used to be. And up until the early 1960’s, this country enabled overt racism. In the southern states, the famous Jim Crow laws governed life. People of color could not vote, and woe be anyone who stepped out of place and thought themselves to be uppity. I remember the infamous Bull Connor and the fire hoses aimed at demonstrators. After college, I moved to Memphis in the mid 1970’s and saw sharecropper shanties if I took an alternate road back to my middle-class white apartment complex. If I wanted to go to northern Mississippi, I saw rows of houses with sugar creeks of sewage running in front of the pitiful houses. This was circa 1985.
In the north, discrimination was no less odious. The practice of redlining meant that blacks were shunted into districts where they could be neglected. Neighborhood schools reflected the relative wealth of those neighborhoods. White suburbs have sparkling new schools, while the inner-city schools show nothing but the apathy of the governing classes, allowing them to deteriorate even faster than the housing projects they serve. When an attempt was made to make experiences more equal by instituting busing, we saw rejection of that practice in northern as well as southern cities.
Other governmental solutions saw poor results. Affirmative action rubbed those who believed in meritocracy, as a solution in search of a problem. Many refused to believe that talent could be found in all demographic groups, and that poor test scores were more a reflection of economics than a reflection of character. You saw much zero-sum philosophizing aimed at instilling rage among the privileged classes. Every hire of a minority was unearned, and took a job opportunity from a worthy white applicant.
So now, in the 2020’s, we are told to believe exclusively in achievement as the marker for advancement in society. We’ve achieved our color-blind society. And if you can’t achieve according to the norms accepted by white society, you are unworthy and never will amount to anything. But we are intended to believe none of the differences we now see between races and other groups represents the system being rigged. Why, all of these folks just need to accept their place in society, which of course is below those of us who had all of the benefits.
Reparations is suggested as a way we can even up the playing field. Unfortunately, I see reparations that are resented by those who would give them as a poor substitute for real equality. Instead, I would rather see an effort made to equalize opportunity by truly improving the one system we have to give people bootstraps to tug on. If we as a nation decided to spend the funds we are considering for reparations, and instead spent it on new educational facilities with teacher’s salaries aimed at attracting those residing in the right-hand side of the IQ curve, then I think we can expect better results in a generation or two.
But to say that, well, these people have had rights for 50-60 years with little to show for it so we should forget ever trying to give those ungrateful people anything. They will always destroy anything good we give them. These attitudes have always been present in US society. The political and social media changes over the past decade have enabled these attitudes to become respectable, and unleashed. Their vitriol poisons our public discourse, and now threatens to forbid the newer generations from even learning about how our nation gained the warts we still live with.
I cannot abide those who diminish the experiences of those in the lower, working classes. I have shown the national income distribution, where nearly 40% of the nation lives on an income of less than $50,000 per year. It is no wonder so many folks have trouble saving for the future – they are too busy working full-time jobs and trying to afford even a moderate life-style in the present. Look, there will always be those who game the system and are willing to live on the scraps left to them by the upper classes. You can consider them to be parasites. But so many of our fellow citizens are stuck in low-paying occupations, where any pathway towards success is iffy at best. To condemn those who are hard working to a life of poverty is not fair, and does not reward their efforts. Too many times we castigate those who find themselves in a life with few options for improvement. For once, I’d like to see us honor both hard work, and family formation, through governmental policies which actually reinforce values we would like shared across our nation. To impose only punitive policies is like providing only thoughts and prayers on the issue of guns and expect positive results. It just will not happen.