Life is not fair. Despite hearing from childhood that ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ it’s not that simple. If you are born poor, you’re likely to stay poor. And if your parents were wealthy, chances are you were afforded opportunities and privileges denied to most. A solid head start.
But boy do we love overcomers. First, it feeds into this mythology. Which alleviates guilt (I have, and you do not, but you could if you only tried hard enough).
The loose use of the word hero during the pandemic has been part of this particular story line. Frontline workers. Rather than supplying them the actual support they need (PPE, higher wages, true recognition of the essential services they provide) they have been labeled heroes. Try to cash that one at the bank.
I can say this with confidence. From personal experience. Even though I was born white and into a middle class family, I already had several marks against me. First, I was a girl. Second, my family was deeply dysfunctional.
At the age of twenty four I got pregnant. I didn’t really know the father–we had been dating for six weeks. My family had long ago split into two equally unhealthy arms (what’s worse than two dysfunctional parents? Four). My mother and stepfather urged an abortion and then demanded marriage. I refused the first but tearfully caved on the latter.
Within a year my stepfather would fly his small aircraft into the face of a cliff on his 65th birthday. Suicide. Two weeks later I discovered I was pregnant for the second time and that my short marriage was over. My mother was now bankrupt so I asked my father and stepmother if I could move in with them for a short time. The answer was no.
By the time my daughter was two, it was obvious she was being sexually abused by her biological father. I was only twenty six, an unmarried mother of two, but I did my best to deal with the system and to protect my children. Ultimately I would fail, as the abuse continued.
First we were on food stamps, but then welfare. And you know what my gold star was? Everyone told me what a good mother I was. Truth is, I was in way over my head, totally overwhelmed, and could have used some fucking help.
It’s been a struggle in one way or another ever since. I am an overcomer. The way I handle adversity makes others feel better.
But just because I keep showing up for practice, it doesn’t mean I’m not aware that I got a pretty shitty role in this play.
So back to the present. The anger, the outrage, the demonstrations and the looting. There is a fixation on the latter. And yet no one should be surprised.
Sure, these may be ‘lawless’ individuals who are taking advantage of the chaos. But you know what? That term looter, like hero, is often applied loosely. Someone who breaks into a store and steals some shoes is, to my mind, no more of a looter than someone who is obscenely wealthy. The difference is one is protected by our laws whereas the other, if caught, will be prosecuted. The rich will stay rich and the poor will get poorer.
Although I would not go so far as to say I am an anarchist (I like some order), my ideology is radical. I hate racism, deplore our criminal justice system, and feel that capitalism is at the root of so much that is evil.
Life is not fair. Anger is justified. Nobody should be poor, but more importantly, absolutely no one deserves to be filthy rich. Having a billion dollars should be a crime.
And until we all acknowledge and own this inequity, the world is going to continue to explode. As human beings, we can do better. We can heal the hurts, stop trying to justify injustice, quit trashing our home–I’m not talking about looting, but rather the destruction of nature and the environment.
When someone tells me they are sorry that I have cancer, I invariably respond with ‘it’s ok.’ Which of course makes them feel better. Perhaps I should just thank them for acknowledging my bad luck.
My own response to inequity is to use what I have to address it. Would I love to be a philanthropist? Sure. But I have no talent for acquiring money. And if I did, I would be ashamed to live in luxury while others struggle in poverty.
That is what drives my activism. I have been given more time. And although I can’t share it, I can do what I can to make sure others are given a similar opportunity.
The world is hurting. Big time and in so many different ways. We can respond by hiding in our bunker and dimming the lights. Or we can acknowledge that we are all in this together—one big, giant, screwed up family. And if we want to end this cycle of abuse, well, it’s time we owned our problems. Stop turning a blind eye. Work together. Pass the plate. Do our best to make certain everyone is given an equal portion.
Grace versus gluttony.