I was born on the right side of the tracks. In fact, where I grew up, the other side of the tracks wasn’t exactly poor either. Despite what part of town one lived in, it was a nice place to raise a family. The socio/economic dynamics in Flushing Queens during the 70’s & 80’s was an “aspired to” representation of pre-deregulation, middle class America. And whether our Dads wore blue or white collars, they were –for the most part– able to provide their children with the tools they needed.
While my family wasn’t wealthy, neither were we deprived. Indeed, as a child I had nice, store bought clothes to wear. I always had food on my plate, and snacks in our cupboard. The detached center hall colonial that I called home was accoutered with nice furniture, and expensive carpeting. We were cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. I even got the bike I wanted for Christmas.
However, my brother and I did have to share a bedroom. Oh, the horror!
But not a day goes by where I am not aware of the advantages I had. Certainly my parents did not spoil their children, nor did they indulge us like sickening new millennium parents, but they gave us all of what we needed, some of what we wanted, and north star to guide our way. Sure, my family underwent the usual dysfunction that most suburbanites experience growing up –my big sister and I once got into a brawl over a banana (we sure as hell weren’t the Cleavers)– but the travails of North Flushing accorded no real hardships.
… At least not the kinds of hardships that those in poverty stricken, inner city communities endured.
I never had to go to school without having eaten the night before, and try to concentrate during a test while dizzy from hunger. When I was told that I could not have something, it was because my parents had their reasons, not because they couldn’t afford it. I was disciplined, but I was never beaten. I was never abused. I was never thrown against the wall and frisked by the police while walking home. I was never treated badly because of the color of my skin.
I cannot pretend to comprehend the lives of those whose daily existence is so foreign to me. Even as I write this, I understand that I do not understand what it was like to grow up so much differently than I did. I dare not presume to.
My white, middle-class status at birth accorded education and opportunities which translated into a comfortable lifestyle in my adulthood. There are a lot of social dynamics that work in one’s favor that are all-too easily taken for granted by many middle-class white folks. It’s certainly easier to pull one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps when there is a significant support system helping you.
So I guess the point I’m trying to make is, that there are a lot of middle class people who take their background for granted. Not all, but some. I know that a lot of us like to think that we’re so damn terrific that our singular work ethic and acumen have enabled us to avoid the fate of those who have economically fallen. But the point from where we begin life’s journey usually means an awful lot.
In my early adulthood I had the luxury of having my father to indulge me. When I struggled –be it financially or emotionally– he was there, in whatever capacity I needed him. The man I eventually grew into and the man I aspire to be is because of the strength and stability of the man I was lucky enough to call “Dad”. Many who are reading this share the same fortunate experience. Many others wish they had.
I shudder to think who I would be today without him.
This piece in neither about “white guilt”, or institutional racism. It is about being able to practice honest introspection. A little humility about ourselves, and empathy for those less fortunate is something lacking in our discourse. Social media, and the accompanying lack of personal interaction, has translated into a severe lack of compassion for others. We too easily dismiss those in poverty as not having our own intrepid spirit, when in fact our own spirits would have been also broken had we been born into their circumstance.
If not for a couple of decent breaks, the poor which so many cavalierly dismiss, are all of us.