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A Story

I want to tell you guys a story. I don't think I've told this story here yet. It's a very upsetting and important story, and I think this incident really helped make me into who I am today. [ETA: Please don't mainpage. This is for GT]

In high school I took AP Macroeconomics. We took a day out of our really tight schedule to look at an interactive map of the demographics of a nearby city. This city used to be a thriving industrial center, but these days is struggling, as so many rustbelt cities are. There is a lot of poverty, a lot of issues with gang violence, problems with drugs, and the local school district has a hell of a time working with the kids that come from these shitty situations. So we were looking through this map of demographics. The teacher pulled up factors like education, salary, jobs, and rates of people on welfare, and showed how these factors correlated. It did not make for a pretty picture.


Most of the kids who took AP classes in my high school were the privileged ones: the ones whose parents made lots of money, built their families large houses in the country, and who never had to worry about affording things in their life. I guess it shouldn't've come as a big surprise when the class president started going on a hideous rant about poor people and welfare and drugs.

Much to peoples' credit, they argued against him, calling out his privilege specifically. He's all like, "I'm not rich or spoiled, my father started his own business. Anybody can do that, so why don't they and stop spending welfare money on drugs?" When I left class, people were ranting furiously about this kid. But in the end, nothing changed. He was still well liked, popular, and entitled. No one stopped being friends with him over this. And I left the class nearly in tears.


I mean, this kind of shit should upset anybody with empathy, but I was having some horrible flashbacks. When the economy crashed, my uncle lost his job, and started using cocaine to deal with things. His wife divorced him and took the kids, and I remember those late night quiet phone calls that my mother would have for years to come. I remember not being able to see my uncle for ages after that, and worrying about him, and what he would be like the next time I saw him. It was a really hard time for my family, and I don't think that this kind of thing is easy to understand unless you've been through it.

So when this kid was going on about how poor people are all lazy, and don't want to get a real job, but would rather spend welfare money on drugs and just continue to make themselves a burden, I was furious. And upset. He didn't know what my family had been through. And somehow I don't think he'd care. And I was crying in class, and felt very alone.


It's one of my biggest regrets in life that I didn't confront him then.


This is what I tell people when they ask me why I'm a socialist. Because I don't think we should have to deal with economic inequality and the divisions it creates between people. Or the amount of shit that people get for not being wealthy or having a good job. Class divisions and entitlement were one of the things that struck me the most when going through public school (and now a private and expensive college), and it always bothered me.


As a coda to this story, I heard a year later that this kid had been at a party after graduation. He'd gotten into a fight with one of the kids who'd dropped out of school (and has since been arrested several times, and gotten involved with gangs), and had all his teeth knocked out (or so I heard). I laughed my ass off when I heard this, and secretly hoped that when he was sitting in the dentist's office, that he'd thought long and hard about what kind of situation he'd be in if his family didn't have insurance, and appreciated that he had that privilege. I don't think he did. But I can always hope.

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