More equal than others


My father always told me to help people in need.

He was a good may but years out of date.

Yet Iíve tried to live up to his vision of the world as best as I can.

You canít blame me for being born white, rich and in the suburbs.

Donít you think I feel guilty about it?
How can life be so unfair that I could be born so well off when many people get born in poverty or worse Ė with mothers that are drug addicts and prostitutes and fathers who are in jail?

From that point of view, my fatherís philosophy made sense.

This wasnít much different from my fatherís working the bread lines as a boy to help the unfortunate victims of the Great Depression.

So living up to my fatherís expectations, I went to the ghetto, too, hoping my good work would have the same positive effect.

Once down there, I discovered sharp differences.

Sure, I expected the dirt and disease, those markers of lower society that define their class.

But these people didnít appreciate anything I did, and would steal the rings off my fingers if I did not watch closely, not to mention anything else of value I might have on me.

I began to doubt the wisdom of my fatherís philosophy.

I tried not to lose faith. I fought hard to over look these inconsistencies. But they mounted daily and eroded the foundations my father had built in me.

His vision seemed faulty, even foolish, and soon I began cursing him as a fool.

Why had he not prepared me better for the real world?

I did not lose everything. I still wanted to help the less fortunate. I just wanted them to appreciate what I did for them.

Still committed to helping people, I decided to work for the welfare office, where these people glared at me and growled insults, claiming I made them feel inferior and made them gravel for basic needs.

They scared me so much that I locked my car door whenever I went to help them. I even locked my door at home, convinced that they followed me home at night.

Unable to take the abuse in the office, I asked to be transferred deeper into the complex where I did not have to deal with them directly yet I could still feel as if I helped even if it was only a matter of filing forms and processing claims. I did not have to attach any angry face to any of the names.

The problem came before and after work, when they gathered outside the office building like a flock of degenerate pigeons, seated on the stoop with nothing better to do than wait for people like me to give them something.

All they wanted were handouts, and the more we gave them the more than wanted.

And I didnít just see them at work.

Everywhere I went I saw them, like some creeping social disease which would not be contained in the city.

I saw them on the highway sides. I saw them in the parks. I saw them in the bus station and libraries.

I even saw them when I closed my eyes to sleep.

All of them were begging for something I couldnít give them, at least not without losing a part of myself.

Did they want me down in the gutter, too?

Did they want to see my home in shambles the way theirs were?

My father could never Ė would never Ė have approved of this kind of poverty.

I know he often spoke of the ďmassesĒ and ďthe collective needy,Ē but as time went on I wondered if he ever actually met one face to face on equal footing or shaken any of their hands?

Had my father ever looked into their blood stained eyes or smelled their unwashed bodies?

Did he ever see the hatred they bore for anyone of wealth, spitting on us in their minds even as we gave them what they needed and asked for.

I just wanted to know what they wanted from me that I wasnít already giving.

I helped, didnít I?

I gave them bread to eat? A place to live?

Why couldnít they just leave me alone?

But perhaps I already knew the answered, deep down, in a way my father could never have suspected.

These people did want me down on their level, living with the dirt and crime just as they did. They knew that unless I came down to where they were, we would never in a million years be equal.

At the point, I gave up, and went back to the suburbs.

I guess some people are just more equal than others after all.


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