Often times, I’ll look back on my day of work and feel like I’m just so insanely lucky to have my job. But sometimes, just sometimes, I have more of a “WTF?!?!” feeling about my job. Today is a “WTF, JOB” day, but only because of one writer. She had a sort of rambling-incoherent essay about integrity and society which she had worked really hard to make more organized. We tip-toed through it talking about the places where she didn’t have enough evidence to stake her claims and how she could have more of a central focus. Inasmuch as that is concerned, she wasn’t so different from any other student.
No, what turned my stomach was in her conclusion, where she was talking about how society seems to reward bad behavior, and she threw in an aside about how lazy people are rewarded with food stamps and WIC. Her teacher had written, in the margin, “lazy children and babies?”, a sentiment which I reflexively backed. The student responded that she wasn’t really sure why her teacher had made that comment, and then flipped the paper over to show me a bit of a rant that said teacher had made about the working poor, which asked rather bluntly, “if a single mom works two part time jobs and still needs WIC & food stamps, how many jobs should she get?”
So the student and I talked briefly about the plight of the working poor, and I told her that if she wanted to make the argument that society rewards bad behavior she’d have to get another example, “if not because you understand what I’m saying, because your teacher clearly doesn’t think your argument is sound.”
I asked her if she thought that bankers who sold toxic mortgages being rewarded with cushy early retirement deals while the government bailed out their companies was a good example of what she meant.
I explained again. “Do you think that they acted without integrity and were rewarded?”
The student blinked slowly. “I don’t know. What are you even talking about? That’s not like, you know, a real thing that happened.”
I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears. “Yes, yes it is. Please google ‘toxic mortgage’ and read the news articles that come up. It happened a few years ago but we still feel the effects of it today. You’re younger than me, but you were old enough to be paying attention to the news during the recession…”
“It wasn’t, like, a real recession.”
“My family moved from Indiana to Yakima because there were no jobs. Like, no jobs. There was a place that was hiring twenty people and three thousand people applied. If that isn’t a real recession, I don’t know what is.”
“But it was like not the bankers fault,” the girl said, “if it really was…”
“Please, just look it up,” I said, thinking that it sure as hell wasn’t the fault of babies on WIC.
But it left me feeling incredibly unsettled, this reflexive hatred towards poor people. Only slightly less unsettling was the defensive trust of the rich. Yet, what stuck with me was the instinctive way that she equated being poor with having no integrity, without flinching, assuming without having anything to base her argument on that anyone reading it would agree. As if the final nail in the coffin when arguing that today’s society has lost its moral compass would be the fact that we feed babies and children whose parents cannot get by.
I don’t know, perhaps this is another sign of my own biases getting in the way of my better judgment, as I almost instantly wanted to tap out of the consultation and take up smoking just to burn off the stress. Yet I cannot, even now, nine hours later, easily shake the sourness in my stomach and get on with life. How is it that there is an entire population of our country that equate poverty with sin just as simply as I equate the sky with the color blue? Yet, there is evidence that the sky is blue every day.
What, exactly, is the evidence that poor people are bad?
Where does that message even come from?
I would think that if you were going to write a essay about the duplicitous nature of our society, the better argument would be the fact that our government is more prone to cut food stamps than they are to cut subsidies to corporations, and that human life holds less sacredness than capitalism.
Yet, from the look in that girl’s eyes, I’m the one who isn’t really in touch with reality.
Honestly, I’m not sure that reality is something I want to get my hands on these days.