Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who Am I? More Importantly, Who Are We?

Please allow me to share some truths about myself. First, I confess that I still fall far short of Atticus Finch, the literary icon that set the standard for this blog. I try to follow Atticus’s advice and walk in the shoes of others, but I often fail.

Second, what empathy I possess informs me that I could be one of the poor, homeless or desperate citizens just as easily as I am not. No tornado has turned my home into toothpicks. Levies did not fail in my town, drowning my neighbors, carrying my beloved pet away, and fouling my child’s school with mold and rot. I have not withstood winds that blew as hurricanes do. I have never been diagnosed with cancer.

But my father was, and my daughter, at the age of 24, was. Because of their diagnoses, I know about the financial impact of cancer. Dad had Medicare to pay for palliative treatment; my daughter did not. She and her husband put buying a home on hold. They took out student loans so that he could finish law school, and they had to put off car repairs because of the monthly debt for life-saving, life-altering medications. She had great health insurance, but still, she had to pay several thousand dollars in just twelve months.

Now Congress continues to debate whether she should have the privilege of qualifying for health insurance because she has a pre-existing condition. Nothing about her lifestyle or choices brought her to that place. She is no more personally responsible for her disease and possible setbacks than folks who live where tornadoes and hurricanes blow or where oil companies have monumental accidents or where energy companies dig and delve, fracturing rock beds below in search of natural gas.

Third, I am Caucasian. Every day of my life, I have stepped into this universe of the United States enjoying the privileges of being white, privileges that I did not earn, by the way. Those privileges have come to me by accident of birth just as sorrows have come to others by accident of being born with brown skin, in Louisiana, or Haiti. I have done nothing special to be thought of so well, and this makes me humble.

Now as United States’ citizens stand across from each other, at opposite edges of a great chasm into which the principles of this nation may disappear, each side claiming the higher moral ground, we must take stock of ourselves. Does anyone, especially whites in America, “get ahead” by sheer grit and resolve? No, they do not. Elizabeth Warren pointed this out for all of us when she said that those with wealth and power surely took advantage of the nation’s infrastructure to transport goods that allowed them to grow a business. They made use of electricity and natural gas and Detroit and Silicon Valley and so much more in their pursuit of wealth and power. Many of them, including the powerful Koch and Bush brothers, stepped into their high status as a result of being born with that proverbial spoon in their mouths.

They needed and still need what is good for the entire population. They should be grateful to the nation that swaddled them as they grew in power, and they should be humble for the circumstances that nurtured their development. They have a duty to lead the 99%, not take advantage of it. They and we must cease immediately any and all efforts to marginalize, sacrifice, and ignore the social ills that plague us and prevent many from fulfilling their promise.

Together, the 100% must reach down and lift up the least among them regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. The success of all citizens enriches the nation’s productivity, innovation, and security. More important, every person has a right to exist where opportunities to excel are equally available, and those opportunities begin with sufficient food, safe and warm shelter, health, and education.

Above all, we must revive the vision of Helen Keller who said: “The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience.” Let us find our consciences and act in the interest of the general, greater good.