The more one walks around as a black male, the more one gets acclimatized to people’s negative assumptions about his life.
I’m use to it. I’m use to the stereotypes, the pre-judgments, and the general ignorance. But yesterday, for the first time in my life I felt as though someone talked to me like I was in some “inner-upper-class-circle.” I didn’t like it.
The woman was black and appeared to be middle aged. (we’ll call her Ms.Privilege for narrow intents and purposes) The conversation started off nicely. She noticed a folder that had the word “summerlinks” written on it (The program at University of Chicago that gave me the grant to work at an internship this summer). She realized I was a student as U of C, and I can only assume that she took this information and attached a connotation to it that didn’t exist. (You know, black male student at Ivy+ School, he must be from money, right?).
Our discussion about Summerlinks and Chicago spilled over into recent changes in the school system. There is a new law out that will ensure a certain number of poverty stricken students to be inserted into selective schools. She explained to me how a student in the United States has a better chance of getting into Harvard, than a student in Chicago getting into Whitney Young Magnet High School. Of course all three of her children have gone to this Chicago “almost-public-pretty-close-to-private” School.
Ms. Privilege seemed to have it all together, she explained her successful career as a journalist and boasted about her sons attending Yale and Princeton. I almost wanted to give her a high five until she fixed her mouth to spout out themes that continue to separate not only the black middle class from the black lower class, but themes that overall separate the rich from the poor in America.
For 20 minutes she ranted about how this new law in Chicago is a threat to the middle class, and shrieked at the thought of someone in poverty making it into Whitney Young HS over a person with higher test scores because of economic status. She continued on by explaining how it’s unrealistic to expect someone of a lower class to be friend with a middle/upper class person because the poor person would not have the money to meet the social expectations (she specifically used the example of how expensive it is to snow board). She concluded by explaining how she felt “threatened like the white parents.”
I was in shock. Ms. Privilege clearly didn’t understand that once upon a time I was the poor boy given a chance by the public school system to succeed in life. I have no problem with people achieving success and wanting success for their children. I have similar aspirations, but my issue comes in when people of privilege facilitate the protection of their status at the cost of poor people who only need a chance and have only a fraction of the resources to offer their children. My issue with Ms. Privilege comes with her pushing a biases of class so far, that she couldn’t expect her child to be friends with someone poor.
Her narrative was like a slap in the face to all the hardworking people without the same resources and opportunities that are allocated to her due to her class.
At the end of the day, I respectfully disagreed with her and got off the bus. But her words, still ache in my stomach Her way of cut-throat individualistic thinking continues to sadden me. And the worse part is, I know she is not the only one. She just assumed I was something else due to my education and was candid enough to say what she thought out loud.
I can only hope that there are still people out there that fight for the common good of all people. A society that wants to see that gap between the poor and rich closed. Unfortunately, I feel that this type of thinking is far too rare. Unfortunately.