Monday, July 15, 2013

One Way We Discriminate


{A baby shower.}

I've spent a lot of time over the past year or so thinking about the things that separate people. You don't need me to tell you that racism is still rampant. It is complex and weighty and disgusting. But my recent experience tells me that class discrimination is kicking every bit as hard.

I can't pretend to even know the half of it, but I can tell you that it doesn't matter what color your skin is, if you show up wearing house slippers at an office staffed with middle class people, there's a good possibility that you'll be flicked away like a pesky house fly, not trusted with important information about your own life or the lives of your children, not given the time of day. If you want our genuine help, our full attention and all of our available resources, bring someone along who looks, acts, talks like us. We'll speak to her.

Maybe you're not wearing your fuzzy flippers. But you have that look. You speak in patterns that we frown upon. You have a tattoo on your neck. Your teeth didn't get an A+ at the dentist six months back. You smell like cigarettes. Your clothes are faded and don't match. You show too much cleavage. You don't make eye contact. You're fidgety.

We can pick you out of a crowd in two seconds flat and we disagree with the way you live, even though we don't know a single thing about it. You make us uncomfortable. You make us feel haughty and above-the-fray, like maybe we don't have it all together, but it could be worse.

So instead of simplifying, we talk down. We confuse you on purpose, just a little reminder that we know more. Maybe we look you square in the eye, but probably not. We're here to teach you a lesson, to impart our wisdom into your dysfunctional life. Our generic smile turns down a little at the corners. We might roll our eyes, but who can really blame us? And who cares if you see? What are you possibly going to do about it?

We want to shame you into improving, but don't ask us how you should go about improving because it isn't our problem.

All we're saying is, we'd like you to make better choices. We want you to stop wasting our tax dollars on Dr. Pepper. We don't like it that you buy your kids so much junk food. Haven't you heard of carrots or cold pressed apple juice?

You could tell us that it's hard to get the grocery store, or anywhere beyond walking distance, but that will only confuse and further annoy us. Who chooses not to drive? What kind of person does that? Well, I guess if it matters enough, you'll walk. It's all about priorities anyway and besides (we remind you gently, in love) you've got all the time in the world to walk. It's not like you have a job. (Plus, hello, you could use the exercise.)

So really, get a job already. We don't care that you're a single mom with four little kids. We don't care that all the fathers are in jail. In fact, that only fuels our wrath. It's one more shovelful of judgment, and it's coming your way. I know your cousin said she would take you if you pay her gas money, but she's even more irresponsible than you are, so that's not going to work. Suck it up and pay for public transportation. I have no idea how far away the bus stops are. Not my problem. Print a map off your computer. Look it up on your GPS. Whatever.

While you're at it, find a babysitter, but it had better be someone trust-worthy, someone very different from you. You have someone offering to do it for free? Not good enough. We question their motives and their mental and social aptitude. You'll have to pay someone if you want the job done right. Might be tight on your $8.50/hour wage. You got yourself into this mess.

Look, we're middle-classers here. We're not stupid enough to say all of this out loud, to your face, but we know you hear our message in the tone of our voice and the way we look at you like you've just been sent to the Principal's office. Or at least we hope you hear us.

But we're good Christian people, honest. We vote Pro-Life and give boxes of Pasta-Roni to the food bank at church. It's not that we don't love you, we do. We're just frustrated with you, that's all.

We just wish you'd try a little harder to be like us.