Our (not so) level playing field

At times during the 2012 campaign, I would listen to some Republicans talk about why they supported Romney over Obama, why Obamacare was a horrible thing, why the economic recovery wasn’t enough, and a myriad of other flash-point political issues spoon-fed to us by political ads and talk radio. Often, I would end-up feeling exasperated and lazily label them as greedy, racist and/or ignorant… but mostly greedy. That’s unfair. We are all a little greedy, racist and ignorant and unfortunately, our society is devoid of saints.

But one argument is ignorant (and probably racist). It is that America is a level playing field. I understand why people believe it. There is a natural human instinct for me to walk our my front door, admire my manicured lawn as I sip a $5 Starbucks double decaf latte with three pumps of carmel syrup, and think I am the “average” American. Why not, all my neighbors, friends and colleagues look just like me. And I hold one thing sacrosanct – all my success is the sole result of my determination and hard work. Doubt me and I will go Grizzly Mom all over you!

Sure, there are poor people, unemployed people, drug addicts, convicts and lawyers. But these people are average Americans run amuck. They are people just like me but have made bad decisions, are lazy, or have some other fatal flaw that kept them from reaching the American dream I am living. If they would only listen to me, I could teach them how to fish and they too could have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air. But they don’t want to make the effort or worse, want me to give up some of what I have earned with my blood, sweat and tears (well, let’s not go too far, sweat and tears), forget it! This is a competitive game and if I help them, that is less for me and they will just be dependent. I worked hard, they didn’t. I win! I mean really, how many welfare mom’s do we see just popping out kids just so they can scam more food stamp to buy cigarettes and alcohol? Well, I don’t know any, but Bill O’Reilly says they are everywhere.

Ok, back to reality. We don’t live in a fair America where everyone has equal opportunity. The American playing field is massively tilted and covered with potholes. And Romney supporters know it. Just ask them how they feel about crack babies. You will get a ridiculous out pouring of sympathy, talk of injustice and offers of charity  Yet something magical happens when that baby turns 18 and becomes an adult. The sympathetic crack baby all of a sudden becomes an irresponsible, lazy adult. Some how, some way, the crack baby without parents, growing up in a gang-ridden neighborhood, attending one of the worst school systems in the country is expected to accomplish the same things in life I did.

I was born white – SCORE! I was born male – JACKPOT! And I was born in an upper-middle income zip code – TRIFECTA! I am part of the lucky sperm club. As part of that club, I was privileged with a great education, a college diploma, a killer network of people willing to employ me (often despite my skills), and a 16% salary advantage over women. Sure, I worked hard in school and at my jobs, but I didn’t do anything to earn any of that. As my wife says, being a white male is like starting a video game on level 10 with all the weapons and super powers, while everyone else starts from scratch at level one.

Universal equality and justice are not American values. Just because a bunch of old, wealthy white guys wrote  on a piece of paper that they wanted to “establish justice” and  “secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity” doesn’t mean they wanted it for everybody. What most people making the “level playing field” argument ignore is power. Power exists and power distorts advantage in one’s favor. The Founding Fathers had all the power and then pen. They spoke and wrote eloquently about equality, freedom and justice for all. Yet they didn’t bother to invite women and black slaves to participate in the creation of the Constitution? The optimist in me likes to think it was an oversight, or maybe they just thought they were all too busy, after all, they were doing all the work for these guys.

But we all know the Founding Fathers did not believe in universal equality and justice. They believed in equality and justice under their rules so that is how they wrote the laws. And every non-white, non-heterosexual , non-male, non-wealthy group has had to fight tooth and nail to try and level the playing field ever since. Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Harvey Milk were the uninvited Founding People that had to knock down the doors of privilege to gain equal treatment under the law. They and their successors then had to fight tooth and nail to remove the cultural and societal road blocks erected and maintained for millennia to keep them from obtaining equal power.

So come on. Tell me I am wrong. Tell me that every baby that pops out onto American soil has the same opportunity to become a CEO or President of the United States. Tell me one’s parents, environment, income, and zip code are irrelevant. And if you say Barak Hussein Obama is proof for why I am wrong, then you at least admit he is not a Muslim from Kenya.


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