The societal eruptions that are increasingly taking place around our country are not being born of a black-white divide and haven’t been for quite some time. The emotional rage that continues to swell and the destructive outbursts that continue to plague us as a result are the offspring of rich-poor, have-have not, good-bad and right-wrong conflicts.
There is something morally and ethically askew within an economic system that allows for the top eight richest Americans – not the top 8 percent, but the top eight people – to accumulate more wealth than the bottom 200 million poorest Americans combined. And that divide is ever widening.
The solution to our epidemic of abject poverty is not to give handouts to the poor, which ultimately breeds a sense of entitlement, but to provide them with a leg up that will equip them with the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to fend for themselves, thus rendering them capable of adequately and legitimately providing for themselves and their families. But none of that will ever take place in the absence of equal and widespread educational opportunities for all kids in our society. Currently, that is far from being the case.
Should our local, state and national leaders be stricken with a sudden bout of compassion for the youngest and most vulnerable of their constituents, they would have little choice but to draw the conclusion that denying a quality education to the children of those 200 million American citizens at the bottom of our economy is by far the No. 1 civil rights violation being visited upon them. Then, armed with that realization, they should come to the logical conclusion that real power does not manifest itself in acquiring and retaining public office but in using the influence of that office to exact meaningful change in the interest of the common good.
For the past several decades, the divide between our haves and have-nots has been allowed to widen, and the burden of providing assistance to the less fortunate was heaped, more and more, upon the middle class. As a cumulative consequence, those decades of increasing fiscal burden bred the current, and growing, climate of welfare “resentism” that is now being misperceived and mislabeled as “racism.”
In recent years, the schism between rich and poor has not only been complacently allowed to widen, it also has been knowingly forced to widen, causing the resentment of the middle class to extend not only downward to the poorer, but also upward to the richer.
Continuing to accept excuses as to why poor parents cannot adequately provide
for their own children – struggling single moms, dead beat dads, working multiple jobs, etc. – then doing nothing will never effectively address and alleviate the rampant poverty that is undermining our society. It will only exacerbate it.
Meaningful, lasting and rewarding economic reform will be accomplished only by honest identification of the legitimate reasons for the inability of so many parents to adequately, even minimally, provide for their own children, and then by all of us working together, rationally, to help them remove such obstacles from their paths to financial security and self-dependency, not by doing it for them.
Clearly what we no longer need is the continuation of a relatively few people marching in our streets, destructively protesting racial inequality and injustice. That amounts to little more than what John Goekler once referred to as, “Circling the wagons, then shooting inward.”
What we now need rather desperately (parents, please take note) is more people – a lot more people – taking to the streets to constructively demand and insist upon educational justice and equality for every child in every classroom.
This will not be accomplished through half-hearted participation in once-a-week demonstrations with such catch-phrase names such as “Time Out Tuesdays” or “Feel Good Fridays” or “Save Our Schools Sundays.”
It is interesting how those few at the top can destroy a society, but only the many at the bottom, acting in concert, can save one. The abolition of the draft, an end to the Vietnam War and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act come immediately to mind.
Bill Massey of Raleigh is a retired public school teacher and principal.