One Last Thing We’ve Both Still Got

I’d love to say I don’t get the resentment.

I really would. I’d love to say I don’t see where they’re coming from, whiny Lindsey Graham and bitchy Jeff Sessions and condescending John Cornyn, with their pointy little questions about what makes Sonia Sotomayor so special anyhow. I’d love to say I don’t understand it.

But I do. I hear this stuff all around me, in the bluest state there is, all the time: I’ve worked hard. I’ve done my best. And if only I’d been a gay Native American vegan raised by an interracial family on a Buddhist mission in Africa during a coup AND an earthquake, there would have been a scholarship for me, or a promotion, or something. Something to make me special. (As if ethnicity was a hobby you could take up in order to make your college applications seem more interesting.)

I get the resentment. I get the anger that rests entirely on the presumption that somebody somewhere got a little bit of help I didn’t. And I get it because for the past 30 years we have basically, all of us, been told help isn’t coming, and asking for it is welfare/socialism/pussitude, and if you do get help you should feel very, very bad about it and never mention it at parties when people are running down welfare queens. The problem isn’t that somebody somewhere got help (or didn’t; more often than not we have no idea who gets what assistance when we talk about this stuff), it’s that by and large we as a country have been quicker to abandon our countrymen during times of need than we have been to hold out a hand.

So any example to the contrary — a scholarship to a prestigious university, however well-deserved and hard-earned, for example — is viewed with suspicion. You saw this during the earlier waves of right-wing outrage against Sotomayor, that she was “privileged” somehow, that she was unfairly ahead. How did THAT one slip past us? How did SHE get a leg up, I thought we weren’t giving those out anymore since St. Ronnie told that story about the lady driving the Cadillac? How dare anyone live a life that proves false what we ourselves know from experience to be true, that people are nasty and small and bitter and mean and if you get screwed oh well, too bad? If we are all victims of our worst circumstances, how dare anyone rise above them?

It would be harder to ask the questions asked, to provide the nasty insinuations provided by Sessions and Graham and Cornyn, were we a different kind of people. If we rested secure in the knowlege that all of us were taken care of, that all of us COULD count on our own hard work being enough to get us there, then we wouldn’t mind so much seeing someone who proved that true. It wouldn’t be such a shock to the system, it wouldn’t be questioned so rudely, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

I’m not letting the distinguished senators from 1864 off the hook, but I am saying, this kind of thing worked for a long time because we all felt beaten down and exhausted, we all wanted help, and for too many of us help didn’t come, and wecouldn’trise above what happened to us. Too many people feel like they have no access to advancement of any kind, and it’s easier to teach those people to hate anyone who does advance than it is to help them advance themselves. I wish I didn’t get the resentment. By which I mean, I wish we lived in the kind of world in which nobody had to resent, because nobody had to want something so badly, and know they had no hope of getting it.


6 thoughts on “One Last Thing We’ve Both Still Got

  1. well, no, they ask those questions to make up for what they lack, A.
    like, you know, the brains to win one of those scholarships, or the character to study hard and long and again until they’ve made up for their lack of brains.
    jealousy’s ugly, especially when those displaying it are such paragons of what passes for privilege in the USA.

  2. I resent the people my age with money and shit who didn’t have to work full-time through college, and people who didn’t have to quit college because only one person in the family had a job during the Reagan recession in the early ’80s.

  3. I wish I could live in public housing and get all the percs that go with it. On the other hand, I wish I could be a senator and get guaranteed health care. One time I got a first-time homebuyer credit, does that make me special?

  4. I wish I had no health insurance and could walk myself into an emergency room and get first class medical care for free like poor people in underserved neighborhoods who go in and get all that stuff…
    Yes, I see how that works. It is very tempting.
    But all joking aside this is a very astute essay, Athenae. Really right on. I’ve had this discussion a million times with people but never quite gotten to the bottom of its logic the way you have. Although I do sometimes get somewhere asking them why they think good places at good schools are rationed so much that poor white people and poor minority people have to compete for a few charity slots instead of having all our top scholars simply get a free ride like they do in other industrialized nations. This is all part of the fact that americans remain utterly and deliberately ignorant of the extensive free educational systems of other countries, along with their medical care systems. The same people who bitch to you about sotomayor getting a scholarship to a top school are totally unaware that in other countries she and they wouldn’t have needed a scholarship to pay for school because the top schools aren’t private and the state subsidizes student fees.
    Its another interesting example of how “sturdy american independence” is really just a form of bourgeouis self enslavement. The first thing that prevents the plebes and the middle class from rising up is not guns or military force but the idea that each man or family is preciariously poised at the top of his own little tree and any movement in any direction spells disaster.
    I’m a long way from all that stuff but there have been reams written on this by Bourdieu and others (I’m blanking out the name of the Italian guy who wrote in prison about this aspect of ideology).

  5. God forbid a brownwoman should get something a white man didn’t get. After all, if you listen to these guys, every transnational corporation on Earth is owned by a woman and/or a minority; women and/or minorities own land and good farmland in proportion to their numbers; women and/or minorities don’t get passed over for hiring, promotions, or admissions to postsecondary educational opportunities; women and/or minorities publish the bulk of books, entertainment media, and scientific papers; women and/or minorities are overrepresented at all levels in law and the professions relative to their numbers in the population, and so on, and so on, and so on…

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