Brushes with Inequality: A Blog Action Day 2014 essay

by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The girl was eight, in third grade, when she was introduced to inequality. She didn’t know the word, but she had a strong feeling that could be summed up as “That isn’t fair.”

Her teacher was telling the class that since colonial times, America had led the world in treating all people as equals. To prove her point she read from the Declaration of Independence the immortal phrase, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Never shy in class, she raised her hand. “Why just men?” she asked. “What about women?”

“’Men’ means both men and women,” the teacher explained, with an air that invited no further discussion. Unconvinced, the girl burned to know why the person who wrote that couldn’t have written “all people” instead. She didn’t see how she could be considered a man.

Now that she knew men were all that mattered she began noticing little things that made her feel dismissed: only the boys got to roll the wind-up record player from the storage closet to the classroom. Only the boys got to wind it up and place the needle on the record.The girls got to listen to the music. Only the boys got to take mechanical drawing and wood shop. The girls had to take home economics and cooking, which she got enough of at home.

Gradually she started recognizing other things that determined a person’s status and degree of privilege: skin color, how rich one’s family was, even height and weight. She learned that inequality had many facets, and that being on the low side of the equality see-saw had implications more far-reaching than most people seemed to realize.

By the time she reached her teens she was a confirmed activist, determined to call to people’s attention every instance of inequality she discovered.

Now seventy years past her first brush with inequality, she is still noticing. In the recent past she has noticed:

  • A well-known TV sports reporter was arrested for arguing with his wife in public. Someone called the state police and said he was choking her. There were no marks or bruises on the woman’s neck, not when the man was arrested, not in the police report, and not in court the next day when the woman sat next to her husband. She did not file a complaint; the police, who had nothing to go on but the anonymous phone caller’s word, did. The rest of the story is here.
  • Three young black men, one holding a sandwich, one a bag of candy, and one a toy air rifle in the toy department of a large store, were shot dead by white police officers in the last few months.
  • Hundreds of armed men, all white, held off a team from the Bureau of Land Management in support of a Nevada rancher who grazes his cattle on land owned by the U.S. government for which he is supposed to be paying rent. What do you think would have happened if the armed men were all black?
  • Research done at the University of Massachusetts finds that disadvantaged populations suffer more from pollution inequality than from income inequality.
  • The disparity in treatment of a black man from Liberia who went to an ER in Dallas complaining of a fever and was sent home with an anti-biotic, later to die of Ebola, and the white people who contracted Ebola in Liberia and came home to the US to be treated with an experimental anti-Ebola drug, is emblematic of the disparity of care between black and white, and between the insured and uninsured.
  • A state representative described a woman running for Congress in his state as “ugly as sin…and I hope I haven’t offended sin.” The opposing candidate, a member of his political party, no surprise, he said was “one of the most attractive women on the political scene anywhere, not so attractive as to be intimidating, but truly attractive.” Inagine his saying the same thing about two male candidates.

This list could go on indefinitely. There is no end to the inequality of treatment between black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and even thin and fat.

In her 79th year, the woman’s activism has diminished some, partly because of age but also because she is acutely aware of how little effect her activism has had. She is also acutely aware of the injustice that inequality engenders, and believes that without justice there will be no peace.

She still believes in the words of Theodore Parker, the 19th Century abolitionist Unitarian minister: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” She doesn’t expect to see the arc and justice intersect in her lifetime, but she’ll die with hope in her heart.

With this essay she hands the baton to another generation.

#BAD2014 #Inequality #BlogAction2014 #BlogActionDay #Blogaction14, #Oct16

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