An old friend sent me an unbelievable poem, probably not realizing it would offend me. It was titled “Mexican Poem.”
My first impulse was to write back and say right off the bat how racist and classist it is. But I thought that might not be well received if I started out that way. So instead I spent a little time putting it in a broader context. Here’s my final response, which I sent to everyone on the receiving list:
Yes, middle class people like us are suffering economically and it seems easy to blame it on the immigrants, welfare recipients, and other people below us on the economic scale. In fact, when we use our energy being mad at them, it only serves to divide all of us who are not “in power” and thereby perpetuate the economic system that keeps us all down.
Personally, I’m more upset that oil companies can make record profits during this recession time when gas prices are going up. I’m disgusted that many corporations use tax loopholes to get away with not paying a fair share of income taxes. I’m shocked when I read about the salaries of corporate executives and financial managers, which are hundreds of times more than the office workers in their companies. For example, Public Citizen reports that a hedge fund manager named David Tepper was compensated $4 billion, the equivalent of $2 million an hour. That seems obscene to me.
Consider these statistics, from a New York Times magazine article in 2006 – the top 0.01 percent of U.S. taxpayers earn more than 3 million dollars a year; the next 0.1 percent earn just over 2 million; the top 0.5 percent average $623,000; the top 1 percent average $327,000; and the remainder of the top 10 percent average $132,000. The entire top 10 percent number about 14.5 million families. How many of the people reading this are in any of these categories? That means the rest of us (about 278 million families) are all in the “bottom” 90 percent of income.
Economic inequality in the U.S. has grown a lot since the Reagan era, and it only continues to grow. If it seems like the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, that’s because it’s happening. And now a Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns has resulted in more and more politicians’ seats being “bought” by the rich (mostly Republicans, by the way).
It seems to me that the interests of the super-rich and upper classes are served well by keeping everyone else fighting each other over the crumbs. Better for them to prosper while we waste our time on such things as the small drop-in-the-bucket number of people (relatively speaking) who scrape by on welfare.
And, finally, do you really want to perpetuate the racist and classist stereotypes as portrayed in the “Mexican poem”?
Joan Nikelsky is a working-class-raised woman from Philadelphia, now retired, and former member of the Working Class Support Group of Movement for a New Society, co-authoring the pamphlet Class and Social Change, published by New Society Publishers. She has led workshops on class and money issues, including cost-sharing the expenses of workshops and gatherings. She was active in the Women’s Alliance for Job Equity in Philadelphia and did public speaking on pay equity issues.