Non-stop social media has a way of drowning out important news events. One thing is watching the nightly news and being told about the good and bad of the day’s events. It’s another thing entirely to have various social media accounts bombarding you with news from all over the world on an almost instantaneous basis.
Is it me or is there something disturbing with hearing about the latest pandemic, vicious homicide, and human-trafficking story all within a few seconds and simply scrolling down one’s newsfeed?
Sure, we express outrage by reacting with an angry emoji, even typing a comment from time to time. But, truthfully, how many times have we simply gone on with our usual routines without significant changes to our lives and ways of thinking and living?
A recent union strike that I witnessed in action reminds me of the now common–and regrettable–feature of modern political and economic discourse: the increasingly stratified nature of American life has insulated many people from addressing real world inequalities and the disenfranchised groups most impacted by them.
As I observed the strikers from a distance I wondered just what purpose their demonstration would serve. Would they too be a headline for the nightly news, a fast-disappearing social media feed to someone nodding off and nothing more, perhaps the products of political opportunism?
I thought about how drastically times have changed from when I worked in a supermarket during high school. I could never imagine still working there and turning my then part-time job of a cashier into a full-fledged career. I felt bad seeing people who most (including myself) write off as the products of bad decision-making, the all-but-forgotten wage laborers who simply didn’t “get it,” and, now as a result, are paying the consequences.
“Stay in school,” worried parents exclaim to their kids. “You don’t want to end up like such and such.” The many times I’ve heard this. My dad routinely gave me the speech. He didn’t graduate from high school. His parents didn’t either. Doing good in school was the end-all, be-all. But what happens when you play by all the rules, get the good grades, even graduate from college, but are still, somehow, left behind?
For many of the strikers, who I later learned did the “right thing,” school was a near impossibility. Many didn’t have the time nor the money. One lady who’d been with the company for over 16 years and genuinely enjoyed her job told me she was living paycheck to paycheck.
Just how did we reach a point in America where working a full-time minimum wage job means barely scraping by? How is it possible that nearly 6 in 10 Americans don’t have $500 in savings? Why is the rest of America – well-to-do or not, Christian or otherwise – completely unmoved by vast underemployment, generational poverty, struggling families on the fringes of society?
After my experience with this strike I looked up some articles online and found a rather startling one published by the Washington Post. Chronicling the rise of tent encampments in the nation’s capital – one of the most expensive cities in the country – it centers on the life of Monica Diaz. Diaz, despite working a full-time job, is homeless with her husband, Pete.
The article explains that tent encampments in DC are apart of a larger national trend. Many major U.S. cities with booming urban areas are experiencing a steep rise in housing costs. The tent encampments, as the article notes, are “one of the most visible signs of the nation’s failure to alleviate widening inequality.”
Toward the end of the article, the cry of Diaz is particularly saddening (and maddening, depending on how you look at it). To no avail and to virtually invisible walking masses too busy to take notice, she exclaims,
“I’m dying out here!…I’m dying out here! Please, I need help…Acknowledge us! We’re human beings! Please, just acknowledge us!”
As I reflect on the grocery store strikers and Diaz several social, political, and economic factors come to mind as possible factors explaining the widening inequalities that the life of Diaz and the strikers seem to suggest.
I can talk about the international economic order, deindustrialization, and the corportized nature of the American economy as factors contributing to the homeless Monica’s of the world and the grocery store strikers. Such talk, though, would take a book’s length of time. Instead, I want to talk about what the church – individual believers in Christ – needs to keep in mind regarding social and economic inequality.
Parental Influence, Character Formation, and a Solid Home Life: A Recipe for Individual and Family Success
This is standard fare for the vast majority of white evangelical Christians. These things are so embedded in their culture–and for good reason–that they can easily go overlooked as explanations for why they exist in perpetually safe, stable and successful environments.
This is not always the case for the wage-earning minority lower classes. Speaking like this is fraught with so many offensive-sounding connotations but somebody has to keep it real. The fact is, in the majority of poor disenfranchised communities (of which I am a product) simply having a father in the home is a sign of refined class. Seriously, it is.
Virtually nobody in my neighborhood had a dad in the home. The few kids that did–and there were very few that I knew of–seemed to exist in an entirely different universe. They had less behavioral problems, came from homes with more money, cars, clothes, would later go on to work in stable jobs and careers, and repeat the same positive cycle.
There needs to be increased honesty and transparency when discussing serious societal inequalities. Homes that are defined by the stabilizing and greater wealth-producing forces of marriage are likely to produce children that follow suit. Christians, especially, need to be direct on this non-negotiable when working in a capacity that requires addressing and combating social, economic, and educational inequality.
White Evangelical Political Ethos Not Fool-Proof But Rather Damaging
A highly recommended book I read years ago titled, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, looking into the problem of racial division in America’s churches, found that the while white evangelicals overwhelmingly favor racial reconciliation, their political ideology – defined in three parts as accountable freewill individualism, relationalism, and anti-structuralism – lead them to believe that any failures on the part of a person boils down to individual choices.
When discussing the issues of race, class, and poverty, I believe this mentality is problematic for several reasons. When an individual’s life is boiled down to the sum parts of his choices that overlooks many of advantages and privileges that people – Christian or not – rely on to get ahead in life. It weakens compassion, stifiles dialogue about these very issues, leading to across-the-board, emotionally-charged policies that fail to address the more serious underlying problems.
As much as we may not like to admit it because it runs counter to our more refined sensibilities, most of society follows a carefully constructed class system. In my wealthy New England state, this is especially the case: in true “Tale of Two Cities” fashion, mostly bustling, hilly suburban enclaves populated by progressive upper middle class whites with a few impoverished inner cities inhabited by racial minorities make up my neck of the woods.
Virtually no cross-cultural interaction exists between the rich and the poor any longer. The same can be said of wealthy white Christians and poor black and latino Christians. With some notable exceptions, as Martin Luther King said, Sunday morning remains the most segregated time of the week. While many well-meaning and sincere Christians would probably like to believe otherwise, they still overwhelmingly live, work, and socialize in places that overwhelmingly represent them and their interests.
As America continues to be defined by more humbling economic statistics – to name one, in 2015, the middle class for the first time in history became a minority – both extremes of the wealth spectrum will have their explanation for what happened. When more and more people descend into desperation and wake up finding themselves unable to get by what will be the response among the Christian community? What should it be? “The least of these” appear to be growing by the day in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco. We see them everyday on our way to work and to the grocery store. Will we continue on, desensitized by information overload and the comforts of the world? I sure hope not.