Thursday, August 6, 2009

On Class Privilege

I recently experienced a month where my car was dead. I did not have the money to fix it. I bummed rides from friends and my wife or I rode my bike. During this time I was offered two cars for free by friends who had extras. Meanwhile, I noticed two guys at work who do not have cars. I began to wonder why nobody had offered them a car for free. As I formulated my thoughts I realized that my class awards me certain privileges that many people simply do not have. As much as some (rich) people like to argue that we all have the same chance to succeed in America, the truth is we do not. The two guys at work who need cars live in a poor part of town and work minimum wage jobs. The chances are high that they do not know anybody with extra cars.

I grew up in the middle class so I had middle class dreams and middle class resources. While I knew I could be successful in fields like education and ministry I never dreamt of attending a prestigious college, traveling the world, or being a CEO. I remember a parent of one of my friends making me take the PSAT as a sophomore. The PSAT was completely off my parents' radar. But for many in the middle to upper class teenagers must work hard at studying for tests like the SAT, ACT, and PSAT. I was blessed to have had people who encouraged me to work hard, parents who spent time with me, and a faith community to nurture me.

For most of the past 6 years I have been working among the upper class (though my pay check does not reflect my congregants). A year or two into my first job at a wealthy church I realized that people in the upper class do not take no for an answer. They work hard, they dream big, and they push and push until they achieve their goals. I had never experienced anything like that outside of athletics. I know a person who started a company in college and sold it for $250,000 before he graduated. I know another person who would start construction companies during the summers he was in college and would make $25k-$40k in 10 weeks. I know another guy who bought an enormous amount of AOL stock when it was 5 cents a share back in the day. I could go on and on. Being around these people made me dream bigger and work harder.

Compare that to the experience I have had multiple times working with children in the inner city slums. I remember asking some kids what they wanted to be when they grew up and they said jobs like "work at Sonic." I have met dozens of people in the projects who's parents also grew up in the same government housing cluster. Many times poverty and illiteracy is cyclical. Kids grow up without knowing that they can go to college, get good jobs, and have a stable family environment.

I wrestled a lot with my calling to work in the upper class for most of my 6 years of ministry. Recently I realized that I am called to expose students who have plenty of resources and support to injustice locally and globally. I want them to see that all individuals do not have the same resources and support even though we live in a free country. I want them to understand the psychological effects of growing up with a parent who repeatedly tells you that you are worthless and that you have no chance of success.

The students with whom I work will go on to be successful doctors, politicians, businesspeople, etc. My prayer is that they would remember the stories that they heard from recovering addicts at the Open Door Mission, the faces of the kids they played with at the Neighborhood House, and the scripture that we've studied regarding God's passion to see justice and righteousness lived out in a powerful way. My prayer is that they would prayerfully use their resources and their influence to help even the playing field and give neglected people a chance to succeed.

Side Note: Know that I am not claiming that people who make more money are happier than those who work minimum wage jobs. Statistics actually show that the more a person makes over $100k the unhappier they are. We are all broken. I am simply giving examples of inequality.