Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dear Lord, do rich people get into Heaven?

" I am thankful for my money."

I spent Thanksgiving at my brother's house with his family, and these words were uttered as we went around the table saying what we were thankful for.   The go-round was a tradition, but I'm not sure if anyone expected to hear such a blatant expression of gratitude.  I am a firm believer in the biblical passage, "...out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."  As much as relatives were trying to do damage control by explaining away such a ridiculous and preposterous statement, Yardigal was not convinced, otherwise.  Besides, where else do you hear offensive and stupid remarks but at the dinner table?  When the tummy is full, the mouth is wide open.  In the spirit of the Season and in the spirit of FeistyWords, no words shall go by me unforgotten and tossed aside for the dogs to lap up the crumbs.  This is fodder for my query into the heart of the most fortunate.

I live in a town of most fortunates.  It's only superlative depending on your point of view; you're most because there's someone who is less or least.  We've all heard or have said the spiel, "We're collecting items to give to those less fortunate..."  We all have a pretty good idea of who those less lucky folks are and why they ain't so lucky.  In our minds they are needy and poor, and we feel the need to give to them what we have or don't want.  My town is most fortunate to have an abundantly well-resourced school system with abundantly involved mothers whose primary occupation is not outside of the home, who live in abundantly sprawling houses.  I snicker when I think of how my family and I ended living and buying our home here.  We are products of Chapter 40B, a zoning law in Massachusetts which mandates that housing development have at least twenty percent of their homes be restricted as affordable.  Naturally, one must meet certain income and eligibility guidelines and have some kind of investment in the town.  For us, one of our children was in one of the elementary schools.  The application is done by a lottery, and trust me, when we won that lottery, I felt like Charlie nabbing the final golden ticket in the Wonka bar.

We've lived here for seven years, and our children have settled into their schools, friends, and activities.  But, their parents still feel the sting of being outsiders.  Our income is nowhere near $200,000+, our home isn't one of two, and (drum roll,please), we are Black.  Let me bring it home even further.  One summer, one of my neighbors knocked on my door, I opened it, and she then asked me if I lived here.  Mind you, she had just moved in and I already lived in my complex for three years.  I suppose she thought I was the help.  From her point of view, I didn't belong and seemed slightly out of place.  But, that's what happens when you're most fortunate.  You expect to see other people like you and the presence of someone who doesn't look like you throws off the balance of the universe.  Folks who live here in Big, Little Rich town say they've moved here for the schools.  I also think they simply like that comfy feeling living around other people like themselves.  It's where you reside in your Mcmansion or a dwelling similar to that and you can wave "howdy" to your neighbor who also has a mighty fine house and breathe a deep sigh of relief because you're shielded from the rest of the world and its economic dysfunction.

In his book, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams, Alfred Lubrano writes about people's struggle and straddle of attaining and living an upper-middle class lifestyle while acknowledging the climb from a lower social-economic status to higher.  For me, status is the operative word.  To live in a town like ours displays status.  Whenever I see a sea of Lexus SUVs, Cayennes, and Saabs, I wonder why these cars are status symbols.  Is it a way to let everyone else know that you've made it and you intend on keeping it?  Is this the purpose of owning a luxury vehicle?  Maybe, the car is, as some Baptists like to say, an outward show of an inward faith.  It's a faith in that old adage that if you work  hard and pull yourself up by your own boot straps, you, too can live the American Dream.  My question is, how did you get those damn boots?

The storyline for some of these most fortunates goes something like this: your father or father's father owned or inherited land...or, perhaps he was a veteran and fought in some world war which qualified him for the GI Bill...GI Bill paid for a college led to a job where money is, you can buy a house and live in any neighborhood you choose...begin building a nest egg for your progeny.  It's a neat little set up for the right person--as long as you're White. These same rules certainly do not apply for most people of color born in this country given the long legacy of racial discrimination.  Furthermore, this isn't necessarily the story of every single White person, but it certainly can explain why the majority of people who live in affluent areas are White.  So, it turns out that those boots were actually passed down or bought for you.  I guess that makes you one, lucky duck!

I am not a Christian, but I believe many things that Jesus said.  With regards to the wealthy folks of his day he warned that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then it is for the rich to get into Heaven.  Why is this so?  Must the rich give an account for their deeds on Earth?  Does it include how they became rich?  And worst, was it at the expense of others?  We live in a time where the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.  If you reside at the furthest end of this spectrum, the less contact you have with your kin at the opposite end.  You really have no idea how the other half lives.  What you learn about them is shaped by caricatures of life on reality TV, cop shows, and sitcoms that are designed to mimic the average, American Joe/Jane and his/her family.  This media either lulls us into a dream-like state or scares the *bleep* out of us.  So, whether we are blissfully in a fog or have our defenses up and guns locked and loaded, in the end, we strive to protect what we're convinced we've worked so hard to achieve.  The line has been drawn in the dirt, and god forbid it if someone less fortunate even thinks about crossing that line, because as soon as they do...

...there goes the neighborhood.

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