Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eminem is an Exception

America. I used to think of my country as a place of opportunity where anyone can make something of himself. There are no limits here, and no prejudice. If one works hard, he will succeed. That’s such a beautiful idea and I wish it were true. The truth is, this ideal is much more of an exception than a general rule.

People like Eminem are rare. He was a low-class white boy from Detroit who was a rapping prodigy and he made it huge. As wonderful as this sounds,it rarely happens. People do not make themselves, rather their circumstances, and opportunities, make them. This is a general rule that applies to many more people than the American Dream does.

It was during the Progressive Era, in the late 19th century when people began doubting that people can actually pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This is when The Jungle was written. Eastern European immigrants came to America hoping to have a higher standard of living, get an education and live happily. However, when they got here, being unskilled laborers, all they could do was work in factories. They were paid pitifully and worked until they were no longer efficient to the company. They had no time to get an education or try to move up. They worked 16 hours a day before sunrise to after sunset, and when they got home the only thing they wanted to do was sleep. The next morning the same fate awaited them.

Many of these workers would go to the saloons after work to drink and relax after an exhausting day. Many of them spent too much on alcohol to the point where their families were neglected. Upper class people would see the working class drunk and loud in the bars and they’d shake their heads in disgust. In The JungleJurgis says that the only time he could use his imagination was when he was drinking, when he could forget what a pathetic life he led. Drinking was an escape. The upper classes did not understand this, and they fought for Temperance, to prevent the lower class from consuming alcohol. They saw them as lazy. They accused them of wasting their money. Yet, could the upper class really judge them? Alcohol was a sweet escape for many who had no way out of their current way of life.

They could not get a better job because that would require an education. To get an education meant money. They hardly had the time or energy to get an education while they were working, yet quitting their jobs was not an option. They had to work to eat and pay for a roof over their heads. They were stuck.

The laboring class in the Progressive Era faced this and we may think that with the rising minimum wage and labor rights, this situation is a thing of the past. However, last semester I went to a mission in Lincoln Heights, East LA, and a Mexican man named Caesar talked to us about the struggle of the lower class in East LA.

Growing up,both his parents worked all day, so he never had anyone to tell him what to do or not do. He grew up basically without supervision, while his parents were just trying to pay for their house and food, just the necessities of life. When his brother was a teenager, he got involved in a gang, because it was in the gang that he found loyalty and a family of sorts that he’d never had. Caesar and his brother did poorly in school, partially because they never had parents to encourage them. They also never even considered going to college. College had never been even an option for their family. He got a job when he was 16 and that was more important than doing school. They lived for the day, to pay for the day. They hardly thought of the future. His older brother got a girl pregnant when he was 19, and from then on he was forced to grow up and become a father. He followed exactly in his father’s footsteps. He never got an education. He had to provide for a family every day.

Now Caesar has a program for football players at Lincoln Heights High School that combines tutoring and coaching. He wants the players to keep a 3.0 GPA and be able to find community and security within the football team. I see that as a very good solution for now.

I write this to inform readers that the American Dream preached to you from a young age is a lie. I don’t mean to say that people are not responsible for their actions but I do mean to say that it is unreasonable to believe that anyone can make himself with some hard work. People are born into classes and it is extremely hard to move up, especially for the lower class because of the cost of education (not just money, also time) and the low pay that uneducated people generally receive. It’s a downward spiraling cycle.

Solutions you ask?

Upton Sinclair thought that the solution to this cycle and to the oppressive upper class was to enforce a Socialist economy. With Socialism, the lower classes that were creating products would get a more even share of the wealth that they helped create, rather than the top dogs getting all the gold. It is fair for the working class to see more of the wealth because without them, the business leaders could not make a profit. He makes such a huge profit himself because he pays the laborers so little. Upton Sinclair said, share the wealth.

I’m still working through all of this, but I have come to see the injustice in this system, I do believe in pay raises for the laboring class and less pay for CEO’s and the other top people. 

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