Wednesday, July 31, 2019


A student in the course I’m teaching told me an extraordinary story. In his home country of Chile, there was a survey with the following question:

“You are offered a higher salary in your job. You can choose between $5000 more which all of your colleagues will also receive or a $1000 more which only you receive.”

The vast majority chose the latter. 

This pervasive need to be better than your neighbor, to be ranked higher whether you deserved or not, was the cornerstone of slavery and a larger part of Trump being elected. Poor white people who had more in common with the oppressed blacks were purposefully duped by those in power into thinking that they were on the team of the oppressors, given a token amount of privilege to feed an identity based on a illusory superiority. It worked brilliantly and still does. But at such a cost.  The recent terrorist who shot two innocent children whose parents brought them to have some fun at the Gilroy Garlic Festival was reading the white supremacist literature and buying the assault rifle the NRA provided in the name of freedom. 

An overlooked book titled “Somebodies and Nobodies” added rankism to the list of damaging isms and one that cuts through them all. Of course, there will always be hierarchies and when they come from earned accomplishment— the master musician or the wise elder—they are necessary and life-giving. But the idea that one’s identity is based on feeling one inch taller than your neighbor is death-dealing, both literally (the Garlic Festival) and spiritually. “I am the chosen one and all the ‘others’ are doomed for hell” is good for exactly no one. 

Meanwhile, in some village in West Africa, it was said that some Westerner organized a contest amongst the children and told them whoever ran to the tree the fastest would get a prize. The children joined hands and ran together to arrive at the same time. Without being overly romantic and ignoring the rankism that certainly exists there, I do believe that there is a spirit of community togetherness that we would learn from. The crazy Gods of Western civilization threw down Coke bottles into every town and hamlet and people are still fighting to claim it as theirs and theirs alone. 

Let’s train the children to take the $1000. Or better yet, consider if they deserved it all. 

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