Inequality in an Acre

There have to be more frequent, and more creative, ways to bridge the inequality gap.

I was on an airplane flying home to Houston a couple weeks back, and a guy who looked roughly like me in life stage, dress, and carriage struck up a conversation. He learned I was a writer by trade, learned I was interested in issues of class and inequality, and immediately launched this missile:

“You know what makes all of us who we are, what shapes our lens on the world and expands or limits our life possibilities?
Culture. Not skin colour, not money. In this country today, the cultures that form us are the cultures that define our futures.”

My head snapped to attention. Here was someone thinking along more supple lines than the usual inequality voices. But he
quickly tacked personal.

“Are you from Houston originally? No? D.C. you say. Interesting. And Chicago for college, Boston, and overseas before that.
And you support yourself now by writing?” Yes, yes. I was beginning to flush at the way it all sounded. I threw some of the same queries back at him. He was Mexican American, I learned, a longtime Texas resident, employed for years at a small boutique bank just outside Houston.

“So this proves my point,” he said, not bitterly. “You—you’re able to get out. Do stuff. Explore. Take risks and bounce back.
You can freely come and go from wherever you call home. Me, I’ve been trying to get a job elsewhere for years, enter another
stream and way of being, but I can’t seem to get out.”

It was a poignant thing to say, jarring though his honesty was in an airplane aisle that otherwise appeared as though it held
two people of similarly expansive trajectories.

We didn’t dig into the nitty-gritty after that, but I think we both understood the huge buckets of variables both tangible and intangible that now hung by this handle called “culture.” From family upbringing, to educational background, to manners and social confidence, to geographic exposure and rootedness or lack thereof, to professional expectations, to capacities for optimism and tough mindedness, to understandings of community and the place of the individual, we were each raised with certain mores, particular social networks, and experiences, work and leisure that gradually fashioned a lens for world outlooks and morality metrics for our characters.The tone between us was gracious, curious, and without accusation, but an invisible wall built by so many years of inputs had been erected, and was felt.

There have to be more frequent, and more creative, ways to bridge the inequality gap.

Read Anne’s full essay, INEQUALITY IN AN ACRE, at Comment Magazine.

Comments are closed.