Saturday, April 26, 2003

Friday was an interesting day in my American Political Thought class (I'm working on a degree - BA this Winter, Master's program immediately after). We are reading and discussing various themes in American political history and this section is on class and economics - this means people like Brownson, Sinclair Lewis, etc. Well, while discussing middle class/working class issues and poverty several students used the term 'the poor' in ways that meant that they were envisioning only urban "people-of-color". Not only is it unfair to Blacks to assume that 'poor' equals 'unemployed Black man' it ignores the fact that the majority of poor Americans are employed Whites in rural areas. A vast majority, actually. Unemployed Blacks just tend to be much more convienient when a politician or reporter wants an image - they are close, and they are so stereotyped in American thought that they are perfect for framing a soundbite.

That's OK - these kids are in college to learn, so I spoke up a mentioned the statistics (giving some references I had at hand) so they could do some research and learn some facts about poverty.

Then the fun began. A student started a rant about how the poor aren't doing to well for themselves politically because (close quote, but not exact) 'they're so ignorant that the vote to block abortions for someone else when they don't have healthcare. I mean, how stupid is it to care what someone else does with their body when you don't have insurance? They have their priests and ministers telling them what to do and they just do it because they don't know enough to think for themselves.'

No, really. A kid going to a Catholic university said this. In front of people, and stuff. On purpose.

I broke in and said "You might want to be more careful before you equate being pro-life with being ignorant or stupid. Or claiming that its only an issue for the poor."

And he actually tried to reply! he said, "I'm just saying that the poor are more likely to be religious and that they don't have the education to realize they don't have to do what the priests tell them to do. I mean, why don't priests care about wages, or insurance? I'm not trying to be offensive."

I said, "You're failing. Badly."

Where was the professor, you ask? Standing there, letting me correct this kid.

Just so you know, the Catholic Church has been officially promoting the concept of a 'living wage', or a minimum wage sufficient to support a family, since the encyclical Rarum Novarum in 1891. Many bishops, theologians, etc. have advocated similar concepts since at least the 3rd century, but it became the official stance of the Church as a whole with this encyclical on Capital and Labor. And the Church remains heavily active in the modern living wage movement (Santa Fe springs to mind) to this day.

And while the Church has no official declaration on universal health care, two millenia of building hospitals, educating doctors and nurses, and providing free care to the poor and indigent speaks loudly enough, I think.

This kid was obviously made nervous by my words and literally bolted out of the room as soon as class ended. I think that tomorrow night I might write up a little note for him including all the stuff I've written about here (with a bibliography) as well as a statistical snapshot of pro-life voters. Wht go to the trouble, you ask?

Too many people today assume that if you do not agree with their opinions (a popular opinion) then it means that you are misled and that you are not worth listening to. I do my best to introduce people to one of my favorite pastimes - trying to change my own mind. By this I mean taking something that someone disagrees with me about and researching it to see if I'm the idiot. I've discovered that I am wrong about enough things that I try to spread this wonderful idea around a bit.

Wish me luck.

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