Recently Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat down with Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program Executive Director Abigail Golden-Vazquez for a chat about civic engagement, Latinos, and opportunities. I will say I agree with her on the importance of education and civic engagement – not just for Latinos, but for everyone! The issues she discussed aren’t endemic to just Latinos. When she says, “None of us can afford to be bystanders in life. We create our community, and we create it by being active participants in our community,” it shouldn’t be limited to Latinos, or to anyone of a particular ethnicity, religious affiliation or lack thereof.
A lot of the challenges with a lack of civic participation are not limited to Latinos. When Sotomayor says, “If you’re working 14 hours a day at your job, it is hard to make time for civic participation. And for many Latinos, that’s the quality of their life. We have to engage with that reality,” this is not an insurmountable problem faced only by Latinos. It’s one that plagues much of the working class. Latinos aren’t the only ones working multiple jobs more than 14 hours per day and the weekends. But we make time, and we do what we can. And sometimes we don’t get a lot of sleep. And many times we don’t have free time on the weekends. That’s just the way it is, but we sacrifice for the things that are important. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
And no, it’s not fair that some people inherit immense wealth, giving them opportunities to attend the best schools without accruing massive debt.
And no, it’s not fair that some kids get to grow up without ever worrying about how much something costs, while others – that’s their first concern.
And no, it’s not fair that some kids grow up in cramped apartments, while others live in opulent mansions.
There are a lot of things that aren’t fair. Life isn’t fair. And yet, we all work to make our own opportunities.
Which is why this bit from Sotomayor’s conversation galled me.
“There’s a continuing tension in America between the image of the person who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps, and the person who believes that you need a lift to get up sometimes,” Sotomayor told the program’s executive director, Abigail Golden-Vazquez. “Those people who believe that everyone must pull themselves up ― they don’t believe that people are entitled to help.”
“For those of us who understand that sometimes no matter how tall the heel on your boot is, the barrier is so high that you need a small lift to help you get over it ― they will understand that the inequalities in society build that barrier so high,” she continued. “Unless you do something to knock it down or help that person up, they will never have a chance. I had those things. I had a unique mother who was able to understand the benefits of education and encouraged me to use education as my liftoff. But not everyone knows that.”
For a jurist on the nation’s highest court, perhaps she needs a lesson in English.
It’s not that we don’t believe in help. I’m more than happy to help – whether it’s by donating time or money – those who are in need. But there’s a difference between asking for help and being entitled to it.
The definition of “entitled” is: believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
Sorry, but this is where she lost me.
No one is ENTITLED to my help.
No one is ENTITLED to the fruits of my labor.
No one is ENTITLED to what I earn – to assets that should be going, first and foremost, to help me and my family – simply because they consider themselves deserving of said assets.
Need is not a claim check.
It’s not a claim check to my work. It’s not a claim check to the fruits of my efforts. It’s not a claim check to my sympathies.
No one is entitled to anything produced by another person without that person’s willingness to give it. The value people get in exchange for helping others is determined by that person alone – whether it’s the satisfaction of helping a fellow human being, or a promise of repayment or work – and not by politicians in power who think that forcing people to give up their earnings to “help,” which usually comes in the form of a handout that keeps people dependent or a bureaucracy that does squat, is the way to get those greedy rich people to contribute.
Everyone understands that sometimes people need a hand. It’s just that we also understand that undermining others to level the playing field is not really leveling the playing field, but crippling others so everyone exists on the same field of misery. That’s not helping those who need help. It’s merely crippling the competition, and negating the need for the person to put forth effort to help themselves.
That’s what I think about when I see this graphic.
It’s not just taking away two boxes from the tall person, who can see over the fence. What Sotomayor and other statist politicians want is to cripple the tall person, so they can’t stand to see at all. They want equality of outcome at any cost – even at the cost of crippling those they consider privileged.
Equality of opportunity is equality before the law. It’s the understanding that you will not be prevented by those in power from pursuing your goals, whether they’re educational, professional, or personal.
The graphic depicts equality of outcome, which looks really good in that little picture, but assumes silliness, such as 1) the tall person needs the box to see in the first place 2) there exists an equal number of boxes 3) the tall person wouldn’t willingly give up the box they don’t need to help out the short person, and 4) the means to sustain your family, the fruits of your labor, the value of your work, the results of your achievements are somehow identical to a fucking box!
You take away a box from the tall guy in that graphic, the worst that will happen is he won’t see a baseball game.
You disadvantage a kid because you feel he’s too privileged by giving away an educational opportunity to someone you consider underprivileged, but who may not have earned it, and you have just figuratively crippled him.
You reject a college applicant, who may have higher grades, who may have worked harder, and who may have participated in more extracurricular activities in favor of a poor kid, who may have had to work after school to help support his family, or just didn’t have the talent or the drive to get the grades, and all you’ve done is taken away an opportunity from one human being and handed it to another, with the government as the arbiter of who is more deserving, rather than objective achievement.
You deny a job to an applicant with superior skills, because said applicant happens to be white/cis/male/*insert privilege here*, and you’ve just screwed a superior applicant AND your company, or worse yet, you’ve allowed the government to do it for you – to pick a winner and loser based on arbitrary politicians’ whims.
You take earnings away from one family to feed/clothe/educate another – even though may be a noble goal – and that’s that much less that family has to spend on their own food, on their own sick kids, on their ailing parents, on their leaking roof, or their car repairs.
Helping a person up does not and should not mean, crippling another to “level the playing field.”
And yes, sometimes life is unfair. Yes, some people are more fortunate than others. But to people like Sotomayor, “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” is somehow a negative thing, because we won’t always be successful, and because we have to work harder than some others to succeed. She assumes that certain demographics simply CAN’T succeed and achieve without government force giving them an advantage.
I find that to be an abhorrent prejudice against said demographics. Fact is they can and do succeed. You can’t tell me that Do Won Chang, who started Forever 21 after immigrating to the United States from South Korea, in 1981 and worked three jobs simultaneously, as a gas station clerk, a janitor and a coffee shop employee had a level playing field. No, he simply worked harder, even though he started out penniless, without much English, and without a college degree.
My own parents came to this country without English, and with $300 in their pockets, and they are now comfortably retired – without ever having asked the government for a hand up, because they didn’t feel they were entitled to it.
People can and do succeed, even without the advantage of starting out rich. To claim they cannot, because they have brown or black skin, and therefore are in more need of help than others, is a pernicious, racist lie.