Lately I've been debating with people who seem to think that racism is a lot more destructive than classism. Those people tend to be bourgeois people of color. They're as odious as those who pretend that racism doesn't exist today.
I wonder: how are they not offended, enraged and moved by poverty? It's because they don't care about eradicating it. That's why. They only care about issues that affect them. That makes for a pretty selfish individual. They are fine with drinking expensive wine and wearing fancy clothes, but don't care about the poor people who were exploited in order to make them.
They remind me of Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." So as long as racism is eradicated to them, classism is inevitable. They even use Bible passages to justify their apathy: "Deuteronomy 15:11 there will always be poor people in the land." However, there is more to that passage -- something they conveniently leave out all the time: "Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land."
How does that make a person any different than those who oppress them for whatever idiotic belief of superiority people hold over others? Remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about that: "Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere."
Speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr.: he too thought poverty was an evil that needed to be eradicated so he led his own anti-poverty movement beyond the Civil Rights:
In December 1967 King announced the formation of the Poor People's Campaign, designed to prod the federal government to strengthen its antipoverty efforts. King and other SCLC workers began to recruit poor people and antipoverty activists to come to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of improved antipoverty programs. This effort was in its early stages when King became involved in the Memphis sanitation workers' strike in Tennessee. On 28 March 1968, as King led thousands of sanitation workers and sympathizers on a march through downtown Memphis, black youngsters began throwing rocks and looting stores. This outbreak of violence led to extensive press criticisms of King's entire antipoverty strategy.
Nobody else running for president has taken this head-on besides Senator Bernie Sanders and just like they did Martin Luther King, Jr. the media criticizes him about it to no end.
So are these fancy folks of color who are doing the same. To pursue the finer things in life -- like prestige, fame and fortune -- is fine, but not at the expense of others. Even poor people of color "see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires," to quote John Steinbeck.
But even the ones who manage to "make it out," they waste the little access they have to the media in writing blogs, articles and making videos about micro-aggressions and little on how poor inner city kids don't have access to healthy food. They care more about one of their own getting into Harvard, than worry more about poor kids who can't afford to buy school supplies. Those stories are sexier to them because there's nothing more appealing to a colonized mind than seeming like they are and care more about the things colonizers are and care about. What about Broken Windows? What about poor doors? Is speaking about gentrification more appealing to hipsters of color because it is framed around race and not poverty?
These people join Twitter movements from the comfort of their homes and shed numerous tears for victims of police brutality, but little emotion is shown for kids starving in America. The emotion is shown in passing, if any feel anything for poor people of color at all. They epitomize first world problems... for people of color. Ask any poor kid how would they feel if he/she was given a chance to buy the expensive clothes that you buy but with the condition that they will get dirty looks from the store attendant for being a certain race. Now compare their mental anguish at having to wear clothes with holes in them or the same outfit every other day. Ask them if they'd like to trade places with you. Ask them what shame is greater.
No, señores, income inequality is the great moral issue of our time. Racism is beyond cruel, but more people suffer because of income inequality and it's not just Latinos and Blacks.
Census figures reveal a stark contrast in the percentages of non-Hispanic whites living in poverty as compared to Hispanics and blacks. In 2012, 9.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites (18.9 million) were living in poverty, while over a quarter of Hispanics (13.6 million) and 27.2 percent of blacks (10.9 million) were living in poverty.
Poverty literally changes the human brain. Living in poverty has been compared to a warzone. Poverty is a literal war on the brain, body and soul of people.
I'm not here to dismiss racism, but eradicating poverty will alleviate human suffering a lot more than solely eradicating racism. You will be able to afford a better lawyer if you are a victim of racial profiling. You will be able to buy food for your children even if the storeowner gives you bad looks. You will be able to alleviate the symptoms of being a social outcast because now you won't be afraid of being mocked for not being able to afford new clothes.
I am more concerned over an inner city poor Black and Latino kid than one in Harvard. I am more concerned with a maid or a waitress getting short-ended by a manager who steals her money -- or doesn't even pay her at all -- than a Latina who gets confused for being white. The gripes are not even in the same scale of messed up.
Poor people are constantly mocked, dismissed, mistreated, rejected, lectured... for being poor. Even people of color make a ton of memes and share them gleefully all over the web. They share stories of welfare queens and lazy people of color who don't want to work and they exist according to them because they know one or two people in their neighborhood who are being "coddled" by the government that's spending their hard-earned money on them. Never mind that most of that is going to fund war or corporate welfare. They are to be shamed for having some sort of moral and character flaw.
I have never seen in my entire life a group of people receive as much disdain as those living in poverty. I have received more hate for being poor than from being Latino. I am Afro-Latino, by the way. A special kind that gets rejected by both Black and Brown America because we're not "real" Black or "real" Latino. We get the Black card given and taken away whenever it is convenient. The same goes for the Latino card. Usually to shut us out of conversations because the cognitive dissonance they experience when they are confronted with their privilege because of our existence is too much for them. Oppressed people can't oppress, right? Right.
I've been at the receiving end of racism and poverty. I've been called the n-word and the s-word more times than I can count. I've been stopped and frisked and pulled over more often than most people reading this. I've dealt with heckling detectives and district attorneys who have victim-blamed me for getting stabbed and almost losing my life for something I didn't deserve. Some of those perps didn't even get arrested. The law has hardly been on my side even if I'm in the right and by the grace of God I'm lucky to be alive today.
I've been a poor inner city kid. I've eaten rice with ketchup and water with sugar because we had nothing else to eat. I went to school with shoes with holes in them and I was mocked for wearing the same shirt all the time. I know what is like to cry yourself to sleep because of poverty. I'm pretty sure that if I had money to afford a good lawyer being Latino would be the least of my problems. In fact, I felt the pains of poverty deeply until I found out I was Latino years after. I've been passed over for gigs because of my name and because living and being raised in a predominantly poor ghetto in Bed-Stuy did not enrich my social network. I had to rage to be heard beyond the walls of racism, but not having access even to my own bourgeois people has been the greatest struggle I've faced to advance. But even having access to them hasn't help very much because they too are conduits of cronyism and nepotism -- not very different than those they accuse of racism and privilege. Animal Farm, remember?
If you think being a person of color is difficult, try being a poor person of color. At least there are safe spaces for well-off people of color. Poor people are not safe anywhere. Not even in their own neighborhoods.
Both racism and poverty are hell, but nothing compares to the suffering and powerlessness that is poverty. Victims of racism have a lot of champions. Tell me, how many champions of the poor do you know personally? Are you one?
Tackling poverty will help a great deal communities of color that happen to be disproportionately affected by it. It won't end racism, but it will alleviate hunger pains and the shame of being poor, among many other physically and mentally debilitating and painful things.
Let's at least tackle poverty with the same hot intensity we tackle racism. The way that I see it as a person of color (and immigrant at that) who comes from a poor background, Bernie Sanders is right. Income inequality is the great moral issue of our time.
César Vargas is a producer, writer, director, strategist and diversity activist. He founded UPLIFTT (United People for Latinos in Film TV and Theater) and is president of Burning Ones Productions. You can reach him on Twitter @CesarVargas365 and Facebook at www.facebook.com/CesarVargas365