I know that everyone would like to believe in the American dream, that if we work hard we can overcome our conditions, no matter how low on the totem pole we start out. But I've been at the bottom and I just want to go on record to say it's just not that easy. At one point in my life, I was once what some people might have and probably did classify as a welfare queen. I know just how hard it is to pull yourself out of that station, and the so-called "assistance" measures that are in place were at times more a hindrance than help. The welfare system as it stands today is full of reverse incentives — most notably the fact that you are generally penalized for trying to save money — and provides little or no help to families transitioning out of poverty. It can feel very much like a trap because there is really no legitimate way to get out of it unscathed and with money in the bank.What? Easy and possible are not mutually exclusive. I think that's the whole problem, people think that it's supposed to be easy to move up. The American dream is not that "everybody will" it's that "anybody can." There's a big difference between the two. But here's the clincher:
For people like me and Bill Cosby and the millionaire athletes he accuses of being illiterate, we were able to escape poverty because we have gifts that not everyone has. For me, though I am far from the millionaire bracket (for now) my writing career enabled me to quadruple my income in five years time, but for most people, that just doesn't happen. People like Cosby and pro athletes have exceptional talents that in addition to hard work got them out of the projects. In reality, it oversimplifies the matter to think that a strong work ethic is enough to get anyone out of poverty, especially when "the system" does so much to keep you there. This is not the assessment of an uber-liberal black who wants desperately to blame white people for my or anyone else's problems — I'm speaking from experience here. No matter what color you are, it works the same. Just try and save money for Shaniqua or little Bill to go to college — you'll lose your childcare voucher and your rent will go up, and you'll be right back at square one, jack.Now, I'll be the first one to admit that childcare can confound any attempts to make forward progress, but let's keep it real. First, that's a result of an active choice. Some choices just make it harder to make the right decision later on. That's life. Ain't no good times without scratchin' and survivin'. My bigger problem is the elitist attitude that masquerades itself as being one of the people. If I'm everybody and everybody is me, then the only differences between where I am and where they are are 1) the grace of God and 2) the choices I've made. I've always believed that I'm no different than the average person. I'm not in some special category that makes me exempt from the things that every other brother goes through. I've made choices that have kept me out of some situatuations and gotten me into some other ones, but that's about it. Anybody else has the same opportunities that I have. The way I see it, it's not elitist to say, "I did somethin' with what I have, now you do somethin' with yours." That's keeping it real and demanding responsibility from a person. In the biblical parable, the dude with the one talent didn't get absolved because he only had one talent. He was supposed to do something with the one talent he had. Nowadays, we come off like, "Of course he couldn't do anything. He only had one talent." Wrong. What's elitist is to say, "I came out of those circumstances, but I'm different. The rest of 'em can't do what I did." What we need to be saying is, "I made it out and you can too. Here's how." Maybe at some point I'll talk extensively about how liberal types have made the poor a different kind of "untouchable" and what that really suggests.