Seven girls, all sitting at Bibibop. We're talking about our day, well spent relaxing on Santa Monica beach. Smirks and laughs are exchanged as we look to our right, and see an older woman casually emptying the contents of her bag onto the end of our table.
Tupperware of mini hot dogs, a salad, and packets of mayonnaise all included.
We're sitting there like… what the fuck? Is she fully going to sit down with us and start eating her random array of foods without any comment? We don't say anything, and she sits down and begins to eat her little collection. We're trying so hard not to laugh, but we keep going about eating our bowls and talking about whatever.
As we begin to start throwing away our leftovers, the woman then asks if she can have the food we haven't eaten. Things are getting very weird.
However, she's a petite old woman, so we're not really intimidated by our dinner being crashed by a complete stranger, who proceeds to ask us for our food when were done. She begins to make conversation with us, telling us what beautiful girls we are and lighting up when she hears that we attend UCLA. She goes on to tell us that she always tries to collect leftover food for the homeless.
And now we're really like, fuck.
For anyone who has ever gone into Westwood, you've passed crackheads shouting things in the street, you've been asked for spare change, you've seen an unkempt person carrying a stuffed backpack hunched over their back. And all the meanwhile, you see G-wagons and Mercedes driving by on their way to brunch in Beverly Hills.
Personally, I'm from a small, suburban town in South Florida. Unless I was on vacation in a city, I wasn't constantly exposed to such a discrepancy in wealth as we see in Los Angeles. An article written in LA timesstated, "Homelessness increased by 12% in Los Angeles County this year to just shy of 59,000 people, while in the city of Los Angeles, the number soared to more than 36,000 for a 16% increase. As in past years, most — about 75% — were living outside."
Are these numbers not astonishing?! We're surrounded by Bel Air, Beverly Hills… how can there be such an inequality in the wealth distribution? We can walk ten minutes off campus and see countless million-dollar homes and half-million-dollar cars, yet be bombarded in the street for a few dollars. Everyone knows that the homeless situation in LA is a huge issue, "with 95% of voters calling it a serious or very serious problem," but we see no progress in the decline of the homeless population.
With that, I ask myself… why? Looking further into it, I came across a joint publication done by Duke University and UCLA, in which they found that "White households in Los Angeles have a median net worth of $355,000. In comparison, Mexicans and U.S. blacks have a median wealth of $3,500 and $4,000, respectively." It's 2020, and we still see not only such a discrepancy in wealth, but also a discrepancy in wealth that is directly correlated to racial inequality. And it makes me even more upset, because, as a white female, I know I will never be able to fully understand what these numbers mean. As hard as I try, and hard as it is to admit, sometimes I have to accept that the only thing there may be for me to do is accept my privilege and use it for my advantage: maybe, if not anything else, at least a white girl will be listened to.
I don't have the answers to these deeply rooted problems. I wish I did. Maybe simply being aware of them is enough. Maybe speaking out about them is enough. I don't know what is, but what I do know is this.
The lady from Bibibop can be an example for all of us. Strangers can be… strange. But after talking to her, we realized she had nothing but good intentions. Perhaps if we learn to trust, if we learn to give, perhaps, we could all individually contribute to a solution to a crisis that involves all of us. Maybe that extra five dollars we give will go towards a pack of cigarettes, but at the same time, maybe it will go towards someone's only meal that day.
We're taught to put a guard up. We're taught to not talk to strangers.
But, aren't we all people?
Now, I'm not saying to get into a random man's car at midnight or to accept free candy from a white van. However, I am saying that we should learn to be less judgmental, and more aware.
I don't know if that woman was homeless herself. But, that night, I accidentally forgot my bag in the restaurant. My camera was in it, my wallet, everything. I went back ten minutes later, frantically praying it was still there, and I see her sitting in the same spot, smiling at me with my bag in hand.
"I was hoping you would come back!"
There are good people in this world. Maybe we should be more believing of that.