One of my fellow creators in the Tennessee Tech community, Kitty Porterfield, shared her thoughts on this topic and I decided to write a response. Kitty is a very talented writer and does a great job challenging my viewpoints each week. Everything that is said in this article is out of respect and is just to serve as another perspective on this topic.
The Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents of our country, states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
To be completely honest, while this document was great in theory, it was also written predominantly by Thomas Jefferson, who owned several slaves. People like to reference our founding documents to prove points, and while it is effective to an extent when it comes to the rights of minorities, these documents are completely irrelevant. When they were written, women, African Americans, and Native Americans were all seen as inferior to the men who wrote these documents. Not to mention that there are so many different types of people that weren’t even acknowledged in the 1700s.
As our country has opened its arms to the entire world, our thought processes should have evolved from the archaic thoughts of our Founding Fathers. Many people associate the Statue of Liberty with American identity, and engraved in the statue is, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” For years, we physically accepted people into our borders and even grew to love their cultures, but we don’t give everyone the same opportunities.
I understand that if someone is willing to succeed and they put in 100% of themselves into their success, that they should be able to do whatever they want. But that’s just not how life is. Not everything works out the way we think it should, and there are some groups of people that don’t get the same opportunities and when they do, they don’t get the same reward.
In 2016, women earned 76 cents for every dollar earned by men. In 2016, there is still a huge difference in how women are being compensated! I don’t know about you, but as a young professional woman, this not only stuns me, but it offends me. I go through the same curriculum as every man I went to school with, and even though we have the same qualifications, the men will still earn more.
Now I know many people say that this stat reflects the time women take off for maternity leave and ultimately leave their jobs to take care of their new family, and nothing is wrong with that at all. But why are we punishing women for taking this time to take care of personal matters? And why do we account for these life events in their salaries before the life events even happen? It doesn’t make sense and it’s wrong.
But the gender pay gap is just the beginning. If you break it down by race and gender, the numbers are shocking. In 2015, white women made 82% of what white men made. Making progress, but still not equal. Black men made 73% of white men made and black women made 65% of white men made. Hispanic men made 69% and Hispanic women made 58% of what white men made. Asian Americans were compensated the most relative to their gender, Asian men at 117% of what white men made and Asian women at 87% of what white men madeThese numbers alone should prove that equal opportunity does not exist.
Another factor that many people don’t think about is the stressors someone experiences as a child. One of the privileges I had growing up is that I never had to worry about living expenses. My parents taught me how to plan my finances as I got older, but they never expected me to contribute as a child or teenager. Some of my friends didn’t have this privilege.
They had to work and help pay the bills. They had to take care of younger siblings so that their parents could pick up extra shifts at work. They missed the opportunity to be a kid! So tell me, how do you focus on school when you’re having to think about “adult problems”? Without focusing on schoolwork, how are you going to get into a good college and graduate? And without at least an Associate’s degree, how do you really succeed in America?
I get it, if you really want it, you’ll make it happen. But think about all of the factors that go into being successful. We haven’t even discussed physical ability. What about people that have a disability that prevents them from working? How should they go about working towards a successful lifestyle?
Now I’ll give it to you, there are people out there that are just plain lazy and don’t have the will to be successful. I get that. But to say, “the idea that one is destined to be eternally financially disadvantaged due to financial stress their family experienced as a child or any other obstacle is based solely in laziness and a lack of drive,” is wrong. Not everyone has the same opportunities to succeed.
I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunities that I have. I wouldn’t have those if I grew up in a home where I had to contribute to the living expenses. I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I wasn’t raised the way I was raised. I’m not making excuses for laziness, but I am recognizing that there are people that have a TREMENDOUS work ethic that are still living in poverty because of the situation they inherited.
To say white privilege and male privilege are just excuses for people that are not white or male is preposterous. I’ve already discussed the differences in pay when these individuals have the same qualifications, but I didn’t even get into the perception of different minorities in our country. It’s very clear that being a male in America gives you more economic opportunity just based on the pay gap alone. Those numbers don’t even explore discrimination in the hiring process.
By now, you should have seen the articles about Stephon Clark, the black man that was shot in his grandmother’s backyard by police officers because they thought that his cellphone was a gun. They claimed to have feared for their lives. This man was on private property with only his phone on him. The officers fired 20 times. 20 times. I wish I could sit here and say this is the only time this has happened, but it’s not.
How do you keep striving for success when you fear for your life? Black men have to be much more careful and have to make an effort to not look “threatening” just to stay alive. I have never experienced that type of fear and I hope I never will. That, living without fear of law enforcement, is white privilege. That’s just one example and unfortunately, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of ways Americans that are not white are discriminated against.
I’m not here to say that all people that are deemed unsuccessful are unsuccessful because of the factors above. I’m just saying that there is a lot more to this issue than having the will to do it. Yes, there are people that went against the odds and became successful despite their circumstances. But I promise a lot of those people would say they were very lucky to have met *insert name here* or to have found *insert job here*.
Not everything is black and white and not everyone has the same opportunities. If we are a part of the privileged American population, we have to acknowledge this and hear others’ stories. We will never understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, but we can listen. And we can try to help others where we can. It’s not our job to judge someone based on their success level or their situation. It’s our job to accept everyone as they are, embrace our differences, and strive to make America better for the next generations. After all, I think that is what Lady Liberty’s quote is all about.