scorn, swagger and the empathy gap

Recently, I stumbled across another in a string of hateful Facebook posts. To say it was snarky is an understatement. I grappled with how to comment, since I believe that anytime someone posts something to the site, in doing so we are inviting comments. This is what the post said:

If you can afford beer, cigarettes, new tattoos, drugs and cable TV ... then you don’t need food stamps or welfare. “Share“ this if you agree.

I considered posting my own snarky response to the heartless meme, including simply writing, “Gross.” Its callousness and the stereotypical image it conjured offended me. I felt both ashamed of and sorry for the post’s original author and its sharers, who perch themselves atop pedestals looking down on others. Have they any idea what it’s like to live in poverty? Though I felt a hankering, instead of inserting a public rant, I ended up Googling the meme and found several thoughtful commentaries on the subject that I recommend reading, one by a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, the link to which I copied and pasted into the comment box along with a second, thoughtful entry from another source.

Still, the post sent me reeling, summoning up other recent examples of bullying, bigotry and antipathy, in effect, an empathy gap, that keeps our nation from realizing its true potential, such as: the protests by some individuals and factions demanding that Central and South American refugees, many of them mothers and children trying to escape the dangers of drug cartels, simply “go back home”; last week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision allowing certain corporations the right to refuse insurance coverage for birth control (one of the best methods to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions) for their female employees, ostensibly based on the proprietors’ religious beliefs; the persistent press by some diehards to ban same-sex marriage; the macho swagger of some deluded gun rights activists who wholly misinterpret the second amendment twisting it to conform to their paranoid notion of freedom and in doing so frighten and endanger innocent bystanders by gratuitously toting their phallic weapons into restaurants and stores.

Then, I considered the post again, pondering the contempt it imbued. The sick feeling it gave me reminded me of the time when my friend, her husband and I were driving through an East Bay, California neighborhood one hot summer day. From the driver’s seat, her husband made a vulgar remark about a small gathering of African American folks cooling off on a front stoop minding their own business. When I challenged his vile comment he fell silent. From the backseat I watched his neck turn red.

Mulling the Facebook post over in my mind further, I embarked on one of my silent stream of consciousness rants:

why do those who complain about people on welfare seem to ignore the billions in corporate subsidies, unfair tax breaks and loopholes that burden the struggling masses while profiting the wealthy few? why do some women still allow men to discriminate against them by sanctioning policies, by way of their vote, that govern our bodies and limit our advance in the workplace? why do some hold the poor in contempt? rhetorical: why do the owners of walmart, papa john’s, mcDonald’s, and the like, insist that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, though evidence points to the contrary, just as their profits soar into the billions, their own salaries and bonuses reach millions, yet their employees don’t make enough to live on, in turn fostering their need for public assistance? why do people resent immigrants when this nation was built by immigrants and is stronger and richer in myriad ways because of its diversity? why do companies, even nonprofits like Goodwill whose CEOs make several hundreds of thousands per year, feel justified in paying their disabled employees mere pennies?

This afternoon I took Calvin down the street for a walk. He balked, didn’t want to go, twisted stubbornly in my grip to break free. But I insisted, even though he whined, and I kept encouraging him to forge ahead and go a little farther than he had the last time. Why? Because I want a better life for him, want him to realize his potential, and so I take the two of us out of our comfort zone to do so, and believe me, it’s not always fun. As we labored in the hot sun to the end of the block and back I was reminded of the immigrants’ perilous struggle to make a better life for themselves, of the grieving, bitter parents advocating for reasonable gun safety measures, of women standing up for their rights even as misogynists and reactionaries abuse and taunt us, bind, blame and curse us, of gay people advocating for the equality that is written plain as day in our constitution, of the poor, sometimes working two and three jobs while enduring the scorn of their fellow Americans in more ways than just nasty, contemptuous Facebook posts.

Ritchie Goins Jr. watches from the window of his parents' trailer as cinderblocks are brought in as the foundation for his grandmother's new trailer. Leetha Goins and her children Timmy, 25, Troy, 16, and grandson Will, for whom she cares, were displaced when a drunk driver swerved off the road and crashed into their trailer.  Photo, Matt Eich/Alexia Foundation


  1. Right on! My sentiments exactly!

  2. Christy: a powerful and well written rejoinder. Thank you.

  3. I am with you, as you very well know. I am beginning to think, though, that all of our brains are just wired differently and that never (or rarely) the twain shall meet.