The Social Pecking Order

Is it me or does it seem that people just aren’t happy until that can look down on someone!

Growing up in a small town in Oregon, I learned that economic hardship and prejudice didn’t stop at a particular skin tone. Living in a predominately white town of 25,000, there were just a small handful of Hispanic families, two Chinese families, and no blacks. One thing I learned early on is if there were no minorities to pick on, then the poor white trash gets put in the crosshairs.

Apparently, every community needs a pecking order. It helps the fine citizens assign others to their rightful place. Perhaps it makes those on top feel better about themselves or there is an economic incentive to keep others down. Regardless of the lame justification, my family was considered white trash—the bottom of the Caucasian pecking order. When I was in grade school, we literally lived next to the railroad tracks aka the poor section of town. My best friends were two Hispanics twin boys, a Chinese boy, a wealthy boy from a divorced family (the only other one besides me in my school at the time), and another white trash kid.

I am actually not complaining about being on the bottom of the social class system because I didn’t even know I was white trash until sometime later. I just new that we lived in subpar housing next to the railroad tracks. I did realize, even in first grade, that a couple of my teachers were prejudice toward me, but to this day I don’t know if it was based on my economic situation or if it was because my parents were divorced. Either way, I was put in the back of the class and they seldom interacted with me. For all intents and purposes, I was an untouchable to them. I didn’t know why, I just assumed that it was the way it was supposed to be.

I do remember my mom struggling to make ends meet. After my dad left my mom with four kids, I remember for months on end that we had to rely on welfare and government food support. I remember that my mom was very embarrassed to have to accept public assistance, but she had no choice. I also remember how she worked her ass off to move us from poverty to lower class to working class. But the stink of divorce and early poverty stayed with us for awhile. (FYI, in the 1960s, a divorce in a white Protestant town in Oregon was unheard of!)

All my siblings grew up with a strong work ethic and climb even further up the ladder of success—eventually becoming proud members of the Oregon working middle class.

After high school I worked in a lumber mill for three years, but I eventually went to college and earned two bachelors and a masters degree. I paid for my own schooling, so I racked up tons of debt. It was totally worth it, though. I found that working graveyard, pulling core for the spreaders so they could make plywood just wasn’t my cup ‘o tea. Plus, it was damn hard work, and, according to my older brother, I was a wuss!

Although I lived in poverty, and yes I was once considered white trash, I do believe it was easier for me to move out of my situation than it would be for a minority—especially at the time. By leaving my small town, I had the opportunity to move beyond my cast and become whoever I wanted to be. When no one knows you, you can easily get rid of the stench of poverty.

Like I said, minorities did and do have a more difficult time finding opportunity for growth than many whites. Having said that, though, I do know whites that have never been able to find their way out of poverty—especially when the big mills closed killing the high paying union jobs. It was devastating.

I wanted to give you a little background so you can understand when I say that I believe that most government programs should be targeted to income rather than race. I say this because when government policies and programs targeted only to minority groups, Caucasians—especially empoverished whites—see it as an unfair handout. And, lets face it, if you come from a black, brown or white family making a couple hundred thousand per year, you don’t need the assistance; however, if your family is below the poverty line, you need all the help you can get. I also think that by targeting programs based on income and not just race, nonprofits can build racial alliances—giving them a much larger voting block to lobby for resources.

I know that I am jaded, but I sometimes think that those in power intentionally introduce and target programs to specific groups to apply undue pressure on the races and social classes to keep them divided. Splitting us up into small segments gives them more control and leverage over the entire population. You know the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”? Divide the groups and conquer.

Lets think about all of the ways those in power keep us seperated:

  1. Keep Democrats and Republicans polarized and divided by focusing on inflammatory points such as: prochoice or prolife, social net or personal responsibility, environmental protection or economic growth. The result—Demonizing one party over the other keeps the existing political power structure in place and the campaign funds rolling in. It works regardless of party affiliation.
  2. Keep the racial tensions running hot by focusing on inflammatory points such as minorities get more assistance than whites, whites take advantage of minorities, minorities cost society more money via welfare and crime, school voucher programs, public assistance, police brutality, prison reform.  The result—Playing the racial blame game keeps the existing political power structure in place and the campaign funds rolling in.
  3. Keep the upper and lower middle classes separated by focusing on inflammatory points such as: the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the poor don’t pay any taxes, the rich have more political power, healthcare isn’t right. The result—Making it seem that one group isn’t paying their fair share or taking advantage of the system pits the groups against each other and keeps the existing political power structure in place and the campaign funds rolling in.
  4. Keep the senior citizens and working classes separated by focusing on inflammatory issues such as: healthcare for all, property taxes, government programs, and social security. Undeserving people want what you have!

    My in-laws are retired and live on a good government pension. One thing that I find true is they love all of their benefits and are afraid of losing them to other, less deserving, people. Fear is the key here. Some where along the line, someone has convinced them that they could lose everything if they give an inch. The result—keeping people afraid—especially those on fixed incomes will keep the existing political power structure in place and the campaign funds rolling in.

In college, I remember one of my political science instructors said that politicians intentionally keep the pressure up between groups so they can be in control. And if everything is running smoothly with no major problems, then they will make one up. This gets their base fired up—especially when they makeup and focus on issues that divide groups and not bring them together.

My feeling is if we want a responsive and effective government, the citizens need to come together and vote in away that benefits all of us. Enough with the politics of separation so those in power can stay in power and do absolutely nothing for the American people.


“United we stand, divided we fall”