A few months ago I wrote:
Beware the self-made man: he has neither patience nor mercy for citizens who can’t triumph like he has. I know good people for whom the period between their teens and early forties was a numbing accumulation of cents so that their children would themselves never have to accept menial labor for the sake of putting their own children in private schools. As a result, legitimate grievances from other members of society in worse straits don’t elicit sympathy; the response is closer to “Shut up and deal.”
I’ve heard the strains of self-pity from that well-tuned rightist orchestra in the last two weeks. Inspired by the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, these relatives remind me that “those people,” “the real racists,” should take “personal responsibility” for their actions, like the hundreds of thousands of white Cuban Americans who in the early sixties received refugee food and were naturalized without fuss.
If this sounds familiar, show The House I Live In, Eugene Jarecki’s documentary about the inequities of a prison system that for a generation has punished sellers of crack cocaine a hundred times more harshly than for the regular stuff (and it’s the same drug, a disgusted Mark W. Bennett of the U.S. district court for the Northern District of Iowa reminds the audience). For a black boy or girl growing up in Gary or Detroit, the deck isn’t stacked against them: they’re not allowed to play the game. On their way to school they watch kids their age on corners making hundreds of dollars a day. To resist the temptation demands a fortitude rather difficult to come by on an empty stomach. “The Wire” creator David Simon, making up for obsequiousness towards the national security state, is grim: “Let’s just be more honest and say ‘Let’s kill the poor’.” Framing the narrative is a smaller one about class and race: a biography of Jarecki’s nanny, who fled Jim Crow to care for white children and lost her black son to drug addiction.