"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Monday, September 24, 2012

OF: Entitlement

Since secret video footage was released via the website/magazine Mother Jones--a lot has been said about Mitt Romney's recent comments about the 47% of supposedly non-income-tax-paying Americans who will never be convinced to take care of themselves. If you've been living under a rock: according to Mitt Romney (and by extension, those like him), 47% of Americans "Believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

I don't pretend to think that I can (or want to) add to the already brilliant, nuanced criticisms of the presidential candidate. But I can't help but feel motivated to say something about this pernicious little word: entitlement. Entitlement. Here's what that word means to me.

Entitlement means that you believe you are qualified to run the United States of America because you successfully managed to pad your off-shore account by legally circumventing IRS tax code.

Entitlement means that you believe it's completely okay--not only okay, but a point of pride--that you only paid 14.1% in taxes on dividends earnings in 2011 as a multi-millionnaire, when the average American household (earning roughly $50,000-75,000) paid an effective income tax rate of 12.8%. Yes, I understand that the latter rate is lower. But I also understand how it is overall a much HIGHER cost when one considers the proportion of income swallowed by this sort of tax system. What did Clinton say at the DNC? Oh yes: arithmetic.

Entitlement is running one's campaign on a Christian platform and hating the poor.

Entitlement is being a Christian politician who conveniently forgets Matthew 19:21: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."


Matthew 19:24: "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."


Matthew 25:35-40: "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

That Jesus guy sure does sound like a socialist. An entitlement socialist, no?

Entitlement means telling 47% of America--nearly half of the population--that it's "not [your] responsibility to worry about them" while concurrently asking for their votes, to be their ruler, to be given the highest privilege and responsibility in the nation as President.

It doesn't just stop at politics, kids. There's a lot that's upsetting me.

If I haven't pissed you off/alienated you already, I may do so now. I apologize in advance.

I have a friend who told me once that I sounded ridiculous when I went off on tangents about race/the effects of race/class/what-have-you. He told me that I was like his short-sighted relatives in thinking there were certain things that "only brown people are allowed to talk about." For the record, I don't feel that way--but I do get a bit sick of people (particularly writers, particularly liberal, college-educated writers) thinking they have somehow been liberated from the yolk of any underlying prejudice simply because they grew up in a post-Civil Rights America, in an integrated society. Simply because they have perhaps dated outside of their race or have a black friend or because they like Bob Marley or because they are well-versed in and sympathetic to diasporas of all sorts.

Entitlement is thinking it's totally okay that women, and particularly women writers of color, are drastically underrepresented in publishing today. As though it were just a matter of unfortunate happenstance, and not institutional gatekeeping. As a woman writer of color, as a female Hawaiian poet (which represents less than 1% of published writers in America) I am disheartened by the blase attitude of some of my peers in publishing about this issue. It's largely shrugged off as unimportant, or glazed over with some sort of meaningless platitude. It is the literary version of a Romney-ism.

I am no victim. I am not entitled because I desire a fair opportunity in life or in art. Any path I carve out, I carve of and from myself. That applies to politics and poetry. Frankly, they have more in common than you'd imagine. Nearly every day, in working; in paying my fair of taxes; in going about my small life, the life of a unnamed Hawaiian woman cranking out a modest existence in the American South; in sitting on the bus in between jobs; in reading this or that; in waking at dawn to write a poem, I think of the Lucille Clifton poem, "won't you celebrate with me?"

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did I see except to be myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge
between starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that every day
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

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