Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trying To Change Perspectives on Political Rhetoric

I was part of a conversation recently, in a social gathering. I don't want to give details about who or where the conversation happened. I don't want to embarrass or shame people, so I will even avoid the use of gendered pronouns. I do hope that I can change peoples' perspectives.

The conversation had to do with new college students adjusting to roommates in dorm situations. In this case, one roommate liked to go to bed late - 3am - and wake up at noon while the other roommate had to get up at 8am for class.

Then it turned out that the night owl student did not have reliable parents - the mother was a member of what they call "the world's oldest profession" and the other had legal problems (I will give details of these legal problems later in the post. So the night owl student had for the last several months (or maybe even through his/her last year in high school) lived with friends. So, the night owl student really had no home to go home to on the weekends. This student also worked late hours - often until 3am - on the week-ends.

Think about this night owl student. What if this student was white/Caucasian? One might assume that the conversation might revolve around how this student was being responsible and was doing everything he/she could do to improve his/her life. Work his/her way through college. Get an education. Get a good paying job so they can be contributing tax paying members of society, etc.

But that wasn't what was said. Instead, the question was asked, "I wonder how this student could afford to go to college in the first place. I bet that student is using my tax-paying dollars."

Because, you see, this student was Latina. Her father had been deported back to Mexico. So, it was assumed that she was milking our tax system by getting financial aid because she was probably an illegal immigrant. But the people discussing the student don't really know for sure. They just made assumptions that because the father was Latino and probably illegal (since he was deported) that she was an illegal, too. However, any child born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen, even if their parents aren't.

See how the stereotypes surrounding immigration in this country play into peoples' perceptions of how their tax dollars are spent - and how they have automatic assumptions that good American paying citizens are being duped by non-tax paying people into getting an education or welfare dollars or whatever. The rhetoric is frankly tiresome. At least, for me. I don't usually get into these kinds of political arguments - and I don't intend to, really. But since this conversation happened in my presence, I felt I needed to address it.

You want to know my reply? I said to the individuals: "Well, you know, I got a lot of financial aid from the government as an undergraduate, and now I have a Ph.D. and am a professor at a university, earning a decent wage, paying good tax paying dollars."

Their reply, "Well, that's good."

Afterwards, I should have said, "With my example, don't you think supporting this student's education is a good investment for taxpayers? This person, with a good education, will pay more taxes into the system and because this person is grateful for the aid (as I have been), they will probably help mentor others like her so that they, too, can become good tax-paying citizens."

Think about it. Please. This night owl student is not just getting a hand-out. This student is also working very late hours so she can go to school. She's helping herself. We, as Americans, should celebrate that fact.

1 comment:

Spirit said...

Yes, yes and yes. Well thought out Dee!