The truth that makes us uncomfortable

BBC News produced a short video that shows a few scenes from a photography project by Johnny Miller. He has been using drones o photograph major cities around the world from Mumbai to Mexico City. He has photographed many places in the United States, including Palo Alto, the home of Google and Apple, Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, and other cities. What his photographs so clearly illustrate are the incredible discrepancies between wealth and poverty and the dividing lines that exist. “Discrepancies in how people live are sometimes hard to see fro the ground,” he says. “Some communities have been expressly designed with separation in mind, and some have grown more or less organically.”

There are some really striking images in his work. He has a photograph that shows the headquarters of Facebook, one of the world’s richest companies. Right across the street is a homeless encampment. There is another photo of a Silicon Valley street lined with motorhomes, school buses and campers that are home to people who cannot afford permanent domiciles just miles from the headquarters of Google and Apple. The blue tarps of temporary shelters of homeless people in the area known as skid row make a stark contrast with the gleaming skyscrapers of Los Angeles’ financial district.

California has long been a state of huge contrasts. People of great ambition often head to that state in search of fame and fortune. Some find it. Others do not. First published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Grapes of Wrath,” follows a busted Oklahoma Dust Bowl family’s journey to the promise of California. Physical mobility does not always equal social mobility. The myth that is often sold as “The American Dream,” is that anyone can achieve wealth with enough hard work. If you try hard enough, you can make it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Hard work and industriousness is not lacking in the open-air drug markets blocks from downtown LA. Hard work and industriousness is evident in the creativity of those living in tent cities that share real estate with Silicon Valley’s biggest firms. It is not a lack of ambition or capability of those who come to California seeking advancement. It is a system which systematically oppresses minorities, women, and the working class. It is a system which does not provide adequate social services, enough housing, sufficient healthcare, and often fails to provide basics such as food and clothing.

We have a problem with sharing wealth and power.

It is evident in more places than the photographs of Johnny Miller.

It has been abundantly evident during the past week in the news reports from the United States Senate. No matter what your position on the nomination and confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, you don’t have to watch much television or scan the Internet for long without seeing scene after scene of rich white men angrily defending their power and position.

Keep in mind, as you continue to read, that I am the recipient of a great deal of privilege because of my birth. I was given a home and an education and position and power simply because of where I was born, my gender and the color of my skin.

The argument that has been raging in Washington DC and across our country is essentially about who is the victim. It is hard to believe, but powerful white men from the President to leaders of the Senate, have portrayed Judge Kavanaugh, who is educated, accomplished and who would continue to be a judge in one of the nation’s highest courts even if he was not confirmed, as the victim in the hearings. They seem to be unable to see the situation of Christine Blasey Ford, who reluctantly came forward with a painful story of her past and was rewarded for her truthful testimony by being publicly mocked by the President of the United States in front of a rally of screaming people. Who is the real victim here? It is an art that the President uses skillfully. Whether talking about Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville or his own scandals of sexual infidelity and paid coverups, he portrays himself and others like him as victims without regard to who is really being hurt and who is really receiving privilege.

What we are witnessing is a cultural struggle over how power and wealth and influence work. Our nation is governed by a set of people who are accustomed to being insulated from the consequences of their actions and they want to keep it that way. The founders of Facebook do not want to see the connection between their consolidation of wealth and the poverty of their neighbors. The bankers who ride to work in limousines from their multi-million dollar mansions don’t want to see billions of dollars of federal bailouts as undeserved. They found such governmental expenditures as necessary at the same time that they opposed providing health care for people who live in poverty. They don’t want to see the connection.

But we are all in this together.

I am saddened that we seem to be able to look at the real facts.

The fact is that men who are accused of sexual assault are not representative of all men in America. The tiny number of those who have been accused does not put all men at risk. It pales in comparison with the real number of actual victims of sexual assault.

Yet we persist in portraying these reversals.

We want to believe that the real victim isn’t the child who has been separated from his or her parents and incarcerated in a detention center. We want to believe that we are the victims because we fear that our jobs will be given to someone who was born in another country.

We don’t want to believe that a Syrian family trying to stay together while fleeing for their lives from scenes of incredible violence and destruction aren’t the real victims. We want to believe that we are the victims because we fear being blown up by terrorists.

The world is changing. The scenes that our grandchildren will see played out in the halls of government will look different from what we see. There will be more women and more people of color in the halls of government. But they will also see more scenes of angry white people of privilege pretending that they are the victims because the simple truth is that they don’t want to share their wealth and power. And, unfortunately they will have to witness scenes of incredible courage because for a while - and we do not know how long - when a woman who has been the victim of abuse comes forward, the President will use her as a punchline in front of a crowd.

Still the truth remains. There are far more real victims than persecutors. As the abolitionist Theodore Parker preached, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Just as our grandparents and great grandparents sacrificed to bring about an end of slavery and suffrage for women, we are called to sacrifice for a better future for our grandchildren. In the long run, the truth will prevail, but it requires us to continue to speak it.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!