*On a recent flight I was reminded of the ‘classism’ that exists in our culture as I was making my way to the rear of the plane. The steward who was a rather rotund fellow had begun serving refreshments to the already seated first-class passengers and was blocking me and a line of others who were trying to get to our seats. I thought, “Couldn’t he at least be considerate and wait until everyone else is on board?”
As I was walking through the first-class section looking upon the faces of the passengers, I allowed myself to feel a pretense air of snobbery, and laughed inwardly thinking “See what your first-class status gets you if this plane crashes.” I’ve flown first-class before, but I usually book ‘coach’ to save cost. To me, it’s really no big deal to feel a little discomfort for a short period of time.
Sunday, April 15, 2012, marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic where more than 1500 people perished in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. The issue of classism on that mammoth steamer was re-visited decades after the tragedy with the best-selling publication of author Walter Lord’s “A Night To Remember.” While Hollywood’s depiction of that fateful night shows rich men sacrificing their lives to allow women and children on board the lifeboats that were in short supply, records show that 60% of first-class passengers survived; 42% second-class; and only 25% of the low-ranked steerage passengers assigned to the lowest housing levels of the ship. Those disproportionate numbers speak for themselves – the poor and less privileged tend to get the short end of the stick.
If we liken ‘titanic’ America to a sinking ship, I believe this is what President Obama’s administration is addressing with the proposed Buffett Rule – a tax plan to reduce income inequality in the United States between the top 1% of Americans and the remaining 99%. It would help stem the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups (the middle class and the poor) to the benefit and advantage of the wealthiest. Is it so hard for some to comprehend that the poor, underprivileged, and disenfranchised are the least likely to survive in these tough economic times? Is it too much to ask that those in ‘steerage’ be given an equal chance to get on a lifeboat?
America is at a critical juncture dealing with many extreme ‘isms’ (racism, sexism…you name it), and if there is no balance it could take a nose dive like an airplane where it is unlikely anyone will survive – first-class or not.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) www.amazon.com. Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at www.larrybuford.com. (213) 220-8101