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A speech to the privileged

nbnguyen's picture

A speech to the privileged

Dear my friends from upper class,

Many of you here have the privilege to be the sons and daughters of wealthy businessmen, well-known politicians and respectable scholars. I also have the privilege to come from a powerful family in my city. I believe we all recognize how fortunate we are to be descended from middle and upper class, at least in terms of economic advantages and public recognition. Among you guys, some may go beyond your class-bounded community to get in touch with working class. Some may still be restricted by the circle of similar friends and relatives. Some of you may have the ambition to create a more equal society while others may not notice or desire to disrupt the class orders. It doesn’t matter which side you are in at the moment. This speech is open to everyone who categorizes themselves as middle/upper class. All the ideas I share with you tonight is not the same as a lecture that a professor gives to his students. I know I am a little bit young to be a lecturer. Everything I say tonight is totally based on my meandering experience and knowledge.

Remember that your privilege is inherent. No one can choose their parents, their economic class, their race and their gender. So don’t look down on the unprivileged. Many of them are the unprivileged because God does not favor their destiny. And realize that all social classes are mutually existed. If there are no workers in your family’s company, no one will call your father “the boss”. If there is no working class, no one will call you “middle or upper class”.

Ask your parents what your ancestors did before they became rich. Ask the narrow-minded people you meet what their parents or grandparents do before they became rich. Being engulfed in prosperity for too long always makes us forget about our origins. I don’t believe any family lines can maintain their prosperity for hundreds of years despites enormous changes in history. If Paris Hilton knew that his grandfather Conrad Hilton went bankrupt during Great Depression, she wouldn’t waste the money she inherited on parties and clothes. So when you walk on the street and encounter a stranger from working class, remember that some of your ancestors might have been in the same situation. Don’t treat people the way you don’t want people to treat your ancestors.

Say “Good morning” to the working staff in the dining hall. Say “Thank you” to the driver on the Blue Bus. Three days ago, I forgot to do that and all the girls standing next to me at that time forgot to do that. Remember that middle/ upper class can’t do everything on their own. The survival of middle/ upper class is strongly attached to working class. So spend one minute a day being grateful to what working class do for your family. Respect the working class for their contribution.

Be humble to learn from different classes. Don’t show contempt to uneducated people. Some of them are uneducated because they don’t have the chance to access to schooling. Realize that the concept of intelligence is not absolute. The talent you possess is obvious to be seen because it is valued by our society. Imagine living in an African tribe that health is the biggest priority, you may not have as many advantages as blue collar workers.

To whom who want to support the poor and make social transformations, don’t ever feel guilty about your class position. Be proud of your parents’ and grandparents’ achievements. Be proud that they struggle so hard to survive and thrive in this nation, to give you the privilege you have today. Let your privilege be your advantage and motivation. You are put in situation where it is more active and less difficult to help the working class. Use your family’s influence and reputation effectively. Clinton’s daughter can raise fund more easily than daughters of unknown workers or farmers. And when the worst case happens and the working class doesn’t have the financial ability to help others, you will be the one who make changes.

Recognize that the gap between the rich and the poor is inevitable. Imagine one day when everybody has the same amount of money in their bank accounts. This will be the day where the meritocracy system collapsed. This prosper society will be destroyed and become the communist regime like USSR, China and Vietnam in the past. It’s time when people go to work without any goals and motivations. However, if the wealth disparity is too large like what happens right now, it will be unacceptable. It acts again the meritocracy system that US citizens always honor. People will not be provided with sufficient opportunities to rise up. How can people rise up when the basic necessities, including education and health care are not guaranteed. The classless society that people are trying to create will be a myth rather than the reality. Try to bridge this gap. Try to help the poor get what they deserve. But remember that the gap never and shouldn’t be totally eliminated. Try to have a balance between equality and meritocracy.

Remember that helping the poor is not giving. It should be considered a give-and-take situation. As I said above, the poor possesses some types of intelligence that are not valued by our society. Unless the rich realize that they mutually benefit from the poor, they can’t live in harmony and sit around the same table with the poor as friends. The attitude that someone is superior than the others will continue to exist.

The policies by the government to promote equality will be inefficient or just solve things on the surface when the attitudes towards the poor remain unchanged. I believe the class issues can only be solved when there is a big change in the attitude. And my speech aimed to partly alter your attitude.


nbnguyen's picture

Balance between meritocracy and equality

Hi Anne,

I think the balance between meritocracy and equality occurs when everyone in the society is provided the equal basic rights and opportunities (e.g. shelter, education, healthcare) to be successful. The gap between the rich and the poor should be created mainly by talent and hard work, not by inheritance. Equality should be defined that "everyone can get what they deserve" rather than "everyone gets the same reward". And, according to this new definition, equality is strongly supported by the meritocracy system. Of course, this concept is somehow theoretical. There are always some schools better than others, and these schools will have exorbitant tuition fees that only rich kids can get in. However, there are still something we can do about it. I believe the strongest tool is inheritance tax. The tax revenue should be spreaded out for health insurance and improvement in the quality of the public school.

"Treating people the way we want people to treat our ancestors" indicates that the poor should be respected and learned from. As I mentioned above, despite weath disparities, some human rights should be the same for everyone. One of the rights is to be respected and to be regarded as human.

To conclude, an equitable system should not be determined by equal income, but equal human rights and basic opportunities

Anne Dalke's picture

On changing our attitudes

Thank you, nbnguyen, for this frank letter-lecture!

There is so much here, arising out of your "meandering experience and knowledge" that I find wise, and important to say, especially that "all social classes are mutually existed," that "middle/ upper class can’t do everything on their own. The survival of middle/ upper class is strongly attached to working class." Your strongest points here, for me, have to do w/ our interdependency. We all need one another, and it's a deeply Hegelian insight to say that you can't be rich w/out the poor, you can't be poor w/out the rich: all classes mutually constitute one another.

Which brings us to the strongest, and hardest point of your essay--imagining the end of meritocracy, which you identify with the end of motivation. There's a striking difference here between your testimony, from a country that did become communist, and Marian's, doing anti-capitalist work in a country that did not. You claim that the gap between rich and poor should not be eliminated; she is devoting her life to closing that gap. That's the spot where I would like to understand more (and think about how to act myself): trying "to have a balance between equality and meritocracy." Does meritocracy forestall the possibility of equality? Does equality necessitate the absence of motivation? If we commit ourselves to "treating people the way we want people to treat our ancestors," are we also committing ourselves to keeping the current inequitable system in play--while just fiddling w/ appearances? Those are the sorts of questions I'm looking to answer now....