Friday, October 7, 2016


Is this lede tactic getting tired:

"I really like X, but......."

Hey - It's the way my brain operates.  OK.  I'll try something different....

Talking about socio-economics is tricky.  Because the subject usually comes up as a result of some other context, we tend to use off-hand catch-alls like "disadvantaged", or "poor".  But these are incredibly blunt tools, and can easily be misinterpreted.

Take for example, "he grew up poor, but found a way to reach his goals."  The word "poor" is doing a ton of work here.  Depending on the case, it could mean a lot of things apart from mere financial poverty.  It could also mean an unsafe neighborhood, a single-parent home, a low-scoring school, a polluted neighborhood, parents who didn't read to him, parents who were abusive, family members on drugs, negative peer influences, etc.  All of these are environmental risk-factors that are associated with poverty.  When we say "grew up poor", any or none of them could be included.  Maybe his parents were loving, nurturing, well-educated, and lived in a relatively safe neighborhood, and sent him to a school with other high-achieving children.  Or maybe not.

Yet how often do we hear poverty spoken of in purely financial terms?  The difference between someone in the former situation and someone in the latter is vastly different.  You put a hundred kids in the first, and a hundred kids in the second, and guess how they'll turn out on average.

The reality of socio-economics is that there are a whole bunch of factors involved, some more harmful or beneficial than others, and depending on how they interact.  Often times, a child will grow up with a host of serious socio-economic risk-factors, yet will turn out quite well due to some key privileges he enjoyed: having a grandmother who was able to support him, having a teacher he connected to, living on a certain street instead of the one a block over.

The contingencies are myriad.

And so I saw this on facebook today.  It was a post by Lin Manuel-Miranda:

Apparently one of his first jobs was McDonalds.  Now, to be charitable, he did work there, and it's a completely low-rung job, and now he has an award-winning musical.  But lest anyone forget for a damned second, there is working at McDonalds, and there is working at McDonalds.  Most McDonalds employees have little education, and grew up poor.  Most will stay uneducated, and stay in poverty.

This verb finds itself at the intersection between the two types of poverty mentioned early.  One type of poverty is like lying at the bottom of a cold dark ocean.  The other is sitting in a dingy just off shore, ones tiny hands on the oars.

From Wikipedia:

His father is a former political advisor who advised New York City mayor Ed Koch, and his mother is a clinical psychologist.  His father is a former political advisor who advised New York City mayor Ed Koch, and his mother is a clinical psychologist….After graduating from Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School, Miranda went on to attend Wesleyan University.

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