I have a very expensive brain. It attended a fancy, all girls preparatory school and was then sent off to one of those top-tier liberal arts colleges somewhere in Massachusetts. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into this brain. It has been the recipient of first-rate teachers, top of the line educational facilities, and course catalogues so lush they would make nerds everywhere weep.
And here are some things that this fancy brain still does not know:
-The capital of Montana
-What Greece looks like on a map
-12 times 6 right off the top of my head
Better yet, you should see me try to calculate the tip at the end of a meal. It would be funny if it wasn't so incredibly sad. I don't know if this brain is willfully ignorant, or if it was just not all that smart in the first place. But the thing is, when you pump a brain full of money it doesn't really matter. People will assume you're pretty intelligent because you sound and act a certain way. I sound "educated" when I speak and use all of the words educated people use, but it's not because I actively worked to do so. It's because I only ever grew up around people who used those words. I can't explain to you why a sentence is grammatically correct, but I sure can point out the grammatically correct sentence on a standardized test, just by how it sounds!
Oh and my hellacious math skills? That was always okay too, because my expensive schools basically guaranteed that my teachers would take time to work with me one-on-one until I finally(!) grasped whatever it was we were working on in class. And if that still wasn't enough to shove a concept down the tiny straw-sized tube that I like to imagine was the informational highway to my brain, that was still okay! My parents could throw $60 an hour at the problem on a math tutor if need be. And viola! An A is made (a.k.a. bought).
And let's not forget my parents. Highly educated, highly academic scientists who could help me with just about any school-related issue their youngest child threw their way. Not to mention the fact that my father, already being semi-retired, had all the time in the world to sit and coach me on my atrocious spelling, my below average division skills, and the periodic table.
Basically, I've had every leg up. This brain has literally been pushed and dragged (sometimes kicking and screaming) towards a life of continued privilege. My good grades in high school meant a good college, my good college has meant an easier path post-grad. My all around "educated" demeanor has meant I even get promoted at menial jobs, like when I made manager at a coffee shop because the owner thought I was a good "face" of the brand when dealing with customers (never mind the people around me working just as hard who just didn't come across as polished as this walking sack of privilege on legs).
And I don't write this to brag. I don't write this to make you hate me (which I'm sure many of you do at this point). I write to point out the basic farce that is the notion that everyone has a fair shot in this country (which is a notion many U.S. citizens continue to cling to like a dog with a particularly delicious piece of meat); that everyone has an equal opportunity at striking it rich or even just adequately supporting their families. Had the pretty unextraordinary brain typing this article been born to the majority of families in this country, I am incredibly confident I would not be anywhere close to where I am today.
I wish I could delude myself into thinking that every success in my life has been my own, and that everything I have just comes down to elbow grease and determination-- not basic privilege (or what I like to call winning the life lottery). But that wouldn't be very honest. And let's be honest, you and me.
And for those of you just dying to tell me how your parents or your grandparents worked their way up from nothing, proving to me that it is in fact possible if you just work hard enough, I'll just quickly remind you that education in this country is more expensive than it has ever been in U.S. history and that the middle class is disappearing by the year. A recent study shows that the majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. Not to mention millions of jobs that Americans once depended on to earn a decent living wage for their families have since been outsourced to other countries for cheaper labor. This is not the America of our parents and grandparents, and the landscape of opportunity has changed. (Let's just say it's been shrunk in the dryer to pocket-sized, just for a fun visual!)
So people like me (you know who you are), let's just be real for a second, okay? Let's just take a moment to really be honest with ourselves. Are you really all that brilliant? Are you really the hardest worker you've ever met? Is there a chance that factors having zero to do with your own internal drive and dazzling intelligence played a big part in getting you to where you are today? You don't have to answer. You can just wink once for yes. They'll never know.
So think about this the next time you assess a public policy or a candidate you support. Keep it in mind the next time you hear someone doggedly insist America is the land of equal opportunity. Remember it when someone says, "Success is preparation meets opportunity!" Because for a lot of people these days, it's preparation meets opportunity created by a whole lot of money.